Tagged: Freedom of Information

Iain Duncan Smith Had Expenses Credit Card Suspended

Iain Duncan Smith had his official credit card suspended after racking up more than £1,000 in expenses debt, it has been revealed.

The Work and Pensions Secretary is one of nineteen MPs subjected to action by the Commons watchdog, over potential invalid spending.

The revelation comes after Iain Duncan Smith had previously backed the introduction of prepaid cards for benefit claimants.

Details released in response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the Press Association, reveal that the watchdog has suspended the credit cards of nineteen MPs since the beginning of 2015.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) issue credit cards to MPs to use for expenses costs, such as travel and accommodation.

Politicians are required to prove that spending on the cards is legitimate within one month. Failure could result in a build-up of debt, which would be recovered by refusing further expenses payments made through the cards.

According to the FOI response, Iain Duncan Smith’s card was blocked after he owed £1,057.28. He is no longer owes any money.

Full story : http://northstar.boards.net/thread/165/duncan-smith-expenses-credit-suspended

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Number Of Vulnerable Kids In UK Up For 5th Successive Year

Austerity and rising poverty has led to the number of vulnerable children being taken into care or placed on child protection plans increasing for the fifth year in succession, experts have said.

Provisional data, using official statistics and fresh figures obtained under Freedom of Information (FOI), show that the number of at-risk children being looked after by the state rose by 8%, or 5,000, under the coalition government.

The number of youngsters placed on child protection plans – meaning they are closely monitored by social workers to ensure their safety – rose by 33% to 52,000 over the same period, while the number of “section 47 inquiries” – to determine whether individual children are being abused or neglected – increased by 42% to 159,000.

Child protection experts said this increase in demand had put huge pressure on the finances of social workers’ and children’s services departments at a time when local authority budgets had been cut by 40%.

Alison O’Sullivan, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said the rise child protection activity was in part down to the impact of austerity and welfare cuts on the poorest families.

She told the Guardian: “What we are seeing is a consequence of austerity over an extended period. Pressures on the benefit system and the way it washes through will have a great impact on these families, many of whom were struggling in the first place.”

Full story : http://northstar.boards.net/thread/118/number-vulnerable-kids-successive-year

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ELECTION 2015 – Lies, Damn lies and Iain Duncan Smith

The lovely wibbly wobbly old lady

 Jonathan Bartley (@jon_bartley) on Twitter

Jonathan Bartley

I don’t know if any of you watched the welfare debate on BBC 2 yesterday, in which members of Labour, Conservatives, UKIP, Greens and Lib Dems discussed their manifesto for welfare.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b05tb4pz/daily-politics-2015-election-debates-welfare

At 13 minutes  and 50 seconds into the debate, Johnathan Bartley (Green Party spokesperson) challenges IDS on the DWP peer reviews into suicides of claimants and the delay in providing death statistics via a Freedom of Information (FoI) request. (although not mentioned by name, he is referring to Mike Sivier over at the Vox Political blog who requested this information –  you can read more about his FoI “journey” here)

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/05/06/benefit-deaths-ids-lies-while-dwp-evades/

IDS, as I am sure you can imagine, was his usual charming self, calling Mr Bartley all sorts.

The Green Party today published this article on its’ website;

The Green Party has requested that Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work…

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Millionaire Private Landlords Abusing Britain’s Welfare System, Says GMB

Greedy private landlords are raking in billions of pounds of public money in housing benefits payments, new research shows.

Freedom of Information Requests by the GMB union reveal that private landlords received a staggering £9,296 billion in housing benefit in 2013/14.

GMB says this abuse of Britain’s welfare system has been allowed to go on for far too long. Millionaire landlords are exploiting low-income families in need of housing and who could otherwise be left homeless.

There are 4.2 million households living in private rented accommodation in Britain. 1.59 million of these (38%) pay part or all of their rent using housing benefit.

More people now rent privately than from councils and housing associations. The switch away from cheaper social housing to the more expensive private sector has resulted in an increase in private tenants claiming housing benefit.

