Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Overview and Scrutiny Draft Report on Fuel Poverty

NCC's Overview and Scrutiny committee has had a panel working on fuel poverty and they have now produced a draft report to be considered at their next meeting.

Of course even considering the issue is a good thing and is more than many other councils do and NCC's record on this is quite respectable within the constraints of local government finance.

However, as usual I have found what I consider to be an ommission so I have sent the scrutiny panel the following email -

"I have just read the draft report and I was hoping to draw your attention to what I consider a major omission.

I should first give you some information about my background. I used to be the Team Manager of the Playter Court Welfare Rigghts Service at the City Council before being constructively unfairly dismissed in August 2008. Prior to thatr I was Team Manager for Leicester City Council's welfare rights team and my background in welfare rights and other advice work goes back to 1992. I was deputy Chairman of the National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers from 2006-08. I live at *** ********* ***** so am a City Council resident. You will probably know me more recently as the writer of the Nottingham City Council LOLs blog but if that tempts you to immediately stop reading I would strongly advise you that would be a mistake.

My first point is to agree that fuel poverty is a combination of income, fuel prices and energy efficiency. I would modify that slightly that expenditure on  and council tax other than fuel plays a major part in the equation as well. If you are spending disproportionate sums on rent and council tax you obviously have less money available for heating. It's also true to say that a person in fuel poverty probably doesn't care where an extra income actually comes from as it long as it means they have more money to spend on keeping warm.

The report makes the point that fuel poverty is 3.3 times higher for private sector tenants than the city average. You will also be aware that housing benefit for this group of people has recently been cut significantly which is likely to make the problem worse. Further cuts to benefits which are planned are likely to exacerbate the situation further.

Something you may or may not be aware of is that one of the government's 'sweeteners' (some would say band aid) is to increase the fund for Discretionary Housing Payments


has been increased by £10m nationwide. I wrote a blog post about this recently so to save time here's a link


Unfortunately, NCC has a very poor record of administering DHPs with a long history of underspending while the vast majority of claims were being refused. The problem with underspending is that your following year's budget is then reduced.


2009/10 was the furst year that NCC even managed to spend the full allocation actually provided by central government, never mind spend any of its own funds that government rules allow it to spend. In 2009, I estimated that, if NCC had managed to spend just the full central government allocation for DHPs i.e. NOT spend any of its own money, then along with the knock-on effects on future allocations around £500k extra would have found its way into the Nottingham economy.


It therefore follows that, if DHPs had been properly managed then a very vulnerable sector may have a much reduced problem with fuel poverty because they would have had more money to spend on keeping warm. This issue is now more urgent than ever because of the increased reliance on DHPs caused by mainstream HB cuts and the increase to the DHP budget.

The big issue here is that it is one of the few situations where NCC actually has some control over what it can do. You cannot force energy companies to drop their prices, you cannot re-write the mainstream HB rules. However, you can choose to properly administer the DHP budget to help the group of people you have identified as being worst affected by fuel poverty and I would strongly recommend that this be added to the report as a viable action point.

I will be publishing this email on my blog as my aim is to widen awareness of DHPs and NCC efforts in this area as much as possible."

Uh, Been Doing This Blog Thing 3 Years Now

Go me, eh?

Three years of the blog have now happened. On previous anniversaries I've done a retrospective of the past year but this time I'm afraid I really can't be arsed, sorry. You'll just have to look back yourself if you're interested. Short summary - Freedom of Information was involved.

Here's to another year of not letting the buggers get me down...

Monday, 28 November 2011

Was It the Astroturfers Wot Won It?

One thing about any election is the amount of waste paper they cause to arrive through your door. At least the rest of the time you get phone numbers that will result in high calorie food being delivered to your residence.

One leaflet that was delivered to homes in at least part of Nottingham (think Nottingham South mainly, I certainly didn't see it up north) was this one -

(click for big version, fairly big file mind)

It was the second in a series of two, there was an earlier edition sent out around 18 March. The one above was sent out some weeks later.

