Thursday, 29 January 2009

Housing Benefit Decision Notices part 4 (I think)

You'll remember that I've been banging on about Housing Benefit decision notices being illegally inadequate for a while.

As a recap, the reply I got from the Housing Benefit service said;

"I have taken this matter up with [manager] this morning and been advised that some recent amendments to decision notice letters led to the back page information being left off. The back page contained all the statutory details and appeal information..."

Note that word, 'recent'. What would you take that to mean, last two to three months perhaps?

I visited a friend yesterday who has been on benefits for a while longer than me and I took the opportunity to have a look through her collection of HB decision notices. Two notifications dated 22 Feb 2008 and 22 March 2008 were of interest as between these dates the format changed significantly as did the ref numbers of the documents at the bottom. The earlier of the two documents did include a brief mention of the right to appeal and the timel imit. However the later one no longer has this and the space is now taken up by the income details, which the earlier one lacked. Neither had anything on the back, nor was there any supplementary information sheet included.

So it seems obvious that the 'recent amendment' occurred sometime between 22 Feb and 22 March 2008. Personally, in this context I think thats stretching the meaning of the word 'recent'.

In the reply from Housing Benefits I was told that the information would be reinstated "this month" i.e. December 08, the email being dated 8 December. However, I received further statements in the 3rd week of December and nothing had changed. And there was no mythical information sheet either.

So, Nottingham City Council's Housing Benefit Service, a 4 star (highest) rated service according to the Audit Commission (more on this later) was happy to provide illegal decision notices to claimants for nearly 9 months. To me, this shows a worrying arrogance and contempt for the law. Mind you, arrogance and contempt for the law is something we've come to expect from Nottingham City Council *cough* housing allocations *cough*.

I'd be very grateful to hear from anybody who has received a decision notice during January, the more recent the better, letting me know whether the statutory information has now been included. Hit the comments or send me an email, whatever you prefer.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Good News! (don't worry it won't happen often!)

Some good news at last for Nottingham City Homes and, more importantly, their long suffering tenants.

They have passed their most recent Audit Commission inspection so £165m of government money for repairs and improvements is going their way. All cynicism aside, this is good news in anybody's language.

Lets just hope that whether you get a new bathroom doesn't depend on who you're related to...

Link to Eve Post article.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

A brief post about 'Questionmarc'

Somewhat off topic I know as she's clearly got nothing to do with NCC.

However Questionmarc seems to be on an honourable mission to expose failues and stupidity on the part of our favourite local authority (so far focusing on lack of public toilets in the city centre and the absurd over emphasis of fairy tale character in chief Robin Hood for tourism purposes) so I feel we have a bit of a common purpose.

And to be fair she's doing it with considerably more wit, artistic talent and bravery than me. Lets hope she stays one step ahead of the feds.

Link to her site over on the right with the other Nottingham linkies.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Discretionary Housing Payments Update

The Department for Works and Pensions (DWP) have released the figures for the government contribution and overall spending limits for DHPs for 2009/10.

Here's a quote from the preamble in the circular;

"4 For 2009/10, the overall financial limit has been set at £50m, of which £20m is made up of the government contribution. This means the amounts remain unchanged from 2008/09.

5 The distribution formula is intended, as far as possible, to target resources according to need. Each authority’s allocation is based on the mid-point between its DHP spend for the latest year for which we have reliable data and its contribution for that year."

This confirms therefore my earlier post where I said that if you don't use it you lose it and, sure as eggs are eggs Nottingham's government contribution and overall spending limit has gone down to £59645 (down from £62547) and £149113 (down from £156,292) respectively.

As you can see, this year the total expemditure on DHPs has been frozen at the same rate as last years thus making things worse. Other local authorities who manage their expenditure more generously (yet may not have as much deprivation as Nottingham) are gaining money that should be heading Nottingham's way.

Personally, I'm not very happy with that. Not that others are getting more cash per se, good luck to em I say, just that Nottingham's losses have been amplified by the City Council's incompetance.

Update; link to the circular here.