The Conservatives have pledged to open up social housing to buy-to-let private landlords. This could reduce an already dwindling social housing stock and further increase the housing benefit bill.

GMB has named and shamed twenty private landlords abusing Britain’s welfare system. These include:

  • Private landlord Mr Mohammed Taj was paid £3,219,858 of taxpayer’s money direct as housing benefits by Watford in 2013/14.
  • Investing Solutions Ltd was paid £2,239,915 by Merton, Brent, Lambeth, Hammersmith and Fulham, Ealing and Wandsworth councils.
  • Thorney Bay Park Ltd was paid £1,924,226 by Castle Point council in 2013/14.
  • Mr Alastair Kerr was paid £1,616,951 by Ealing, Hammersmith and Fulham and Hounslow in 2013/14.

Paul Kenny, GMB General Secretary, said:

“This research lifts the lid on the mainly secret payments to landlords who are the real winners from Britain’s welfare system.

“We see taxpayers cash subsidising buy-to-let empires with £9.2 billion of hard earned taxpayer’s cash paid into private landlords’ bank accounts – much of it ending up in tax havens.

“The abuse of housing benefit by private landlords has gone on for too long.

“Millionaires take sackloads of cash for exploiting those in housing need or stuck on low pay. It’s incredible that the Tories want to extend this billions pound rip off.

“It’s time to close the offshore tax dodgers charter, cap rents and use the billions being sucked up by property speculator landlords to build affordable homes for people again.”

Source –  Welfare Weekly, 28 Apr 2015

http://www.welfareweekly.com/millionaire-private-landlords-abusing-britains-welfare-system-says-gmb/

DWP To Be Investigated Over Refusal To Publish Reviews Into Benefit Deaths

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing an investigation into its refusal to publish ‘secret’ reviews into 49 benefit-related deaths, it has reported today.

The investigation was launched by the Information Commissioners Office following a complaint from Disability News Service (DNS).

A number of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, including from DNS, demanding that the DWP publish its reviews into benefit-related deaths have been rebuffed by the department.

Officials have since admitted that of the 49 reviews the DWP has carried out so far, 33 included a recommendation to make improvements and 40 were made in response to an apparent suicide.

The DWP says publishing the reviews could represent a breach of section 44 of the Freedom of Information Act; which states that it would be an offence for a DWP employee to, “disclose without lawful authority any information which he acquired in the course of that employment and which relates to a particular person”.

A complaint from DNS has now sparked an investigation by the information watchdog.

An ICO case officer told DNS:

“The focus of my investigation will be to determine whether the DWP is entitled to rely on section 44 as a basis for refusing to provide the information you requested.

“Should it not be a valid refusal of your request the commissioner will also determine what information can be provided within the appropriate cost limit.”

DNS says the investigation is likely to take a number of months. And in the event that investigators rule against the DWP they could still appeal the decision.

If you need help and support please contact the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 or visit their website.

Source –  Weekly Welfare,  17 Apr 2015

Hundreds of North East homeless teenagers forced to fend for themselves, report shows

Hundreds of North East homeless teenagers are being left to fend for themselves, research shows.

A report, launched by The Children’s Society today, shows that across the region an estimated 300 teenagers aged 16 and 17 ask their local authority for emergency help with housing each year – but almost half are turned away and left to fend for themselves without even having their needs assessed.

The research based on Freedom of Information requests – sent to 353 local councils across England – also reveals that homeless 16-17-year-olds are rarely given the same support as children in care, such as access to an advocate or financial support.

Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said:

“It is a disgrace that hundreds of vulnerable teenagers, who may have escaped physical or sexual abuse at home, have gone to their council to get help in finding a safe home, only to be turned away.

“These teenagers are being hung out to dry. Few have the money or resources to find new accommodation and their options are limited. At best they might rely on the goodwill of friends or family, at worst they may be forced to return to an unsafe home or to live on the streets. They are facing huge dangers from predators who seek to abuse or exploit them. Councils need to do much more to protect these vulnerable teenagers. Every teenager deserves a safe place to live.”