Now electoral law states that any candidate is limited in their spending for campaigning and has to declare all expenses spent after the date that the election is declared, which is normally also the date that anybody declaring themselves as standing in the election officially becomes a candidate. For the 2011 local elections this date was 25 March, therefore, if you were standing in that election and you send out a leaflet before this date you don't have to declare it, send one after and you do and its cost counts as part of your limited election expenses allowed.

Another requirement of election law is that certain information must be included on the leaflet, including the names and addresses of the printer and the promoter of the leaflet and details of any 'person on behalf of whom the material is being published'. If you look closely you'll see our above leaflet has been promoted on behalf of the 'ConDem Campaign'.

Or has it? If you check the link to the older version you'll see that suspicions were already raised. For a start the promoter is said to be Carole McCulloch, now one of the Labour members for Aspley.

I have since had sight* of another elected Labour councillor's declared expenses which includes a payment of £43.60 for '2nd ConDem Leaflet', the supplier being listed as 'Nottingham Labour'. A note says this was calculated from an invoice for £1993 issued to 'Nottingham Labour Party'. The invoice comes from 'Digital Printing Services', who are at least properly named on the leaflet.

So, putting all that together, it looks very much like our leaflet was not prepared for the 'ConDem Campaign' at all but was in fact a Nottingham Labour Party product. Unless of course they are referring to a completely different '2nd ConDem leaflet' I suppose.

So what Nottingham Labour seems to have done is to send out a bunch of leaflets which claim to be from a fictitious** grass-roots campaign, the motivation presumably being to attract non-Labour voters who wouldn't respond to an openly partisan campaign. Nottingham South is known to be a bit woolly for the Labour Party so you can see how such an approach might make a bit of a difference. There's a phrase for this sort of thing in the trade and that phrase is 'astro-turfing' (from false 'grass-roots' see). The classic and most successful example of this technique is 'The Taxpayers' Alliance' who frequently manage to get quoted as an expert source in newspaper articles despite being an obvious Tory front.

The thing is, this isn't only dishonest and underhand it also breaches election law. The law is quite clear that any election leaflet must include an imprint naming anyone on whose behalf the leaflet is produced and, in this case, it appears pretty clear that that would be Nottingham Labour Party.

A breach of this condition is a criminal offence so what are the chances of Cllr McCulloch getting a knock at the door from the rozzers? Sadly none, it is more than six months since the offence took place and what's more, JoCo is Chairman of the Police Authority.

* Decided not to post it up as there may be privacy issues that I don't really want to deal with. Anybody involved with this leaflet can see from the figures quoted that I'm not making it up.

** At least I presume they don't exist, I couldn't find anything on them. If anybody is a genuine member please feel free to get in touch, you can invite me to a meeting.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Benefit Fraud - Because You're Worth It

I've occasionally made the odd comment about NCC's record on pursuing benefit fraud which hasn't been super complementary. No doubt there are people within certain circles who think that means that I'm against any form of sanction against benefit fraudsters and thing there should be a free-for-all.

Not true. I accept and in many cases positively encourage the proportionate pursuit and prosecution of people who defraud the benefits system. The key word there is 'proportionate'. I also strongly object to constant government sponsored propaganda on the subject which simply serves to demonise benefit claimants and put people off making legitimate claims. It is also an outrage that nothing like the same effort is made against those who defraud the tax system.

Another issue to consider is that anti-fraud action does have a cost and it should justify itself in value for money terms like anything else. Well, I've just stumbled across a bit of information which makes me wonder whether NCC manages to do that.

In 2009 I wrote about the fact that NCC boasted in a press release that it had reclaimed around £300k from benefit fraud. presumably it will have increased since then but it's likely to be in the same ballpark. At the time this amounted to 0.24% of total benefit expenditure, about 10% of comparable rates of recovery nationally.

Here's the new bit. In an aside in a report to the Audit Committee it is said that the benefit fraud team has 10 officers, so that gives us a vague idea of the cost of the council's expenditure on anti-fraud measures. I say vague because we don't know if those 10 officers comprise the entire team including admin and management/team leaders but let's presume it does. At a very conservative estimate I reckon a team that size is going to cost approx £300k in employee costs alone. The officers concerned will be relatively senior because they must have 'authorised officer' status (see s.109A of the SSAA 1992) allowing them to investigate people, including getting info from banks, utility companies and stuff (you did know they can do that when investigating you for fraud didn't you?). You will presumably have significant travel expenses because fraud inspectors spend a lot of time sitting outside people's houses watching for illicit visitors. And of course, if a prosecution does occur this will mean shedloads more money spent on legal services.

