UPDATE on this story and exclusive leaked email by Surjit Tour, Wirral Legal Head.
12th February 2017
This FOI request was lodged on 9th February 2017.
It concerns an important area of local authority spending and one which appears not to have undergone full and comprehensive audit, recommendation and scrutiny.
The importance of this area cannot be overstated. Discretionary Housing Payments help to keep vulnerable and disabled people and their families – who are in receipt of Housing Benefit – in their homes.
Running this area incompetently, negligently or abusively would have a direct and adverse impact, could create severe injustice and could cause victims of council failure or malpractice to be evicted and potentially forced onto the streets. To sum up with a rare (for this blog) political statement, Housing Benefit recipients qualifying for DHP are not ‘scroungers’ and need this benefit to survive.
During the recent Alison Mountney versus Wirral Council Employment Tribunal, the crucial area of scrutiny, the extent to which it has – or has not – been pursued, and whether it was generally fit for purpose featured strongly. The impression we formed of Wirral Council’s scrutiny function, as an attendee to this case, was not a good one.
Here’s a link to some recent, publicly-released information detailing Audit Recommendations across five separate areas – including Discretionary Housing Payments.
First is a summary box, listing the completed areas covered during the Audit Recommendations Period; April 2015 to October 2016:
On completion, the public would now expect recommendations to be made in all 5 areas.
Whilst the area of elections was vital to the Alison Mountney tribunal case, another area – Discretionary Housing Payments – apparently received no recommendations at all. Furthermore, whilst 4 areas listed the actions taken in the Outcome column, the DHP Outcome box was left curiously empty. And further still, “no opinion provided” is the rather bland response to the crucial area of Organisational Risk.
Due to the glaring omissions, we’re left to wonder… what’s occurring here?
The FOI request is quite detailed because it needs to be, breaking down into nine separate areas. If Wirral Council respond with a Section 12 exemption, to state that addressing it will take longer than 18 hours (or £450 based on the salary of an officer paid £25,000 p.a.), we will comply, rewrite it to suit, and try to ensure that the information can be found, set out and released to the public.
It is clear that Audits can easily be used to justify anything (although that is not what happened here). Audits have to be by 3rd parties to remain free of manipulation (in the rare occasions it happens 😉 ). My experience with Blackpool Council was their use of an ‘internal audit’, where they tried to justify the spends in the case I brought to light (whistleblew on in 2011 to zero effect and totally ignored by my manager). Was I surprised they found everything fully compliant? Of course not. Unfortunately they completely missed the point that it was a payment executed off the accounts and that never went onto the records that I was concerned about. It was witnessed and evidenced as arriving – even to the extent of who accepted it – disappearing after that. They shot themselves in the foot? They didn’t find the record of £100,000 returned to the ERDF project. The trouble is, no one (except a supportive Councillor) seems to give a stuff. Not the funders, the Government Auditors who promised to chase it up, the Tribunal Judges or the ICO. The Government (Margaret Hodge) was more interested in Blackpool Council’s use of gagging (the Council tried to pay me £15,000 not to go to tribunal). I remain, and will remain deeply disturbed by the unwillingness to defend Public Interest issues like this.
Note: My original web site had to be taken down in 2015 as it put the Council’s staff under pressure. It was under court order. Can you believe it?
Thank you for this John. Perhaps you could email me with details of when this court order, presumably a judge’s gagging order, is due to elapse? I think this is worth discussing. Cheers, Paul
Don’t get me started on this story which I have heard about and their evil filthy workings and paying people off.
Lets get Big, ISUS and Working Neighbourhoods out of the way John and I will join this group.
What bothers me is there are a number of people still keeping schtum on this housing scam in the name of they will work for anybody, whatever.
“Blot on the Landscape” sits there not getting angry, because he can’t according to the tribunal, and says they are improving. What dross.
Special measures should be brought in and they will only need a half litre jug to measure their integrity and honesty.
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