Research finds that homeless teenagers may be sent back to homes where there is violence or left rootless with no permanent home, facing threats of sexual abuse or being driven into crime.

Councils across England place hundreds of teenagers in Bed and Breakfasts (B&Bs) each year, going against government guidance which regards this type of accommodation as unsuitable.

It has been documented that B&Bs and hostels used to accommodate homeless people are targeted by sexual predators and drug dealers.

Even where teenagers are housed in supported accommodation, the reality is that it may not be suitable as it is not inspected and is unregulated.

The Children’s Society is calling for councils to join up their services and make sure that all teenagers who seek help for homelessness are assessed and given adequate support. They are also calling for B&B accommodation to be banned and hostels and supported accommodation to be regulated.

The charity is lobbying the government to make sure councils identify vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds seeking help for homelessness, and provide them with flexible support and the same protection as care leavers.

Across England, an estimated 12,000 homeless 16 and 17-year-olds ask councils for help with housing each year – but more than 5,000 are turned away.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 20 Mar 2015

School using toilets and cupboards for classrooms due to overcrowding

Children are being taught in toilets and cupboards in North East schools due to overcrowding, it has emerged.

One Northumberland school is turning pupils away and being forced to teach children in make-shift classrooms, including the garden shed.

Central First School in Ashington, which bought a double decker bus on eBay for use as a temporary classroom last year, is finding new means of teaching its ever-growing pupil population.

Principal David Godfrey said:

“We’ve had to turn toilets and cupboards into working spaces.

“We’ve had to turn structures outside into working areas for displaying artwork and for teaching the STEM subjects.

“We have a very good reputation as a school and we’re full to capacity. Regrettably we’re having to turn pupils away.”

The news comes as parents rush to meet the deadline for primary school applications this week.

However, more than 80 schools across the North East are overcrowded.

North councils have revealed that almost one in five primary schools have more pupils than they have capacity for – forcing many children into large classes or temporary, make-shift classrooms.

In parts of the region, more than a third of primary schools are currently over capacity.

The figures were provided by local councils in response to Freedom of Information requests from the Labour Party.

Labour claim they show a desperate need for more school places – and accuse the Government of pumping money into new free schools at the expense of existing schools.

Free schools were introduced by the Coalition government and are free from local council control.

Mr Godfrey said more funding is needed for oversubscribed schools to either extend their classrooms or re-build from scratch.

“I think there has to be more funding,” he said. “Especially now the Government introduced free education to two-year-olds from low income families.

“Schools are having to accommodate this quota without any investment from central Government in the existing buildings.”

There are nine primary schools in North Tyneside which currently have more pupils than the official capacity – 36 per cent of the total, or more than one in three.

There are also two secondary schools in the area which are over capacity.

In South Tyneside, 11 primary schools are over capacity, just under a quarter of the total, as well as two secondary schools.

County Durham has 28 primary schools and five secondary schools which operating above capacity, while Newcastle has six overcrowded primary schools and two secondaries, and Northumberland has four primary schools operating above capacity. Figures for Sunderland were not available.

Tristram Hunt, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said:

“David Cameron is irresponsibly diverting millions away from children in areas with a shortage of school places in order to fund his pet project Free Schools programme in areas where there are already enough places.

“This is affecting school standards and creating a classroom squeeze, with more infants being crammed into large classes and pupils being taught in makeshift temporary classrooms.

“Unlike this Tory-led Government, Labour has the right priorities for raising school standards. We will prioritise new school places in areas where there are shortages, have rigorous local oversight of schools and ensure that all teachers have or are working towards qualified teacher status.”

Four out of five free schools opened last year did not fill all their places.

Responses to Freedom of Information requests, also filed by Labour, showed that 83 per cent of Free Schools that opened in 2014 had not filled all their places at the start of the first term.

Only seven of the16 new mainstream secondary Free Schools opened last year were full.