So on this basis I think we are in a fairly strong position to question whether NCC is getting value for money from it's anti fraud measures.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

JoCo's Starring Role at the Leveson Enquiry (In His Dreams)

The Leader of Nottingham City Council, Councillor Jon 'JoCo' Collins, made a dramatic appearance at the Leveson enquiry. In the literal sense because he tends to just make shit up.

(Jon Collins, yesterday)

After being calmed down, JoCo finally managed to negotiate a couple of minutes to present his indisputable evidence of phone hacking to a minion. But the evidence he provided to the enquiry, comprising of two messages he wrote himself on his own Twitter feed, was universally agreed to be devastating. Kinda.

"Ta-Daaaaa!!!" ejaculated Collins.

"Um, you got anything else?" said Counsel to the Enquiry, Sir Herbert Buffington-Tufton QC. "Maybe, for example, something that you didn't write yourself? And with coherent grammar?"

"Yes!" giggled JoCo. Let me just check my special private FoIA proof council email account...Ah..."

"See?" That conclusively proves that I believe I've been hacked by a local newspaper" he said "What more do you need?"

There was silence.

"See...?" said little Jon, less confidently, feeling a bit small.

Some men in funny uniforms, like big red coats, medals and knickerbockers, appeared at JoCo's shoulder before leading him gently away so as not to hurt himself on biros and stuff.

"Who the jiminy was that?" said Lord Leveson, after the dust had settled. "Not another of those local politicians trying to 'be somebody' by being hacked?"

Sir Herbert imagined dragging languidly on a huge Cuban cigar (because of course you can't actually do that indoors anymore) while in fact nearly swallowing one of those electronic cigarette things.

"Yus m'lud, I do believe it was. Shall I get someone to sort his bus ticket back up North?"

Monday, 21 November 2011

Questions the 'Post' Should Have Asked NCC About Benefit Fraud

The Nottingham Post has published an article about Housing Benefit Fraud committed against Nottingham City Council. Unfortunately it actually tells us very little and merely provides an excuse to run the 'BENEFITS FRAUD INCREASING SHOCK HORROR' meme again. It's a classic case of not asking the right questions or, if they did, not putting the answers to them in your article.

The headline is that benefit fraud prosecutions have increased by 39% and Graham Chapman says that the tough economic climate is to blame. He may well be right of course but we can't tell that from the article.

You see, as the article does explain, prosecution is not the only option open to councils when dealing with benefit fraud. There is the administrative penalty (a kind of bribe/blackmail designed to persuade you to 'fess up, pay a chunk of extra money you haven't got so you don't have to go to court), cautions and simply requiring the money to be repaid. There are arguments in favour of all these options depending on the individual situation. In short therefore, an increase in court prosecutions could simply be down to a change in prosecution policy, formal or otherwise*. In fairness the Post does say that NCC is resorting to prosecution more often but I can't tell from the article whether that was Chapman expressing NCC's declared policy or whether this is simply the Post reporter's conclusion.

Taking the article at face value then, NCC's response to increasing financial woes is to make things worse for those most affected by prosecuting more often when desperate times force poor decision making. I'm not sure that reflects too well on NCC.

It would have been helpful if the Post had asked NCC whether detected fraud had also increased as this would at least help answer the 'changed/not changed prosecution policy' question i.e. if greater detected fraud occurred along with more prosecutions then we could conclude 'no change'. On the other hand, if you assume that any organisation would get better at finding fraud over time** (practice makes perfect and all that) then if there isn't an increase in fraud then it may not be unreasonable to conclude that NCC has merely toughened its stance. It has to be said that NCC doesn't seem to actually find much benefit fraud, managing to find fraud worth only 0.24% of total benefit expenditure in 2009, about 10% of the national rate. This means that the margin of error is larger and any claim of an increase is less significant. The fact that we're talking about an increase in prosecutions from 31 to 43 in a six month period reinforces this concern.

