Revealed on Byline Times: How Brexit planning boosted tax credit fraud

Whitehall Brexit redeployment boosts tax credit fraud at revenue and Customs. Pic credit: gov.uk

The Revenue and Customs agency has sacrificed the monitoring of fraud and error in paying out £22.9 billion a year in tax credits to millions of people so it can meet deadlines for Brexit.

The switching of 270 civil servants to prepare for Brexit from checking error and fraud among people claiming tax credits has cost Revenue and Customs up to £1.46 billion in overpayments, the National Audit Office has revealed.

The losses are the highest since 2011 and has led to the NAO qualifying the accounts of Revenue and Customs as inaccurate for the 15th year running since former Labour chancellor Gordon Brown first introduced tax credits in 2003.

The losses come on top of figures from the Department for Work and Pensions which disclosed that in the last financial year benefit error and fraud is running at record levels. Altogether the level of known error and fraud in both departments has now been revealed to total a record £7.5 billion.

The full report is on Byline Times here.

How internet innovation could sound the death knell for trolls and pedlars of fake news

I am reprinting this article by an Irish academic because it not only finds a way of dealing with major providers like Facebook and Google harvesting personal data for financial gain but could help stop anonymous attacks on people and organisations by spreading hate and fake news.

It has struck me for some time that some of the most vile attacks on people – whether on anti semitism,or directed at survivors of child sexual abuse, on Brexit or the 50s born women courageously fighting for a pension come from anonymous accounts which can’t be easily verified.

This proposes a new way of identifying people before they can get on the internet without the whole system being controlled by the state.

It would stop attempts by people – particularly by those who support paedophiles and regularly abuse child sex survivors on line – being able to hide behind anonymous Twitter handles or claim websites they run are not their responsibility.

And it would make it much easier for the police and other regulatory authorities to identify people behind these attacks and prosecute if necessary. It is an interesting read.

Four ways blockchain could make the internet safer, fairer and more creative

Yurchanka Siarhei/Shutterstock

Hitesh Tewari, Trinity College Dublin

The internet is unique in that it has no central control, administration or authority. It has given everyone with access to it a platform to express their views and exchange ideas with others instantaneously. But in recent years, internet services such as search engines and social media platforms have increasingly been provided by a small number of very large tech firms.

On the face of it, companies such as Google and Facebook claim to provide a free service to all their users. But in practice, they harvest huge amounts of personal data and sell it on to others for profit. They’re able to do this every time you log into social media, ask a question on a search engine or store files on a cloud service. The internet is slowly turning into something like the current financial system, which centrally monitors all transactions and uses that data to predict what people will buy in future.

This type of monitoring has huge implications for the privacy of ordinary people around the world. The digital currency Bitcoin, which surfaced on the internet in 2008, sought to break the influence that large, private bodies have over what we do online. The researchers had finally solved one of the biggest concerns with digital currencies – that they need central control by the companies that operate them, in the same way traditional currencies are controlled by a bank.

Bitcoin was the first application of a blockchain, but the technology shouldn’t stop there. AnnaGarmatiy/Shutterstock

The core idea behind the Bitcoin system is to make all the participants in the system, collectively, the bank. To do this, blockchains are used. Blockchains are distributed, tamper-proof ledgers, which can record every transaction made within a network. The ledger is distributed in the sense that a synchronised copy of the blockchain is maintained by each of the participants in the network, and tamper-proof in the sense that each of the transactions in the ledger is locked into place using a strong encrypting technique called hashing.

More than a decade since this technology emerged, we’re still only beginning to scratch the surface of its potential. People researching it may have overlooked one of its most useful applications – making the internet better for everyone who uses it.

Help stamp out hate

In order to use services on the internet such as social media, email and cloud data storage, people need to authenticate themselves to the service provider. The way to do this at the moment is to come up with a username and password and register an account with the provider. But at the moment, there’s no way to verify the user’s identity. Anyone can create an account on platforms like Facebook and use it to spread fake news and hatred, without fear of ever being identified and caught.


Read more: Now there’s a game you can play to ‘vaccinate’ yourself against fake news


Our idea is to issue each citizen with a digital certificate by first verifying their identity. An organisation like your workplace, university or school knows your identity and is in a position to issue you with a certificate. If other organisations do the same for their members, we could put these certificates on a publicly accessible blockchain and create a global protected record of every internet user’s identity.

Since there’d be a means for identifying users with their digital certificate, social media accounts could be linked to real people. A school could create social media groups which could only be accessed if a student had a certificate issued to them by the school, preventing the group being infiltrated by outsiders.

Never forget a password again

A user could ask for a one-time password (OTP) for Facebook by clicking an icon on their mobile phone. Facebook would then look up the user’s digital certificate on the blockchain and return an OPT to their phone. The OTP will be encrypted so that it cannot be seen by anyone else apart from the intended recipient. The user would then login to the service using their username and the OTP, thereby eliminating the need to remember passwords. The OTP changes with each login and is delivered encrypted to your phone, so it’s much more difficult to guess or steal a password.