Conservative Education Minister Nick Gibb said:

“This government has had to deal with an unprecedented increase in demand for school places. We have only been able to do this because of the tough decisions we have taken as part of our long-term economic plan to get the economy back on track.

“As a result, we have protected the school budget from cuts, invested an extra £5 billion to create new school places and spent £18 billion to improve school buildings across the country. Indeed, one of the first decisions we took in 2010 was to double the amount of money allocated to creating new school places.

“By contrast, the last Labour Government cut funding for school places during a baby boom while allowing immigration to get out of control, and wasted millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on their failed ‘Building Schools for the Future’ programme.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 13 Jan 2015

Investigation reveals 17 North Post Offices have been ‘closed temporarily’ – for more than a year

The Post Office today stands accused of cutting down its network “by stealth” as an investigation reveals 17 North East branches have been “temporarily closed” for more than a year.

A Freedom Of Information probe has uncovered huge gaps in the region’s Post Office service, with seven out of a total of 20 branches marked as ‘closed temporarily’, having actually been shut for more than five years.

The Communication Workers’ Union has branded the situation “ridiculous” and claimed Post Office chiefs are letting down communities in the region who rely on their local branch.

Dave Ward, CWU deputy general secretary, said:

“To have 17 post office branches closed for over a year is ridiculous. Every day those post offices are closed, local communities are going without essential services.

“Temporarily closing post offices is surely closure by stealth. The Post Office is being opportunistic and this is impacting detrimentally on customers and communities.

“Communities are extremely vocal about their support for their local post office but they’re being fobbed off.

“People want a professional and reliable service and the sooner the Post Office realises this and stops selling them off or surreptitiously closing them down, the better.”

Post Offices in Stamfordham and Matfen, in rural Northumberland, Orchard in Stockton’s Eaglescliffe, Roseberry Square in Redcar, and Aycliffe, Kelloe and Eldon Lane, in County Durham, have been marked as closed temporarily for the last five years.

Those closed for between three and four years include Stainton, in Middlesbrough, Newfield and East Rainton, both in County Durham, Grange Estate, in Stockton and Victoria Street, in South Bank, near Middlesbrough.

Branches in Cleadon Park, South Shields, Burnopfield, in County Durham, and Newbiggin-by-the-Sea and Stonehaugh, in Northumberland, were added to the ‘temporary closure’ list over a year ago.

On top of the 17 branches closed for more than a year, it can also be revealed that a further three branches have shut down within the last three months.

The Post Office denied claims it was mounting a closure programme by the back door and said its staff were committed to seeing branches reopen.

A spokesman said the Post Office network in the North East is “stable” and it was had no plans to permanently close branches.

Last month, the Forest-in-Teesdale branch reopened after it had been closed for more than five years.

A Post Office spokesperson said:

“There is no closure programme and the size of the Post Office network in the North East remains broadly stable as for example there were 489 branches open and trading in March 2014 compared with 491 in March 2011.

“There is a natural churn in the network and there can be occasions when Post Office branches do temporarily close for reasons beyond our control, and in these cases a branch will only remain vacant for a period where no suitable premises or an applicant for the role of postmaster has been identified, and we always work hard to restore the service.

“If a Post Office is temporarily closed it is not included in the numbers of open and trading branches.

“Post Office Ltd is engaged in the largest investment and modernisation programme in its history, which marks a commitment to no more branch closure programmes.

“Examples of cases where we have successfully restored post office services in the North East after periods of temporary closure include Forest-in-Teesdale, Normanby, Gunnerton, Blackhall Mill, Bede Trading Estate and High Grange.”