We know that actual Housing Benefit expenditure has increased by nearly 20% in only two years (I think that's known as 'rocketing' in the trade) and that is without doubt down to the worsening economic conditions. Would we also expect that fraud as a proportion of this expenditure would also increase? It would be worthwhile knowing if that is what is happening.

If we had been given the figures for fraud I'd also want to be sure that they really were actual fraud as opposed to 'fraud and error' which is what tends to be reported in order to amplify the alarm bells further, the 'error' of course tending to combine official and customer error and leaving the general public to assume it's all down to claimants. I've previously uncovered evidence of a perverse incentive for NCC to try and reclassify their own errors as customer error, combine this with clear evidence of the Benefits Service's standards slipping in general and you've got a bit of a mess brewing.

Ok, so I've gone further than you might expect a local newspaper to go writing an article afresh but the information for Post reporters to use has been up here for a while and all the links to sources are still fully functional. There may well be a big story here but, unfortunately somebody somewhere still has a lot of work to do to find out.

* I'm getting indications that quite a bit of high level decision-making is being done 'off-minutes' so to speak, almost certainly to evade Freedom of Information requests.

** Naive I know.

Nottingham City Council Press Releases

I occasionally get the stereotypical complaint that I never write good news about Nottingham City Council. I'm not sure that's entirely true but there are a couple of defences I can make.

Firstly, of course, doing NCC's PR function for them without payment is not exactly what I consider to be a core function of this blog. NCC spends quite a lot of money on its Communications (the Director, Stephen Barker, gets £75,079 plus £14,131 pension contributions alone, see page 89), much of which is PR. They can clearly afford to write their good news stories themselves.

Notwithstanding that, I did set up a RSS feed of NCC's press releases in the sidebar but unfortunately that stopped being updated in May. Why, I have no idea. The only thing I can find now is the website's front page stories so I've put that up. These really are puff pieces though.

I'd much prefer to have the press release feed back and be a minor part of NCC's propaganda machine but if it's not there I can't post it.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Hate Speech On Nottingham Post Website - Off Topic Post of the Week

The Nottingham Post website comment moderators are guilty of a serious lapse of judgment at the moment, regularly allowing disgusting hate speech comments despite them being reported. In fact, they are more likely to remove posts challenging the hate speech while leaving the original post online.

Let me give you some examples of posts that remain despite being reported -

On this article about an organisation on refugee issues -

“We spend to much money and devote too many resources to Asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, the overwhelming majority of people do not want them here and they add nothing to our society other than debt."

“Brainwash them young. I wonder if the stories will tell how they passed through several safe countries, which they are obligated under conventions to seek asylum in first, before they came to easy touch Britain.”

“Will this exhibition be in the fiction section ?”

“Guess what, Erik, the vast majority of people don't want any more ''asylum seekers'. They go on what they see in real life, not what they've read in Das Kapital.”

In addition, a commenter made justified criticisms about Israel in the comments and this was removed immediately. I also wrote a more detailed post providing details of the oppression of Palestinians by the Israelis and that was also removed within hours. However repeated posts libelling the first poster as an anti-semite have been left up. That is just not acceptable.

Now let's have a look at this one about the Market Square occupation, a demonstration that I fully support -

"These people serve no purpose what so ever...This bunch of campers are no better than a beggar apart from they get away with begging."
Nicely bringing 'beggars' in here...

"...perhaps the benefits agency should take an interest just to see who is actually not actively looking for a job, or supposedly too ill to work ???"

Ah yes, the 'benefit cheats' meme, always a winner.

"...water cannon the lot"
Absolutely, a bit of violent oppression never goes amiss after all...

"...just remember what today is" (posted on Remembrance Armistice Day)
BOOM! Internet smackdown. Evoking poppies/our boys/Remembrance Day ALWAYS wins the argument, no matter what you're trying to say. Mint Imperials are MUCH nicer than Werthers originals, JUST REMEMBER WHAT DAY IT IS.