On the bright side the DWP has announced an extra £45m nationally for mainstream Housing Benefit subsidy for next year and Nottingham's share of this is £289,099. However Leicester is being allocated an extra £293,574. The increase has apparently been based on existing subsidy formulae which I'm afraid I know nothing about so I can't explain why Leicester seems to deserve more. Maybe a bit of research is in order but not now, its a bit late.

Earlier post onDHPs

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Oh the irony...

One interesting little snippett from the Audit Commission report into Council House allocations and the council's response (see links in articles below) is that the Councillor who told fibs in support of a dodgy council house allocation is Brian Grocock who is, of course the current Sherriff of Nottingham.

Boooo hiss etc ;-D

Saturday, 17 January 2009

BNP member on NCH BME panel

Good grief it gets worse.

The good Reverend has now claimed to have attended NCH's black and ethnic minority panel in his capacity as a minority faith representative. See the first link in the article below.

It seems that if you're an avowed racist who wants to infiltrate organisations or panels that are supposed to represent BME groups all you have to do is sign up to the Flying Spaghetti Monster cult and you're in.

Link to Eve Post article, scroll down to the comments where the good reverend makes his claims.

Friday, 16 January 2009

BNP member on NCH Disabled Person's panel

Nottingham City Homes has been in the local news this week, although I don't think anybody has noticed.

As if things weren't bad enough for them it seems that a 'Gold' member of the BNP has joined their disabled residents' forum, known as 'Homes 4 Us' and claims to have reached the dizzy heights of Vice Chair.

I found this out only a few minutes ago perusing the Evening Post site for any more updates on the corruption scandal and found a comment from Rev J.P. Cotterill-Attaway on one of the articles.

Now the Rev has got a quite easy to remember name and I remember it popping up on the leaked BNP membership list. A bit of a search finds this letter from him to the Post which demonstrates that he's not shy of revealing his membership, although he seems to be on their 'deluded' wing. However, he is described as an activist on the membership list and this would appear to be borne out by the fact that he attempted to run for office, defeated only by a 'paperwork error'.

However, he does seem to have gone a little shy on his myspace page, now its just 'Jason' rather than his full name.

The Rev rather side steps allegations of racism in the BNP in his letter but he might like to look at the BNP's website today if he's not sure. Articles alleging that Lincs County Council would rather employ Romanian Gypsies and travellers than local people when nothing of the sort is evident. Another claiming that 'Third World immigration' turned London into 'Middle East Battleground'. This then becomes 50,000 Muslims and a handful of extremist communists'. In an article discussing the disproportionate number of black people being searched they say;

"Instead of drawing the logical conclusion — that there are higher rates of offenders amongst certain groups — the Race Gestapo has immediately blamed white policemen for the problem."

They forget this is about stop and search and presence on the DNA database not convictions.

Remember that this is the BNP's public face, the bit they allow to get on the news. Yet even here, everything is twisted, inflammatory language and 'white fright' stories are used in order to denigrate ethnic minorities, immigrants and asylum seekers. This is racism, pure and simple. Their latest campaign to young people claims that most racism is against white 'indigenous Britains' which is utterly preposterous.

I can't help wondering, its more than that, I state as an unequivocal fact that membership of this race hate promoting 'party' is incompatible with serving as a member of a consultative committee for NCH, which of course provides housing to a multicultural community.

Disabled ethnic minority NCH tenants may wish to ask themselves whether their interests can ever properly be represented by a BNP activist. Best of luck.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Link to Audit Commission Report

The report is now actually available to download here. I think you can also get it via the link to NCC's response. Must have come up while I was having a nap this afternoon.

Not read it yet.

Its hit the fan, JoCo eats dirt

This is the big one.

You may remember when Nottingham City Homes was formed from the old Housing department and an investigation found that it was run by a bunch of crooks? Well the District Auditor's report is due out later today and not even JoCo is trying to brazen it out, he's got his grovelling apology up on the NCC website already and the report isn't even formally published yet.

The Evening Post has gone to the extraordinary lengths of posting a story at midnight which I think demonstrates the gravity of the situation. And the 'predictable comments by the twats' (an occasional series I'll feature when linking to EP stories) are already out;

"How many immigrants and asylum seekers have been given council houses instead of the British public. What is the point in having a points based system to ensure the most needy cases take priority."

