Tuesday 13 October 2009

Why Jacqui Smith Should Be Facing Criminal Sanction

Last year, one of our employees was in a bit of a pickle.

She worked (impeccably) for us for the princely monthly part-time gross wage of around £500 per month (approx £6 per hour). As such, she qualified for housing benefit.

Now, not wishing to be condemnatory, she wasn't the most financially astute person in the country, but as genuine goes, there really couldn't be an equal. For two months she did a bit of overtime at our request, for which she was paid £148 and £112 respectively. Neither month brought her into even paying basic rate tax.

She didn't notify the benefits office. Foolish some might say, but then she's no accountant and it wasn't a huge sum. There is no way this person could possibly have been attempting to defraud the taxpayer (you'll have to take my character reference for that), she just didn't think about it.

Six months later, she received a letter stating that she was to present herself for an interview under caution for benefit fraud.

Scared witless, she spoke to me and I agreed to be her representative at the hearing. I read the documents she was sent and they were truly scary, as they are deliberately worded to be. Being a gobby shite who has defeated bigger fish than a council (actually, I've beaten my local council twice too, but that's beside the point), I wouldn't personally feel so much dread. She, however, was almost suicidal.

Having agreed to the gig, I read up on the process. I couldn't understand why it couldn't be resolved with a phone call from the council and a readjustment of her benefit payments. There is no way anyone could believe that such a small sum could be deemed intentional fraud, surely?

It didn't take long to find out why the council moved swiftly onto the 'interview under caution', without even a cursory attempt to solve the problem with less fuss, but more of that later.

In the days leading up to the hearing, I tried my hardest to stop her from worrying, but it didn't do a lot of good. She didn't sleep for nearly a week, was constantly crying, and really didn't help my business as her work suffered noticeably.

The day arrived and I drove her there. I wasn't allowed to actually speak unless the two council officers were contravening procedure (and I was gagging for them to do so), so I was forced to watch as they first read the girl her rights. Then they ceremonially unwrapped the interview tapes (two of them), before double-grilling her as if she had just mugged an old lady.

They were well-spoken and confident having conducted many of these interviews. My charge was shaking, tearful, and continually trying to emphasize that she was sorry and that she had made a mistake.

The continually proffered answer was that:

"Making a mistake is not a defence. If you are deemed to be guilty of benefit fraud, you may be prosecuted"

At the end of the hearing, my employee was left with three possibilities. That the transgression would be dismissed, that she would receive a formal caution, or that they would move to prosecute and land her with a criminal record.

It didn't help her mood much.

I tried to tell her, on the drive back, that they wouldn't enforce the court option as it was a trifling amount. Understandably, after such an ordeal, she wasn't as confident as I was. I did tell her, though, that she would receive a formal caution.

The reason I knew this was that, as mentioned previously, I had been reading up and, under the Anti-Fraud Incentive Scheme, brought in by those nice working class supporting Labour types in 2002, the council would be paid £1,000 for doling one out.

And that is what happened, after she had been subjected to an agonising two week wait. A formal caution was issued and her benefits were adjusted to pay back the ridiculously small amount that was overpaid.

She doesn't work for us anymore. Within a month of this, she quit and has probably gone back to staying at home, looking after her kid, and taking what the government gives without the possibility of being dubbed a potential criminal.

We lost a damn good worker, and the country pays more. Great.

So, onto Jacqui Smith. Here is what a local authority 'formal caution' is supposed to discourage.

My employee said sorry over and over again for the benefit difference of earning £260. She received a formal caution and was made to pay the paltry sum back.

Jacqui Smith deliberately steals £117,000 from taxpayers, says sorry, and gets to keep it without any recourse to criminal action - not even a formal caution.

Because some are just ... err ... more equal.


Mummy x said...

I can only agree with every single word of this post. You are damned if you do and damned if you don't. If you take a job, even part time, you can do no more than your allotted hours. You cannot do maternity/sick cover as that classes as over time.You can only do your 16 hours and that is it. The system doesn't actually allow you to be honest in some situations. As Dick highlights, there is no way to phone the benefits and say 'hey I've done 4 more hours this week, knock it off my benefits', and this is because the benefits system has become so big, so complicated and so very, very fucking useless. Another joy once you start work is that if it turns out that your job is not what you thought it was, or your boss bullies you into more hours than you agreed to do you cannot leave. The boss has you over a barrel, work the extra hours and risk benefit fraud (with your boss quite possibly being the one to dob you in the minute he wants shot of you) work them for free to avoid this risk (and watch your boss demand more and more), refuse to work them and risk getting the sack (for not being a team player) whilst not having your full benefits re-instated asap. It would take 8 weeks minimum whilst DWP check out that you didn't try and get the sack to avoid the 'you have made yourself unemployed therefore you get fuck all trap'

Mummy x

manwiddicombe said...