This is where it got a bit nasty. I have previously admitted to having mental health problems so when this type of comment comes up -

"veggiesosage - keep taking the tablets they dont appear to be working"

I reserve the right to get a bit upset. Despite reporting it this comment is still there. I tried adding a riposte but it was immediately removed, although does now appear to have been allowed. I would much rather both the above comment and my reply were removed.

Moving on to an article about the government's work programme where your punishment for being unemployed is being made to work for free sweeping up a Tesco warehouse -


Nice use of capslock there. Textbook.

"To many people rely on benefits its about time they get kicked up their ****s end of"

That benefits cheat/scrounger meme combined with violence. There's a lot of that.

"The very least that the long-term unemployed should be made to do is get up in the morning and sign in at 7:30am at an unemployment centre, stay there all day and sign out at 5pm... That would, at least, keep some of them away from crime, working on the side or watching TV all day...If they don't want to do it then no benefits of any kind should be offered."

See? Often combined with "THEIR ALL CRINIMULS" logic.

"...it doesn't need trained nurses to see if frail patients need a drink or help being fed. Equally cleaning up road verges and canal tow paths isn't putting someone out of a paid job."
Ok, I accept that simple galloping inaccuracy is not the same as hate speech but the person who made that comment is a former benefits office manager. Not only should he know better but imagine being a claimant at his office eh? You'd be replacing nurses and council roadsweepers within the week.

It's too depressing to go on with this. You might think me rather sad for joining in with such conversations never mind getting upset about it and you may well have a point. But I find it very hard to stand by when blatant fascist rhetoric is encouraged and supported on a public 'news' website.

From what I've been told the 'moderators' are probably journalism interns based at the Daily Mail (the Post's owners) headquarters in London. They clearly have no proper understanding of racism, disablism or classism and will probably fit in very nicely in their future career as Mail 'journalists'. Unfortunately their actions reflect very badly on the Post, whose journalism I generally have a great deal of time for.


Comment allowed on refugee exhibition article by 'john_carlton'

"Now you know where the marxist Veggie and Neilant get their anti-semitism from. It is politilically driven, bigoted, racist hate - no different from the type trotted out by the old National Front. And no different to the attitudes of the those have persecuted Jews through the ages."

Addendum; This is the comment that the Nottingham Post repeatedly removes, without explanation -

"John_carlton you really need to look up what 'anti-semitism' means. The Semitic peoples includes a number of peoples not just Jewish people. For example it includes Arabs. As Israel is among the countries with the worst records of oppressing Arabs, particularly the Bedouin people who are being subject to enforced removal from their ancient lands in the Negev desert. It was even reported that Israel tried to sue the Bedouin for eviction costs.

Of course Israel's record of brutal repression of the Palestinians is well known. They are also one of the ancient semitic peoples. Again, forced removal, illegal settlement of their land by Israelis is common, as is punishment of entire communities for the (admittedly criminal) actions of a few individuals. It's a bit like when you were at school and teacher said everybody would be kept late after school if the boy who stole the pencils doesn't own up. Only with helicopter gunships.

It is therefore fair to say that the Israeli government is one of the most anti-semitic institutions on the planet.

It's also worth remembering that only a tiny number of the world's Jewish people are Israelis in the nation-state sense.

So to conflate 'criticism of Israel' with 'anti-semitism' is wildly inaccurate and I can only assume that you continue to do so for your own reasons, not for any real concern for Jewish people.

Israel's secret service, Mossad, regularly engages in planned state-sponsored assassinations of Israel's political enemies, mostly Palestinians. In a recent case, Mossad agents used stolen British passports to get near to their target.

Still want to try and argue that criticism of Israel is invalid? All of these traits mean that comparison of the world's most oppressive regimes in history, including the Godwin's Law defying one, is not inappropriate. Claiming equivalence is going too far I agree but the idea is that we are supposed to learn from the mistakes in history but Israel's treatment of those it considers its enemies questions how well they at least are doing that. Our government's support for them also questions ours.