Closed for 0-3 months

Crookham, TD12 4SY

High Street, NE8 1EQ

Pittington, DH6 1AT

 

Closed for over a year

Burnopfield, NE16 6LX

Cleadon Park, NE34 8PL

Stonehaugh, NE48 3DY

West End Newbiggin, NE64 6UY

Closed for over two years

Shotley Bridge, DH8 0HQ

 

Closed for over 3 Years

East Rainton, DH5 9QT

Grange Estate, TS18 4LT

Victoria Street, TS6 6HT

 

Closed for over four Years

Stainton, TS8 9AG

Newfield, DH2 2SL

Closed for over five Years

Aycliffe, DL5 6JT

Eldon Lane, DL14 8TD

Kelloe, DH6 4PD

Matfen, NE20 0RP

Orchard, TS16 0EH

Roseberry Square, TS10 4EL

Stamfordham, NE18 0LA

 

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 02 Jan 2015

Exposed: Jobcentre Benefit Sanctions Culture Revealed – Whistleblower

I worked for DWP for many years, in various roles including management and adviser positions, and can verify that Jobcentre Plus did and do talk about benefit sanction targets/expectations.

Benchmarks did exist, but there was no pressure to meet them until around October 2010. Prior to 2010, sanctions were rarely discussed and staff from my experience did not feel under pressure to make referrals to the Decision Maker.

A benchmark is “a standard by which something can be measured or judged” so does not precisely imply a target. A benchmark level is not a target directly, but indirectly policy to meet a benchmark level is a target that is set to meet the minimum standard.

Performance expectations” serve as a foundation for communicating about performance throughout the year. They also serve as the basis for assessing employee performance. When a business and an employee set clear expectations about the results that must be achieved and the methods or approaches needed to achieve them, you establish a path for success.

Report to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith (pdf).

CAB staff reported that their caseloads began to increase significantly to year ending 2011; this was during the same period when the 6% benchmark/target was enforced.

Ruth Owen said at the time, “targets create perverse behaviour” and hence the reason targets/benchmarks were removed from staff appraisal objectives.

However, targets were still discussed, despite staff being informed there were no Stricter Benefit Regime measures. In my district the target/benchmark at the time was 6% of the live load of unemployed people on the office register.

Furthermore, initiatives were introduced that were not always intended to help people, but to achieve the 6% target. I felt this behaviour was unethical and I decided to resign from a job I once enjoyed, because I was extremely unhappy with the new ethos and the welfare agenda. The situation has worsened since my departure.

Following the Guardian’s DWP whistle-blower story sanctions took a dip from July 2011, but they began to rise again during 2012 and have continued to rise significantly ever since.

This can only happen if staff are being encouraged and are expected to make more and more referrals to the Decision Maker (870,793 claimants were subject to an adverse decision to lose their benefit during an 8 month period in 2013); the highest level since the Baldwin government’s campaign against the unemployed in the 1920s, which saw disqualifications of over 2 per cent per month for the very similar, not genuinely seeking work from October 1928 to March 1929 and in April-May 1929. This reason for disqualification was ended by a Labour Party backbench revolt resulting in abolition in March 1930.

> Labour Party backbench revolt – there’s something you don’t hear nowadays… especially not on behalf of the unemployed.

In all my years as a public servant, I have never witnessed the bureaucratic excessiveness which currently exists within the welfare system today.

The impact of the harsher regime, which also includes longer sanctions (which range from 1 month to 3-years), is devastating for claimants who are already under enormous financial pressure and emotional strain; claimants must now contribute to Council Tax, which has resulted in a circa 4% cut in a claimant’s income and in some cases there is the Bedroom Tax to pay too, resulting in a further 19% cut on average.

In addition, benefits have not increased in line with the cost of food and utilities. The EU advice to the UK is, benefits are inadequate.

The sick, the unemployed and those on low incomes are now paying for the failures in the banking system.

The system was and can never be perfect, due to the ever-changing demands of ministers. However, I believe it is now failing many of the people it is intended to help and support, particularly the vulnerable. The support on offer is often insensitive to a claimant’s needs and many people are referred to multiple courses inappropriately at the tax papers’ expense.

To cite one example, an older claimant with arthritis (which Jobcentre Plus knew about) was referred by Jobcentre Plus to attend an unpaid work opportunity that entailed travelling on 3 buses for 90 minutes each way and then to spend up to 30 hours per week picking up cans.