Hang on, that comment was by Andyman from, yes DERBYSHIRE. Go back to where you came from Derbyshire boy, don't you go sullying our pure bred Nottingham websites with your dry stone walled tosh! Thats NOTTINGHAM taxpayers' webspace that is, keep your hands off!!!

Ahem. Sorry. Where were we?

Ah yes, I also found a rather interesting article on Indymedia from a couple of years ago concerning the illegal and violent eviction of a squat. Its alleged that the property was an NCH one and it was being set up for a right to buy scam by an NCH staff member's relative. Its also alleged in the article that the evicters were off duty NCH staff...

Coun Brian Grocock is said to have lied when making representations on behalf of a couple. However he doesn't appear to have resigned yet. Still its early.

I reckon this one is about as bad as it can get, I'm sure fallout will continue. I'll endeavour to write about any future developments, a task which will give me no pleasure at all as I'm sure you'll realise.

Freedom of Information Requests

I've recently submitted a couple of Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) requests to Nottingham City Council. One was about Discretionary Housing Payment (you can see the resulting post immediately below) and the other was about the decision making process of a change in management of a particular service. Neither have exactly gone to plan.

I thought that the DHP one would be pretty simple and they did give me most of the information that I requested and you can see it in my table in the article. However, they refused to give me the total number of applications for DHPs on cost grounds. They would only tell me the numbers of successful applications. As it won't take any readers long to realise, you can't work out the success rates of applications without both sets of figures.

Any readers of Private Eye will know that they have been scathing of the use of sputious costs claims to avoid providing information and I think this is what we've got here. Their reasons are, well I can't understand them so I'll have to quote them for you and see what you think;

As Nottingham City Council only records successful applicants, an Officer would need to manually check the imaging system and paper records for each year to work out the total number of applicants for the scheme. There are 174 cases caught by the time period and each case would take approximately 45 minutes to check." In all they want £2,800 for the missing bit of info.

Do what? Where has 174 cases come from? In all there's over 1000 successful claims so I reckon the total number of claims is going to be between 3-5k.

And look what I found after a little interwebs search. Its a report to the Task and Finish Panel (who they?) dated 18 September 2006. This report includes details of both successful claims AND total claims for the whole of 2005/6 and about half of 2006/7. Looks like its not so difficult to find these figures after all.

To me thats got em bang to rights so I sent an appeal off toot sweet. I also added in a supplementary request for their policies and criteria for awarding DHPs while I was there. Just to piss them off you understand as I'm pretty damn sure they haven't got any. Initially I got a rather hurt sounding email including the following;

It may help your understanding if I explain how my team works, and fits in with the rest of the Council. Information Governance is a small team based in Legal and Democratic Services. We get all kinds of queries related to the Council, and do not have expertise in all of them...

...information regarding claims would need to be checked on a case by case basis, as often once unsuccessful claims have been resubmitted with further evidence or for a later period and then been awarded a DHP...

...I would like you to know that this Office works hard to provide each customer with the information they require..."

Yeah whatever, dry your eyes mate, just send me the info.

The response to the other request I submitted was even funnier. I was hoping to see the minutes of the meetings where the change in management was decided to see who was behind it and the rationale (reasons will almost certainly be revealed in a future post). They sent me minutes of meetings alright, they were even about the service area I was asking about. However none of these meetings had anything whatsoever to do with the change I was interested in and in fact, predated it by at least a year. Appeal submitted...

Cock up or conspiracy, I'm not sure I can tell any more. They're certainly capable of both big style.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

They're on your side Part 2

You've presumably heard of Housing Benefit? Council Tax Benefit? Of course you have. How many have heard of Discretionary Housing Payments?

I wouldn't be surprised if not many people put their hands up in response to that last question as Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) are not exactly over promoted and as a result not exactly over claimed. At least not in Nottingham.

So what are they? They are related to the Housing Benefit (HB) and Council Tax Benefit (CTB) schemes although they are not actually HB or CTB. They are essentially extra discretionary payments that councils can pay to people who need further help with housing costs. You have to be getting some HB or CTB already but other than that councils have pretty much total discretion as to whether they pay them to you or not, as long as they are rational in their decisions.

