Tag Archives: council

Cummings council tax: a form letter for your local authority

Where he belongs: but Dominic Cummings (and his family) seem able to get away with anything because of his connection with Boris Johnson.

The family of Dominic Cummings has been allowed to avoid paying historical council tax on several properties built on their land without planning permission, it has been revealed.

What a great opportunity for the rest of us!

It seems clear that every other council taxpayer in the UK should write to their local authority’s council tax department, demanding appropriately similar treatment. The text could run something like this:

To whom it may concern,

I read with pleasure that a family in Durham has received an effective Council Tax rebate of £30,000. What a boost for them in these Covid-19-blighted times – and on properties without planning permission, too!

write to request delivery of my own council tax rebate. While I accept that this may be adjusted down according to the council tax band in which my dwelling falls, I expect I must be due a considerable amount more than the family in Durham – because my dwelling does have planning permission.

It has occurred to me that the rebate may not be applied to my area, but only to families in Durham – but that would make no sense, would it? Why would one area receive preferential treatment? We’re all in this together, after all – or at least, that’s what we’re told!

I look forward to your reply by return of post, stating the amount of rebate to which I am due for my property, along with notification of the transfer to my bank.

Alternatively, you’d better be able to explain why a wealthy family of lawbreakers is being rewarded, rather than punished, for breaking planning laws and hiding the fact for 18 years, when the rest of us have to pay.

With regards,

(And so on.)

The injustice is clear – just think about Melanie Woolcock, the single mother who defaulted on her council tax because she wasn’t well enough to work and the Tory benefit system paid so little that she could not afford to pay the amount outstanding and buy food.

She was arrested for non-payment of £4,742 in council tax – less than one-sixth of what Cummings’s family is said to have owed – and forced to serve an 81-day prison sentence.

Between her and the Cummings family, who do you think deserves leniency?

It’s not even up for question, is it? Yet in Boris Johnson’s Britain, his adviser’s rich family walk free while the sick woman went to jail for the crime of being poor.

This latest scandal has sparked a wave of outrage – and a few alternative proposals:

Source: Dominic Cummings allowed to avoid backdated council tax on second home | Politics | The Guardian

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After This Site suggested it, Tories are letting experts tackle Covid-19 instead of their chums

I know. It’s just a coincidence.

But isn’t it interesting that, the day after This Site asked, “Don’t you agree that giving control of the response to Coronavirus back to people who actually know what they’re doing might turn the tide?” the Tories are talking about doing just that?

I had suggested, “Let’s see the Tories reopen the contract system to multiple tenders, with assignments of Covid-related contracts going to the firms best-suited for the work. Or – indeed – to the public organisations and authorities best-placed to handle it.”

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick made the admission that this will happen on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show today (October 11): “People who know their own community… are bound to be better than Whitehall or national contact tracers.”

Here’s the clip:

There’s an obvious question to be answered here:

Yes – why weren’t they used in the first place?

The obvious answer is that individuals within the Johnson government have corruptly and opportunistically used the pandemic as a chance to funnel cash to their fellow-Tory friends. Certainly there is a movement now to find out how much money has been wasted on so-called services that haven’t worked at all:

That question of wasted time is crucial because many people have died.

What happens if we find that those deaths happened because the Tories were giving money to their friends – for nothing – rather than to people who could actually keep that death toll down?

Will there be any accountability?

Or will Boris Johnson just shrug his shoulders, say “Now is not the time,” and forget about it?

For further information, here‘s the Mirror‘s piece.

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The Bar Council has laid into Suella Braverman so let’s all join in

Suella Braverman: She has made some knowledgeable enemies who may soon wipe that idiotic grin off her face.

The UK’s professional organisation representing barristers has accused Brextremist Attorney General Suella Braverman of sacrificing the UK’s reputation, sidelining legal advisers and bypassing the ministerial code.

At its annual general meeting, members of the Bar Council asked Braverman how she thought the UK’s Tory government could retain “a shred of credibility” in imploring other countries to follow international law after revealing its own willingness to breach agreements.

Here’s The Guardian with details of the festivities:

Five QCs confronted the attorney general during Saturday’s meeting, telling her that a crime which broke the law in a “specific and limited way” – the phrase used by the Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis, when he announced the move – was still a crime.

Asked if she believed ministers were breaking the ministerial code with the legislation, Braverman on Saturday dodged the question by stating that the code was not legally enforceable. Pressed, she suggested the cabinet secretary had ruled that the code would not be breached.