The final irony is a group of people happily demonising refugees while accusing another of anti-semitism. Before the war certain right wing media continually denied pre-war Nazi Germany's treatment of the Jews and continually argued against accepting Jewish refugees to the UK (I won't name the newspaper concerned but it rhymes with Waily Fail). You, John_carlton and your racist friends on here would have been standing shoulder to shoulder with such people and you are their equivalent today. At least the Post is presenting refugee issues in a neutral light."

Nottingham Post readers; you decide whether the above breaches their comment terms and conditions but please do check the context if you think it does.

Whoever john_carlton actually is he is clearly a disgusting fascist and it is appalling that the Post repeatedly subjects its readers to his Nazi sympathising opinions and allows him to run a sustained harassment campaign falsely accusing others of anti-semitism.

If you agree with the above and you're on Twitter please have a pop at Tom Pegg, [Tom tells me he has made representations to Northcliffe Media which is probably all he can do] the Post's online publisher. I suspect even he isn't entirely responsible for moderating Nazi sympathising posts but he's certainly a lot nearer whoever does than the actual journos are.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

It's Said That We Learn More From What They DON'T Say

Another interesting FoI response from NCC to another requester which fits very appropriately into the 'beggars belief' file. Bit like another I discussed the other week.

In this new case the requester asked for -

"...copies of all emails, letters and memos sent to or from the leader of Nottingham City Council which mention Freedom of Information, and in particular, any correspondence about the Council's compliance with FOI requests."

The reply came thusly -

"The department advise that a thorough search of the Leader's email account has been undertaken on and in particular any correspondence relating to compliance with FOI requests and as a result find no such reference which contains material that fits the description you require has been located."

before confirming that the information could not be provided as it was not held.

First thing to note is that it only mentions a search of JoCo's emails whereas the requester asked for any memos or letters as well. Now that could just be an oversight, or could be a sin by deliberate omission. Either way it's clearly not an adequate response and I hope that the requester takes it further.

If it isn't just a case of sophistry and NCC really is claiming that no communication on FoI policy has gone through the Leader's office then that sounds a little bit fantastical. JoCo has been very vocal about the costs of FoI to the council and, unless he just made a figure up off the top of his head, people would have been assigned the task of coming up with a figure for him. Where are those communications?

I take it NCC and JoCo know it's illegal to delete stuff to avoid it being released under FoI? Like the claim that no internal correspondence was held about plans to deal with NCC's dog poor FoI performance, you really have to wonder what is going on here. Is NCC really defying its FoI obligations by just pretending that internal communications just don't happen?

Monday, 7 November 2011

Not Just Me Then...

Here we have another decision by the Information Commissioner Nottingham City Council completely fails to provide a response to a FoIA request and for once it isn't one of mine!

This case concerns a request for a service agreement between NCC and a student housing organisation. That's it, nothing more. To provide it, all NCC needs to do is find its lowest paid clerk, ask him/her to go to the relevant filing cabinet, scan or photocopy the agreement requested and post it off. I reckon that's half an hour's work at best.

Instead the request, made on 16 April 2011, had still not merited a response by the time of the decision notice which was issued on 6 October.

The Commissioner had this to say by way of comment -

"The Commissioner considers that this complaint demonstrates that there are a number of deficiencies in the procedures carried out by the council which were previously evidenced in Practice Recommendations issued by the Commissioner on 23 October 2007. The council is currently being monitored for its compliance with the Act."

Do you think this is the sort of stellar practice NCC refers to in its action plan as follows?

"To market NCC as best practice model and take on others workload for fee."

Good luck with that.

I have no idea what would be in this service agreement nor why the requester wants it. However, my guess is that the delay is caused NCC's obsessive secrecy because they seem to assume that any document requested under FoI MUST have something that they'd prefer to be kept quiet.

So they spend about six months going through the documents with a fine tooth comb to check. Then of course they spend another six months trying to think up an argument for keeping it secret. It takes so long because it gets passed to the legal dept for this task and they are utterly shit. Imagine a well stocked graveyard for crap lawyers who can't get a job anywhere else (including the shop floor at Asda) and you'll get the idea.