It is, therefore hardly surprising that claimants find the current regime bewildering, frightening and confusing. The professionals, including claimant representatives, are frequently dismayed by the irrational and insensitive treatment our clients are subjected to by, Jobcentre Plus as well as the private contractors delivering the welfare programme.

The reason I initially became involved was due to my family and friends being hurt by the system; I felt I had to assist and things snowballed from there.

The current regime has led to my increasing anger and lack of confidence in the organisations administering the current welfare policies; the people I help feel the same. A number of vulnerable claimants I assist physically shake and/or perspire with fear when they cross the threshold of the Jobcentre or the Work Programme provider premises.

It must feel like a cruel game of Russian Roulette – “will I, won’t I get my benefit stopped today” and for those people who have had their benefit sanctioned wrongly for doing more than is required of them by law, their anxiety is further heightened.

In my view and from experience sanctions do not work; they create excessive anxiety, which is not conducive to productive job search. When I assist a claimant achieve a more relaxed agreement and fairer treatment, they tell me they feel less stressed and undertake more productive and quality job search; many with several disadvantages have found work.

Furthermore, there is a shortage of sufficient and suitable employment opportunities available for everyone. Therefore, a proportion of the population will be unemployed at any given time and no government has successfully eradicated this problem, despite the billions of pounds that has been spent trying to tackle this particular issue.

This leads me to conclude, that most people will take responsibility for their own affairs and require little intervention from the state.

I believe the cost of poverty and administering the sanctioning machine is a further drain on the public purse, due to the wider impact on society; the associated crime such as food theft, increasing debt plus child poverty.

The additional cost to service providers must be taken into consideration too, namely; social services, welfare/debt agencies, food banks, schools, the police, HMCS and the NHS who must pick up the pieces. A number of claimants I help feel suicidal and there has been a recent death reported in the media as the consequence of sanctions being applied.

I am shocked by the very poor treatment of vulnerable claimants. However, more recently I have been assisting professionals who have been sanctioned repeatedly without any justification; these cases have been overturned because the decision was unlawful and/or natural justice, human rights as well as EU law were not applied in many cases.

Other welfare workers mirror my concerns; some of these issues may be addressed by the Mathew Oakley review, but in the absence of the immediate removal of sanctions altogether the process as a whole needs to be examined and in particular the quality and accuracy of decision-making. Examples of poor as well as perverse decision-making are littered all over the Internet by MPs and welfare agencies.

DWP has a duty to get their decisions right first time (pdf) and this must start at the coal face by, the adviser preparing a reasonable and lawful agreement and establishing all the facts fully before raising a doubt. The evidence I have collected indicates that Jobcentre staff and Decision Makers’ fail to follow their internal quality and training manuals too frequently.

“Things done well and with care, exempt themselves from fear.” William Shakespeare

Discretion must also be applied for those claimants who are clearly vulnerable and/or are not wilfully refusing or failing to fulfil their responsibilities.

A client agreed to a Jobseeker’s Agreement (re-named Claimant Commitment) that required them to take 9 steps to seek work; they took more than 40 quality steps, but a sanction was still applied.

Clients have had their benefit stopped indefinitely on the basis that they were not available for work due to the withdrawal of their telephone number and email address from the Jobcentre computer system.

There is no requirement in legislation to provide a telephone number or email address to Jobcentre Plus or the Work Programme to prove availability for work. I have since discovered via Freedom of Information, that this is happening in more than one area.

Claimants are being informed by some Jobcentres and Work Programme providers that everything is mandatory and they are being directed indiscriminately to carry out all activities under a threat of a sanction.

Some claimants are also being mandated to give access to their Universal Jobmatch account or to provide their login details; this is unlawful.

Mandates for non-mandatory activities were only ever issued as a very last resort.

A 57-year-old client who has worked all her life recently told me; “she feels Jobcentre Plus treats her like a school child who cannot be trusted to do her homework without the threat of a severe punishment.” This oppressive regime will not inspire or motivate her to find work more quickly, but it does make her feel angry, stressed and humiliated.

It appears that respect, fairness, reasonableness as well as proportionality have been thrown right out of the window.