She was also confronted over why she had sought advice on the measures from three pro-Brexit legal figures, including one junior barrister who had worked with the Vote Leave campaign, rather than relying on senior government lawyers. She refused to disclose the advice she had received, but said that seeking external opinions was not unusual.

Braverman was asked what had changed since former justice minister Lord Faulks stated in 2015 that ministers would not breach international law. She said his statement reflected “government policy at the time”.

The proposals were needed to resolve tensions between domestic and international law created by the EU withdrawal agreement, she said, but the government remained “committed to the rule of law”.

Of course this is not true. A government cannot expect to be believed when it claims to be “committed to the rule of law”, after also committing itself to breaking the law.

We could never expect better from Braverman; she is used to breaking the rules.

Back in 2017, when the European Research Group (ERG) “party within the Tory party” was set up, she was its chair. It was funded illegally, with money from members’ expenses claims (expenses rules state that MPs cannot claim for research or work “done for, or on behalf of, a political party”, but by September 2017 the European Research Group had received more than £250,000 from MPs who claimed the public cash through their official expenses).

After she became a minister in the Department for Exiting the European Union, she remained a member of the ERG, even though the ministerial code prohibits ministers from becoming “associated with non-public organisations whose objectives may in any degree conflict with government policy” – as the ERG’s did at the time.

Neither she nor any of the other then-ministers who were also in the ERG were penalised, which may go a long way towards explaining why she believes she can tell the Bar Council she is above Parliamentary rules.

In March 2019 she was accused of using anti-Semitic language by stating that “As Conservatives, we are engaged in a battle against cultural Marxism”. This refers to a far-right-wing anti-Semitic conspiracy theory which identifies Western Marxism as the basis of an ongoing academic and intellectual movement to undermine and destroy Western culture and values. Challenged over this, she dismissed the idea, stating “We have culture evolving from the far left which has allowed the snuffing out of freedom of speech, freedom of thought…I’m very aware of that ongoing creep of cultural Marxism, which has come from Jeremy Corbyn.” So either she didn’t understand what she was talking about or she is a genuine anti-Semite who used opposition to Jeremy Corbyn to co-opt support from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which withdrew its accusations against her.

And now we have her vain attempt to justify breaking international law, as described by This Site here.

The reason she thinks she – and the Johnson government – will get away with breaking international law is easy to understand in the context of her career.

She is an extremist Brexiteer who chaired a pressure group that was funded illegally – but still went on to occupy a role shaping government policy on Brexit; she voiced anti-Semitic sentiments – whether knowingly or not – but got away with it by claiming that she and her challengers had a mutual enemy in Jeremy Corbyn.

Based on this past behaviour, she thinks anyone opposing her on this can say what they want but it will not stop her from having her way.

Well, that has yet to be proved.

She may think she is sure of her ground but the Guardian article quotes a groundswell of opposition within the Parliamentary Conservative Party that could pull it out from under her feet.

And the Bar Council won’t be as easily swayed as the partisan Board of Deputies. Already there are murmurings about court action to forbid her from breaking international law in any way, not just the way she has described.

I look forward to seeing her get her comeuppance. It will be well-deserved.

Source: Top lawyers slam Suella Braverman for wrecking UK’s reputation | Politics | The Guardian

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Here’s the shocking reason your Tory government is more guilty of attacking press freedom than Extinction Rebellion

Dictator: despotic governments attack press freedom – and they do it quietly, while claiming to be doing the exact opposite. That’s exactly what your Boris Johnson-led government has done – and why this image is appropriate.

So much for Boris Johnson’s (and Priti Patel’s) comments about the Extinction Rebellion blockade for Rupert Murdoch’s print works being an attack on the ‘free press’.

On the day before they were making these attacks, the Council of Europe – that the UK founded – issued a formal warning that the Conservative government is a threat to the freedom of the press:

The Council of Europe issued the Level 2 “media freedom alert” after Ministry of Defence press officers refused to deal with Declassified UK, a website focusing on foreign and defence policy stories.

The new alert, issued by the organisation on Friday, was classified by the watchdog as an “act having a chilling effect on media freedom” and put under the “state” category – because the British state was the source of the threat.

It seems the only reason the government was refusing to comment to Declassified is that the Tories were retaliating against previous reporting that was critical of the government’s use of its armed forces.

Writing to urge the government into a rethink, the International Press Institute stated:

“It goes without saying that the exclusion of a media publication by a government ministry due to its investigative reporting would undermine press freedom and set a worrying precedent for other journalists whose job it is to report in the public interest on the British military. Criticism should be no reason to discriminate against a media publication.

“In contrast, tough journalism by outlets such as Declassified UK on matters such as the UK’s foreign and military affairs, uncomfortable though it often may be for those in power, is crucial for a transparent and functioning democracy.”