If they can't think of anything it goes off to the Communications team who '...assess the impact of disclosure from a reputational standpoint...' What they do if the disclosure looks like it will have what I'm sure they'd refer to as a 'negative reputational impactisation' I don't know. But whatever it is would probably take another six months or so if they're quick.

No doubt along the way various officers will get visits from JoCo shouting and screaming and generally meddling, because that's apparently what he does.

Meanwhile the Information Commissioner has died of old age and the rest of us have lost the will to live.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Discretionary Housing Payments - Any Change?

So then, back to my favourite obsession. Where had we got to?

Ah yes, last we heard was that in the 2009/10 year NCC got £59,639 from the government towards DHPs and, joy of joys, the total actually paid out went up for the first time in years to £66,677 from the previous year's £51,882.

Strange then that the 2010/11 central government grant dropped to £55,863. You see, normally, the amount allocated should be half way between the previous year's grant and actual expenditure so an increase in DHP payouts should pull the grant up. So I'm not sure what that was about.

Anyway that was the last year that the old rules applied because since then the lovely Tories have cut mainstream Housing Benefit even more and part of the 'sweetener' for the deal was an extra nationwide £10m DHP allocation (making £30m in total) to allow councils to apply a scrap of band aid. This extra £10m is not allocated via the normal formula mentioned above it is weighted in favour of councils who would lose the most from the cuts which, as I've posted before, kinda means Nottingham.

Now I have been ranting about this for a while because it means that tenants on benefits will be even more reliant on DHPs to keep a roof over their heads. One Nottingham failed to even mention DHPs in it's recent 'concern' about benefit cuts. So I was interested to find out how much Nottingham had actually got for the 2011/12 financial year i.e. the current one. Turns out it's £119,316 which is more than double that of last year. This implies that a big chunk of that is from this extra £10m. Councils are also allowed to spend a certain amount of their own money on DHPs and if NCC spent the maximum it is allowed to that would be a potential total fund of over £298k.

So, we know that Nottingham is expected to do disproportionally badly out of mainstream HB cuts. We know that Nottingham's share of the band-aid is bigger than most. What we don't have is any evidence that NCC has anything approaching a plan for ensuring this extra money is used most effectively.

The result of this is that any mitigation of the worst effects of the HB cuts that would have been possible from this extra funding probably won't happen and we will see a big increase in rent arrears and evictions as a result. How many of these could be prevented by a decent DHP strategy is impossible for me to say but if only one person loses their home when there's money there to stop it I think that's criminal.

Note; if you are currently suffering a shortfall between your housing benefit and your rent I would strongly recommend that you apply for DHPs, even if you've been turned down before because of the increased budget.

The forms are available here. Note that the DHP leaflet there was prepared in 2005 and the contact address is for a building that doesn't exist anymore. That probably tells you all you need to know about the amount of effort NCC puts in and how much they give a shit about you becoming homeless.

Addendum; I've just found that One Nottingham have had further discussions on welfare issues at their May Meeting. A policy document is available but ON seem to have got bored of publishing their minutes. Obviously there was no mention of DHPs in that paper. It seems to be all about blaming the government which in itself is fine but it's more productive to discuss the things that you do actually have some control over.

Picture Theft - The Latest Latest

Had a response from NCC, here it is...

"Please accept our apologies in relation to the use of your image on the Council’s website. We have investigated the matter but have not been able to find out how the photo came to be used. The image has now been removed from the site. We are not aware that it has been used by the Council elsewhere.  

If you are not satisfied with our response, you can appeal. Further details are included in the attached leaflet."

If I'm not satisfied with the response? What is this 'if' that you mention?

You're gonna get fuckin sued.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Picture Theft - the Latest

Remember NCC stole one of my pics for their website? Well I sent them a nice email about it asking them to pay the going rate for a stock photo plus an extra amount to reflect their use without attribution etc.

Well compare and contrast the 'Freezepage' capture of the Market Square gallery on 20th October here with the actual gallery page as it is now.

Notice something has gone? Took them over a week to do that.

Of course what hasn't happened is any form of response, explanation, apology or of course payment. We'll see whether that situation changes but I doubt it will some official or court induced prompting.