The public are told that claimants can access the Hardship fund, but this is not accessible to everyone and many claimants are not made aware of it, because they are not issued with the appropriate paperwork or even told their benefit has been stopped.

If a four-week sanction is applied, most claimants who are over 25 year of age* and not in a vulnerable group (people with health issues, children or expectant mothers) will have nothing to live on for 2 weeks and then only circa £43 for the remainder of the sanction period. This money must cover all their bills, food and travel costs to the Jobcentre, which can exceed £5 in many areas; it simply is not possible.

* JSA rate £72.40 for claimants 25 years and over, £57.35 for 18-24 year olds.

The consequences are several fold; debt which may lead to high interest lending and/or theft not to mention the physical and mental impacts that can significantly affect a person’s ability to seek work effectively or to find the energy or confidence to appeal.

Who would decide to inflict this pain upon themselves, let alone others?

I am also aware some claimants are not receiving travel expenses on their non-signing days, which creates further hardship and more so if they are being forced unreasonably to attend the Jobcentre daily.

These are typical remarks that I read and hear in the course of my voluntary activities to assist claimants:

I am poverty-stricken. I have no electricity; food and no friends or family close by, can you assist me?”

“I was sanctioned for not doing enough job searches even though I have been told my job search activity is good.”

“I am being forced to participate in an activity that does not support me back to work and makes my health condition worse, but Jobcentre Plus/the private contractor refuses to listen to me.”

There are some good people administering the welfare system, but I believe from the available public evidence that they are being placed under pressure (reference: PCS conditionality questionnaire) to implement the very harsh conditionality regime and, as a consequence a perverse culture is cultivated.

A personal Freedom of Information request can reveal improper behaviour. Further, there are several research papers that counter the government’s view about the effectiveness of benefit sanctions.

Poor treatment and service can also result in Jobseekers claiming sickness benefit (Employment Support Allowance) to escape the stress of attending the Jobcentre or the private contracted provision; this outcome is classified as a positive off-flow and during the period of a sanction Jobseekers are not counted as unemployed, because they are not in receipt of

I would urge all claimants to appeal every sanction and make a complaint to their MP at the same time about their poor treatment. I would also urge the unemployed, the sick, low paid and the agencies that witness first-hand what is happening to come together to stop this merciless treatment.

British people are in the main, compassionate and civilised. I also believe most people would be as horrified as I am if, they witnessed first-hand the consequences of the punitive measures being meted out to fellow citizens in order to attain performance measures and/or to frustrate people off the unemployment register.

When I talk to people about welfare many people are in favour of the government’s tougher stance via enhanced conditionality.

However, when I explain how the welfare policy is being administered and the human impacts, they are shocked.

I also find it very distressing that poverty related diseases are also on the rise in the UK, placing further pressure on the NHS. I am sure many readers of this story will be equally disturbed by these findings.

The UK ‘is the first country to face UN inquiry into disability rights violations‘.

I am not politically motivated and made a conscious decision not to vote in the past 2 elections. I am simply a very concerned UK citizen who is struggling to comprehend why fellow human beings are being treated so appallingly and why the gap between the haves and have-nots is continuing to widen. The current regime simply cannot be allowed to continue in a society which claims to care for the welfare of all its’ citizens.

It makes me want to weep the depths which have been plunged. The increasing volume of very poor quality decisions made by local Jobcentre staff and DWP Decision Makers’ is of great concern.

If everyone appealed and complained many more sanctions would be overturned, thus making their very existence unjustifiable.

> I agree wholeheartedly with that last sentiment. It’s not always easy, barriers will be put in your way, but from personal experience the mere fact of winning an appeal against an unjust decision is a real boost.

Sender has requested anonymity.

Source –  Welfare News Service,  02 Sept 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/exposed-jobcentre-benefit-sanctions-culture-revealed-whistleblower/

Up To 40% Of Council Tax Levied On Low-Income Households Unpaid

This article was written by Randeep Ramesh, social affairs editor, for The Guardian on Wednesday 27th August 2014

Local authorities were unable to collect up to 40% of council tax due from low-income households that had the charge imposed on them for the first time last year.