So your Tory government had deliberately and silently sabotaged the workings of “transparent and functioning democracy” by restricting press freedom on the day before it accused XR of the same thing with a public and popular demonstration.

Source: Council of Europe issues media freedom alert over UK government blacklisting of investigative journalists | The Independent | Independent

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Elderly man’s health failed and he died after council sent his wife to a care home

When care isn’t so caring: one partner was taken into a home and the health of the other deteriorated until he died. Why didn’t the council consider this? Or was it just a financial consideration?

In these days of Covid-19, one might be forgiven for thinking this gentleman was worrying himself sick that his wife would catch the virus and die.

But it is also a recognised phenomenon that if a couple who have been together for many years are split up, most commonly because one of them dies, then the remaining partner’s health often suffers – possibly to death.

So This Writer is led to question why the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead didn’t take this into account when it split up the couple in this story. Was it just a question of money – that it was cheaper to split this couple, and never mind of one of them died? And what happened to the house where the deceased gentleman had been living?

An elderly couple of 59 years were split up with little regard for their welfare by Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.

The couple were separated when the wife was discharged to a care home after leaving hospital.

The husband was left to live in the family home with the help of care workers, but quickly deteriorated.

He became very low, did not eat or drink properly and lost weight. He stopped going out and instead spent a lot of time in his bed.

When the family complained a few days later the council agreed to take more steps to help the man visit his wife, but he passed away just a few weeks after.

A report by the Ombudsman found the council did not do enough to consider the man’s situation when his wife left hospital, despite his family telling it he would suffer at home.

Windsor and Maidenhead Council has a history of ill-treating people. Back in 2018, it tried to get police to arrest homeless people under the Vagrancy Act so they wouldn’t be on the streets during the Royal Wedding.

Then it imposed a fine on aggressive or proactive begging, requests for money, leaving bedding and belongings in a public area and other behaviour associated with homelessness – totalling an unaffordable £1,000.

Needless to say, it is a Conservative-run authority.

Source: Elderly man suffers after council splits him from his wife

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Leaked report warns of Covid-Brexit “horror show” – remember THIS IS WHAT BORIS JOHNSON WANTS

Two-fingered salute: the UK might fall into lawlessness and chaos because of Boris Johnson but he doesn’t care, as long as he gets what he wants.

A Cabinet Office “reasonable worst-case” report on the effects of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit combining with another wave of Covid-19 has laid out exactly what Boris Johnson wanted for the UK when he became PM.

Johnson, you’ll remember, did not want any trade deals with the European Union after the UK leaves that bloc.

It was widely believed that this is because the hedge fund managers who supported his bid to be Tory leader have bet heavily on the UK going into recession, with many big-name firms going out of business. The claim was that they could make £8 billion out of it.

Of course, none of these multi-billionaires care a fig about the rest of us. If the country falls into chaos they’ll be off to their holiday homes in the sun, with their cash safely stowed in a tax haven.

Meanwhile, back in Blighty, you will be left to deal with food, fuel and power shortages, illness and deaths caused by flood, flu and Covid-19, and incursions into the country from outside such as EU boats coming into our fishing waters.

And, as may reasonably be expected from his government’s failures so far on Covid-19 – the school reopening furore, school meals, exam results, care home deaths, PPE procurement, face mask procurement, test and trace, contract nepotism… the list goes on and on – on flooding (remember that?) and on any other subject you care to mention, the Johnson government has not planned any response to this at all.

The article goes on to state:

  • One in 20 Town Halls could go bust in a second Covid wave, sparking social care chaos.
  • The economic impact of the virus and Brexit could cause public disorder, shortages and price hikes.
  • Troops may have to be drafted on to the streets to help the police in the worst-case scenario — 1,500 are already on stand by.
  • Social distancing measures and masks will have to continue until 2021 regardless.
  • Supplies of food and fuel are all under threat this Christmas if Dover becomes blocked.

The planners warned that “pandemic influenza, severe flooding, a Covid second wave and an unruly exit from the EU transition period could cause a systemic economic crisis with major impact on ­disposable incomes, unemployment, business activity, international trade and market stability.”

It could be combined with likely “coordinated industrial action” as well as shortages risking public disorder and a mental health crisis that will hit the poorest hardest.

Nobody in a Tory government is going to worry about a mental health crisis that harms poor people, of course.

And the attitude by leading Tories to this frankly terrifying report seems to be that if they ignore it, it will go away.

Michael Gove is quoted as babbling: “We got Brexit done with a great deal in January.