Now councils receive a government grant towards paying DHPs and they are are allowed to pay out more from their own funds up to a set limit. These amounts of grant and upper limits of total spending are set by the government each year.

Now it seems obvious to me that a sensible council will at least make sure that all of the government grant is paid out and will manage decision making to make sure this is so. I would argue that a council should not be too averse to paying out a sizable chunk of the upper limit from its own funds too. Such payments will help prevent homelessness and poverty and bring central government money into the Nottingham economy. So lets have a look at how Nottingham City Council is doing with this table I have drawn up from Freedom Of Information Requests and google searching.

As you can see NCC has consistently underspent their government grant and not even touched its own funding for every year that the scheme has been in operation and looks likely to repeat this this financial year. They wouldn't tell me the total number of applications on cost grounds (I'll deal with the FoIA shenanigins in another post), the two figures I've got in the table came from an NCC committee report I found on the net.

So lets recap. NCC is not even spending the money its given by the government for DHPs. For the two years I can establish success rates of applications they are turning down nearly 60% and I would be surprised if its any different for the other years. Yet they are not constrained by law as to who they can make payments to. So how can they justify being so strict and refuse so many?

As if to make matters worse, if you underspend one year your government grant and upper spending limit is reduced. This year on year reduction is caused by NCC's consistent underspend and is the only reason why the percentage of expenditure figures appear to be getting better (I hope this isn't used as a performance indicator). I really want to see the figures for the total number of applications so I can see how success rates have changed.

The Evening Post recently reported that evictions from rental properties had increased by 42% last year with rent arrears being the largest reason why. The national average was 7%. How many of these might have been prevented by a DHP?

One of the last things I was looking at before going off sick from my NCC employment (never to return) was a policy for the allocation of DHPs because they certainly didn't have one at the back end of 2006 and I'm willing to bet they still haven't. I also suggested sending a leaflet to targeted groups with HB decision notices but was told by Marjorie Dawes lookalike Lisa Black, the Head of Service, that it would be too expensive. The leaflets had already been designed and printed, they were just sitting in cupboards as far as I could see. This lack of a policy means that, if you do apply for a DHP, whether you get one or not depends purely on whether the officer making the decision happens to personally agree that, on that particular day, you are deserving of one. As you can see most of the time they don't.

If you ask me its fucking criminal.


As you may have noticed I've been tarting the place up a bit. Finally worked out how to add a list of fave blogs at the side (like I said before I'm new to this blogging game).

And do you like the piccy at the top? I made it myself I did.

They're on your side Part 1

Big job cuts at Nottingham City Council (Eve Post)

Unison's Gary Ward says its "unacceptable" and "disgraceful".

That'll show 'em. Go Gary, Go Gary...

Predictable comments from the twats alert;

"There are plenty of non jobs in the nonsensical political correctness departments that would do the City a favour if they went.

But we can guarantee it wont be these jobs that will be affected."

That'll wipe the smug smile off a few faces."

How many thousands is being wasted on interpreters and insisting on publishing council literature in every conceivable language under the sun?"

Its starting to look like we get the politicians we deserve in Nottingham.

But its got nothing to do with the 'JoCo's gone to Iceland and lost all the money' fiasco. Oh no. Completely irrelevant. Silly to even suggest such a thing. More from the Post.

Its all looking a bit grim.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Nottingham City Council at MIPIM

Well everybody else is writing about this so I should too. That said, most of the work has already been done by bloggers Nottingham is Crap and Bent Society so I'll make this more or less a collection of links. That way, should you find yourself landing here first you can get up to speed.

MIPIM website

Nottingham at MIPIM

NCC website page Welcome to Yachtingham*

NCC webpage 'MIPIM Success for Nottingham'

Evening Post article about the costs

Latest post on Nottingham is Crap (with links to earlier posts)

Recent Bent Society post

Now, if we give NCC the benefit of the doubt for a moment (and it will only be a moment don't worry) I will accept that funding networking opportunities for local businesses is a legitimate local authority economic development function. Except if you work in social welfare like I did your networking opportunities tend to be in places like Derby.