Bravo DP for highlighting this ridiculous situation. One rule for them, hundreds of rules for us.

Mummy x - not all employers are bastards (I'm sure you know that). Some of us try to bend over backwards to accommodate the needs of our employees, their particular living arrangements, the restrictions imposed by their financial or family situation. We often find ourselves as tightly tied by dumb regulation as our employees.

Unknown said...

As an employer Dick you seemed to have went that extra mile for one of your employees, a part timer at that. In my Labour voting days I was always dissaproving of employers (to put it mildly) and took no notice of their concerns and worries about running a business. Boy how things have changed in my attitude.

I know more than most what it is like to spend money that is not yours to spend (but is your employers) and feel the full weight of the judicial system upon you and ultimately go to jail, a part of my life I am in no way proud of.

If I take any pride away from my one and only criminal offence it was that I stood up and said I did the crime and I apologise profusely (I was told to expect a custodial sentence)but before the sentence was delivered the judge said something that has stayed with me these past sixteen years and it was this "you were in a possition of trust and you abused that trust!"

Why can't these politicians see that they have defrauded the taxpayer of their hard earned cash? Are they not also in a possition of trust? The trust of this once fine country! Do they not have any self respect? Life is harsh sometimes but it can be much harsher if you don't be true to yourself and absolve yourself by doing the right thing.

It's time for these thieves in parliament to die on their swords.

Angry Exile said...

DP, I'm taking my hat off to you. Big hearted of you to help your employee like that and very illuminating to have used the story of how she was treated to contrast the fact that Jacqboot has gotten clean away with it.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Well done. This is awful, and it's one episode out of millions.

So might you be coming round to the Citizen's Income idea? Give everybody £60 a week, and scrap the dole and the personal allowance?

Dick Puddlecote said...

Thanks all. It's not the only time I have done such a thing. Another time I represented an employee who was charged back rent for a council home she had left 6 months earlier, despite the lack of a tenancy agreement (another long story). It's just that this case highlights the hypocrisy of MPs such as Jacqboot.

MW: Coming round to the idea? I don't remember ever not being 'round' to it. ;-)

Pat Nurse MA said...

Nice one, Dick and bloody well said. Good employers are rare these days, and great employers even rarer. That your business has even survived under the bureacratic pressure of NuLab is even more incredible.

Jaqui Smith will always be symbolic of what Labour has really achieved since 1997. Less social mobility, less real jobs, and more power to those who already had too much.

Too many "little" people have been criminalised for just trying to get through as best they can in a genuinely honest way. They fall foul because they don't tick the "right" boxes, come from the "right" backgrounds, or "think" in the "right" way.

They pay taxes through fines while the former Home Secretary reaps the personal benefits from the Treasury in salary and expenses.

I truly believe that NuLabour has taken us back socially 100 years and has struck words like honesty, compassion, empathy, and trust from the English language.

Are these people human or were we infiltrated by aliens?

Mark Wadsworth said...

DP, OK, sorry, I just wander round the internet mentioning Citizen's Income-style welfare schemes to all and sundry, I forget whom I've still got to convince.

banned said...

Congratulations Dick, I won't repeat what others have already said but I had no idea that Local Councils got financiall rewards for penalising people.
I have twice battled with my Local Council, I won the first one because, like you I read it up prior to engaging in their procedure. They used the wrong part of the Act in question and from that point on I knew that I would win any appeal at the Magistrates. As it happens they 'found in my favour' anyway.

The second one was about Council Tax and I forced them to take me to Court straight away since no-one that you are allowed to talk to has any authority to move from the position they have taken.
Once again, I read it up, represented myself over 5 ( five ) Court appearances won each time with increasing hostility from the Mag. towards the councils brief and staff ( incl once their Director of Finance ). Must have cost a fortune but was well worth while.
Won, with costs.

Roue le Jour said...

"I wasn't allowed to actually speak unless the two council officers were contravening procedure..."

As we're so keen on Human Rights these days perhaps we could have a universal right to council.

I'm told that in Australia the exact same problem is dealt with by simply phoning the benefit office at the end of the week and telling them how many hours you've done. Why does our government hate us so?

bayard said...

Heaven help you if you expect the benefits office to sort out anything complicated, like you falling sick a week before you are due to made redundant. This happened to an employee of mine and it was weeks before he got any money at all, let alone sick pay (apart from what I paid him). I had to fill out endless forms that all wanted the same information presented in a slightly different format. God knows what he and his family survived on. I tried to re-employ him recently and he said he'd like to come and work for me, but he was better off on the dole. Getting the unemployed to work is one thing, but expecting them to pay for the privilege is a bit much.