“A brighter future awaits as we forge our own path.”

A government spokesperson did add that this was a “reasonable worst case” scenario.

But on the Johnson ministry’s record so far, it is stretching the facts to breaking point to suggest that the government is “ensuring we are ready for all eventualities”.

That simply is not going to happen. On the evidence of the last 12 months, it would be irresponsible to believe anything Johnson, his ministers or his spokespeople say about it.

But there’s one more matter to remember:

If this disaster happens, then there is absolutely nothing you can do about it, other than to prepare as well as you can (because the Tories simply won’t).

I anticipate another stockpiling splurge, worse than the rush for toilet roll in March, at the very least.

Obviously the worst-case will be social unrest and violence – and I’m not ruling that out, either.

Whatever happens, if we end up with no deal and any of the feared outcomes are triggered, you must remember (because he’ll lie about it):

It is what Boris Johnson wanted all along.

Source: Leaked document reveals Cabinet’s emergency plans for perfect storm of No Deal Brexit and coronavirus second wave

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Council’s ‘rape clause’ blunder leaves family with disabled child homeless

This is what happens when you give too little cash to the poor – and too much power to bureaucrats.

A single-parent family were thrown out of their home after the London Borough of Haringey wrongly told their private landlord they owed more than £8,000 in overpaid housing benefits.

The council had failed to properly apply the rules which limit benefits to a family’s first two children (two-child limit).

The so-called “rape clause” demands that a family can only claim benefits for more than two children if the mother can prove the additional child or children were the result of non-consensual sex.

It has been attacked as an extra humiliation for women who would already have suffered enough.

And in this case, it was irrelevant: the mother should have always had the allowance for her third child because her youngest son was born before April 2017.

Worse still, the council failed to handle the families homelessness applicatoin properly, failing to refer the case to the appeal tribunal – as it was obliged to do by law.

Why so many errors?

Well, we may find out. The council has agreed to investigate why it made calculation errors, audit cases where it calculated overpayments applying the two-child restriction and, if necessary, consider how to detect and remedy any systemic problems.

This Writer’s guess is that we’ll find the mistake happened because the Tory government has piled too many overlapping penalties on the poor, overcomplicating the system and creating injustice.

Source: Young family with disabled child left homeless after benefits blunder

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Council services to get best boost under Labour, says leading think tank

Labour is the only main political party that has allocated more than enough money to councils to meet rising costs and demands.

That is the verdict of leading think tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Its briefing shows that the Conservative claim to be a low-tax party is a lie – at least in relation to public services.

The money allocated by the Tories would not be enough to meet rising costs and demands over the next Parliament even if council tax were increased by four per cent every year, the briefing said.

This means either more service cuts or unfunded top-ups would be needed.

So the Tories are planning to make council services a postcode lottery, dependent on the amount of council tax that can be collected. Logically, only the richest areas would received the best services.

In contrast, Labour would provide more than enough to cover increasing costs and demands – even if council tax was frozen (although this is not being planned).

Funding would not be restored to 2010 levels – but Labour would also be providing more to councils via funding increases elsewhere in the system.

The Liberal Democrats are offering enough to fund services if council taxes rise by around two per cent a year across the board – but only if some of the money they are promising to bus services, youth services and the relief of homelessness is put to this purpose.

In This Writer’s home county of Powys, council tax increased by a massive 9.5 per cent in April, while the amount and quality of services in offer decreased. The council is run by an Independent-Conservative coalition, with a Conservative councillor responsible for finance.

Average wages here historically stand at around only 3/4 of the national average, meaning that the abnormally large increase in council tax set by the Conservatives has put many families under considerable stress.

So, in terms of council services, Labour is the logical choice in the general election.

Isn’t it interesting, then, that Labour is nowhere in the polls in either Brecon and Radnorshire or Montgomeryshire, the county’s Parliamentary constituencies?

Both are considered to be Tory/Lib Dem marginals.

So people here regularly vote for huge tax increases that provide few services.

Are they simply misinformed?

And what would they do, if they had the right information?

Source: General election: Council tax more likely to go up under Tories than Labour, IFS suggests – live news | Politics | The Guardian

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Was this disabled couple made homeless by a council because they have a pet dog?

Losing hope: Ian and Frances Cooper in the car they now call home.

This tells you everything about the direction of travel in Tory Britain.

Ian and Frances Cooper, from Aylsham, have been living in a Renault Kadjar for two months.

They have been unable to find a permanent residence after being evicted from a privately-rented flat because one of their three pets is not an assistance dog.

Seriously. Their local council appears to be penalising them for having a pet that they love.