Council tax – set on average at £5 a week – has been levied on the poorest households in England since April last year as part of a cut in benefits. But such is the squeeze on household budgets, say campaigners, that the poor cannot afford to pay even these small sums.

The result has been widespread non-payment. Nationally, more than a fifth of council tax charged to working-age claimants was unpaid at the end of 2013-14.

The figures, obtained from responses from 140 councils to Freedom of Information requests by the anti-cuts group False Economy, reveal that some of the biggest towns and cities were left chasing millions of pounds from the poor.

Liverpool collected 61% of council tax due from the poor, leaving the city short by £3.5m.

In Birmingham, the non-payment rate among the vulnerable was 30%, leaving the council seeking to recover £3m in lost revenue.

Leeds, Nottingham and Sheffield were all chasing more than £2m each in tax from those on the lowest incomes.

A report published last month by Child Poverty Action Group and the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust said almost 40% of Londoners affected by the cuts had been sent a court summons for council tax debts in 2013-14, with more than 15,000 claimants’ debts referred to bailiffs.

In Haringey, north London, which collected 80% of the council tax due from benefit claimants, hundreds of households have been taken to court to recover unpaid tax – with non-payers threatened with bankruptcy, repossession and ultimately prison.

Last week, sitting in the magistrates court in Tottenham, Dick, 49, said there was “no way” he could afford the £7-a-week council tax his housing association two-bedroom flat was being charged. He has walked with a stick since his Achilles tendon snapped in 2012.

I don’t work. I get employment support allowance which is £70 a week and my son lives with me and he gets a few hours on a market stall. After rent and everything else we have about £140 a month to live on. Food, clothes, the lot. I go down the food bank to eat. Can’t afford to heat up food because we cannot put money into the gas meter. How can I afford the council tax too? We never paid this before. It’s just getting the poor to pay up. That’s all it is.”

Dick said he had offered to pay £3 a week towards council tax after working out his finances with the local Citizens Advice bureau, but the local authority did not respond to his offer. Instead the council has asked for the full year’s council tax to be paid immediately – £350 – plus the cost of recovering his unpaid tax through a liability order of £125. “It’s ridiculous. I worked all my life. Never needed anything. Now I got nothing they want to get that.”

A spokesperson for False Economy called for the cuts to be reversed. “These figures show that people on low incomes are struggling to cope with council tax benefit cuts, just as the government was warned they would. Households are left either falling into debt and at risk of legal action, or taking money for food and essentials to plug the shortfall, in what is a government-created personal debt crisis.”

Councils said they were caught in an “impossible situation” as ministers had forced local authorities to pass on £500m in cuts when the scheme was introduced – and there would be further reductions in the discounts the poor received as town hall budgets were squeezed in the coming years.

Sharon Taylor, chair of the Local Government Association’s finance panel, said: “Councils would need to find £1bn by 2016 to protect discounts for those on low incomes.

“At a time when local government is already tackling £20bn worth of cuts, this is a stretch too far. Many councils have been put in an impossible position. No one wants to ask those on the lowest incomes to pay more. But pressure on funding for local services means many councils have had little choice but to reduce the discount.”

Hilary Benn, the shadow cabinet member responsible for local government, said two million of the poorest people were affected by the council tax hikes.

“These figures show that many of the people affected, including single parents and disabled people, are finding it very difficult to pay the Tories’ tax increase. The government was warned that this was going to be Poll Tax mark two, and so it is proving.”

The government defended its changes, saying it had “worked with councils to freeze council tax for the last four years” for most residents.

Kris Hopkins, the local government minister, said: “Our reforms to localise council tax support now give councils stronger incentives to support local firms, cut fraud, promote local enterprise and get people into work. We are ending Labour’s something-for-nothing culture and making work pay.”

Source –  Welfare News Service, 29 Aug 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/40-council-tax-levied-low-income-households-unpaid/