But its precisely because its being held in Cannes using a luxury yacht (called 'Powder Monkey' by the way, which I thought was slang for a cocaine enthusiast. Maybe this was a way to get 'flowers for the model' past accounts and there wasn't a yacht at all) that it does in fact look so much like a junket. In these circumstances I would therefore expect the 'reputation managers' to be pulling out the stops to explain to Council Tax payers why the event is so important and what spectacular gains have been made that make it all so worthwhile.

Yet instead we get a load of guff which does mention the word 'party' quite a lot with a lot of non specific prattling on about 'raising profiles'. One businessman on the trip proudly boasted that 'two' new deals had 'come his way' (i.e. presumably not finalised) but failed to explain why this couldn't have happened on an industrial estate in Guildford. All in all the gains described in the 'MIPIM success for Nottingham' article look a bit vague and intangible.

Perhaps the only way to get someone to invest in Nottingham really is to hook them up with a 'powder monkey' on the Riviera but we just can't say that out loud.

*I kid you not. I presumed the 'Yachtingham' thing was some tabloid piss take but no, NCC's PR boffins came up with it themselves. Why do the words 'goal', 'own' and 'fail' seem to be appearing before my eyes?

Victoria Leisure Centre rumpus goes on

Is it 2009? *yawns* Ooh eck, I'm feeling old.

Sorry its been quiet on here, it was Christmas, then it was New Year, been away, brain doesn't work yada yada but WE'RE BACK!!!

As many will know the 3 prospective new designs for Viccy Leisure Centre have been released and have been on display. You can see them for comments via the Save Victoria Baths website here.

Councillor Jon 'call me Jonny-Boy' Collins was quoted last year as saying

"But I can tell you the majority of residents want a new swimming pool. When I talk to them they don't want a second rate, second class [facility] built in a leaky, inefficient building.

It might be a small number of heritage folk want that but it is by no means a majority view. We are going to have a new swimming pool and I think people understand that."

And this emphasis on the swimming pool appears to have led the Council to leave out any plans for a sports hall in any of the proposals.

Quoted in an Evening Post report a spokesperson for the architects said

"There is no sports hall because the council didn't ask for one. This means the centre is going to be smaller."

Right Jonny Boy, so its just a few 'heritage folk' who are unhappy is it? Not people who are concerned about losing sporting and leisure facilities in their local area then? Strange as 2 key points from the consultation exercise (carried out by Nottm City Council and available via the ampaigners' website) were

"95% of responders did not wish to see the closure of the facility and had varying concerns about the closure e.g. loss of facilities, access to alternative provision, impact on health, crime and anti-social behaviour, historical loss of the building with the biggest single concern being the need to improve or replace the facility with something else.

80% of respondents wished to keep the existing facilities or invest in new modern facilities centred on the existing theme of swimming and dry related activities."

Rumours that the extra space freed up has been set aside for a 100ft golden statue of Councillor Collins, with one foot stepping on a cowering Michael Frater's face, have been emphatically denied. Its being handed over to developers.

Meanwhile, the Council and Health Authority have announced a £500k scheme to 'get Nottingham fitter'. Councillor David 'Trembling' Trimble said

"We've already proved that we're travelling in the right direction, so we're hoping that even more people will enjoy keeping fit in Nottingham this year."

Yeah right. By demolishing and not replacing a sports hall. Idiot.

The Council might have been on stronger ground if their proposals involved the renewal of all facilities in the current leisure centre. However, instead they want to spend £8m on a reduced facility when, according to the campaigners, it would cost between £1.5-2m to refurbish the existing centre.

As one of the self confessed 'heritage' types I'm concerned about Nottingham's historical tendency to bulldoze its architectural history at the drop of a hat. As a result, despite Nottingham's history going back to Saxon times and being the most important city in the midlands during the medievel period we have virtually nothing left thats pre Georgian.

A recent crime of this nature was the demolition of the Victoria Station to make way for the concrete monstrosity of the shopping centre leaving just the clocktower, a fate which looks likely for Victoria Leisure Centre. Guess the 'Victoria' tag is just plain unlucky in Nottingham.

Earlier post on this