They were evicted from a privately-rented bungalow after an attempt to claim housing benefit (or that component of Universal Credit) from North Norfolk District Council was turned down.

Since then, the council has tried to house them in a number of other places – none of which proved appropriate.

In one instance – a Premier Inn – they were told they could not stay because, while two of their Jack Russell terriers are assistance dogs, the third is not, and the hotel chain’s policy is only to allow assistance dogs in its rooms.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman is to investigate a complaint by Mr and Mrs Cooper that NNDC did not award them the correct priority band, made unsuitable offers of interim accommodation, gave the wrong advice over whether or not the couple should have claimed universal credit or housing benefits and did not consider evidence of harassment from a landlord.

And in the meantime a man with spondylolisthesis of the spine – a condition which causes the vertebrae to slip out of place – who recently spent time in hospital with sepsis and now has a stoma bag, and a woman with fibromyalgia, are living with their dogs in a car.

Of course it is affecting their physical health – and inevitably it is affecting their mental well-being as well.

Personally, I would not blame the local council. I would blame the Conservative government.

It is the Tories who perverted the benefit system into a tool to persecute the vulnerable – especially people with long-term illnesses and/or disabilities like the Coopers.

There is no doubt in my mind that Iain Duncan Smith, the architect of these changes, would be absolutely delighted to hear that a disabled couple had been forced to live in a car with deteriorating mental and physical health because of him.

He knows the Department for Work and Pensions will always claim plausible deniability – no matter how damning the evidence against it.

But I wonder how long the Coopers – and who knows how many other families like them? – can survive in the punitive Tory system.

It’s time for change. These are people who have worked all their lives and instead of being able to rely on the system to keep them safe in a time of hardship, they have been – literally – thrown onto the streets.

There is only one way to achieve change for the better – change the government.

The Coopers’ story is a great reason to vote Labour in the general election.

Source: Disabled couple Ian and Frances Cooper left homeless and living in car with their three dogs | Latest Norfolk and Suffolk News | Eastern Daily Press

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Automated benefit decisions: Councils are already using machines to persecute benefit claimants

Days after we discovered the DWP is developing Artificial Intelligence to decide whether vulnerable claimants receive benefits – possibly whether they get to live or die – it turns out local councils have been buying similar systems from commercial businesses.

And there’s a serious problem: they don’t work.

According to The Guardian, companies including the US credit-rating businesses Experian and TransUnion, as well as the outsourcing specialist Capita and Palantir, a data-mining firm co-founded by the Trump-supporting billionaire Peter Thiel, are selling machine-learning packages to local authorities that are under pressure to save money.

It seems 140 of 408 councils – more than one-third – have invested in these systems, at great cost. One must presume they expect the savings to come over time.

They provide automated guidance on benefit claims, prevent child abuse and allocate school places.

But concerns have been raised about privacy and data security, the ability of council officials to understand how some of the systems work, and the difficulty for citizens in challenging automated decisions.

North Tyneside council has dropped TransUnion, after payments were wrongly delayed by the computer’s “predictive analytics”.

It automatically processed data about claimants for housing and council tax benefit to determine the likelihood it was fraudulent – “risk based verification”. But benefit claims were wrongly delayed.

Hackney council in east London has dropped Xantura, another company, from a project to predict child abuse and intervene before it happens, saying it did not deliver the expected benefits.

And Sunderland city council has not renewed a £4.5m data analytics contract for an “intelligence hub” provided by Palantir.

These experiences are leading to increasing concern that the use of algorithms – computerised instructions intended to solve problems (or in this case make decisions) is leaving vulnerable people at the whim of automated decisions they do not understand and therefore cannot challenge.

Local authority bosses do not understand how these systems work either, it seems.

And so the injustices creep into the system.

The DWP has told parliament it gathers data from private credit reference agencies, the police, the Valuation Office Agency, the Land Registry and the National Fraud Initiative, which gather information from public and private bodies – but is now declining to update the list, claiming it would “compromise the usefulness of that data”.

So, as public participation charity Involve claims, there is a risk to citizens’ privacy and data security, and the potential for seriously harmful wrong decisions.

Suppose someone falls foul of a wrong decision on their Housing Benefit claim, made by a computer at their local authority.

Wouldn’t the computer at the DWP pick it up and use it against the same claimant in order to invalidate a claim for – say – Employment and Support Allowance?

If so, these machines could put innocent people deeply out-of-pocket – with no explanation and no accountability.

It is a program that can have only one result – disaster. Somebody will die – if they haven’t already.

Source: One in three councils using algorithms to make welfare decisions | Society | The Guardian

Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.

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