Vote with your phone

People are often too busy or reluctant to go to a polling station on voting days. An internet voting system could change that. Digital currencies like Zerocash are fully anonymous and can be traced on the blockchain, giving it the basic ingredients for a voting system. Anyone can examine the blockchain and confirm that a particular token has been transferred between two parties without revealing their identities.

Blockchain could ensure more people are able to vote. TarikVision/Shutterstock

Each candidate could be given a digital wallet and each eligible voter given a token. Voters cast their token into the wallet of their preferred candidate using their mobile phone. If the total number of tokens in the wallets is less than or equal to the number issued, then you have a valid poll and the candidate with the most tokens is declared the winner.

No more tech companies selling your data

People use search engines everyday, but this allows companies like Google to gather trends, create profiles and sell this valuable information to marketing companies. If internet users were to use a digital currency to make a micropayment – perhaps one-hundredth of a cent – for each search query that they perform, there would be less incentive for a search company to sell their personal data. Even if someone performed a hundred search queries per day they would end up paying only one cent – a small price to pay for one’s privacy.

Blockchain technology started as a means for making online transactions anonymous, but it would be shame for it to stop there. The more researchers like me think about its potential, the more exciting possibilities emerge.

Hitesh Tewari, Assistant Professor in the School of Computer Science and Statistics, Trinity College Dublin

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Parliament’s top official Black Rod displeased by Back To 60’s Flash dance on College Green

The BackTo60 Flash Dancers from @pandorasboxperformers.com pose in front of Henry Moore’s sculpture, Knife Edge.

BackTo60s new guerrilla campaign to highlight the plight of the 50s born women who are waiting up to six years to get their pension took on a new dimension yesterday – and brought the displeasure of Parliament’s top official, Black Rod.

Campaigners engaged Pandora’s Box performers to do a flash mob dance performance on College Green opposite the House of Lords. This is part of a guerrilla marketing campaign that has so far seen images backing the campaign projected onto Parliament and the Bank of England at night and the appearance of campaigning graffiti washed into the pavement outside Portcullis House, the Treasury and the Supreme Court.

Soundtrack: Dave Gammie https://www.davidgammie.com/ Film: Manou Bendon Medigang https://www.mediagang.co.uk/ Dancers: Pandora’s Box http://www.pandorasboxperformers.com/

Pandora’s Box Flashmob dance on College Green




But little were they to know that College Green – which might seem to me or you a public green place – is in fact part of the private Parliamentary estate.

So no sooner had the music started and the dancing began, Black Rod, who is The Queen’s representative in the House of Lords instructed one of her 30 staff to come down to remonstrate with BackTo60 organiser, Joanne Welch.

A lively discussion followed only mellowed when the member of staff, Fiona Shannon, who had been instructed to ask the dancers to go, realised she was one of the women born in the 1950s who would benefit from a victory by the campaign.

She then went off however to get reinforcements – allowing the dancers to do a quick encore – before the dancers decided to disappear down a Westminster sidestreet.

Joanne Welch said: ” I genuinely thought this was a public place and didn’t think we needed permission to stage the event. It is used regularly by broadcasters and also has been used by Remainers and Brexiteers to stage noisy demonstrations. I apologise if we needed permission.We will know next time.”

A House of Lords spokesperson said that College Green is part of the parliamentary estate. Any requests for filming or other activity are dealt with by Black Rod’s office on behalf of the House of Commons.

The spokesperson added :”Protests and operating amplified noise equipment are not permitted on College Green. The participants were made aware of this and left voluntarily.”

But not without accompanying their mission.

Not amused: Sarah Clarke,The Lady Usher of Black Rod Pic credit: Parliament.uk

For those curious about Black Rod,the current holder of the office is Sarah Clarke, the first woman appointed to the £93,000 a year post in 650 years.

She organises the State Opening of Parliament and the highest profile part of her role is summoning the House of Commons to hear the Queen’s Speech. She is also responsible for business resilience and planning for the House of Lords, and leads a department that includes the Yeoman Usher and the House of Lords Doorkeepers.

She was appointed last year having previously organised the Wimbledon tennis championships for a number of years.

As the Queen’s representative she now knows that her 1950s British subjects are pretty angry about the loss of their pensions.. Perhaps Her Majesty should be sent a video of Pandora’s Box great performance compliments of BackTo60,

BackTo60 Graffiti on the pavement outside Portcullis House
The guerrilla imaging campaign included a projection of one of my blogs on the wall of the Bank of England

Revealed on Byline Times: Prosecutions for tax evasion soar after the car tax disc is scrapped

DVLA’s advertising campaign to stop the tripling of untaxed cars and vans Pic credit: DVLA & RAC

 The abolition of every car and van in the UK needing to display a car tax disc has led to the tripling of the number of untaxed cars and soaring prosecutions and fines for drivers, according to the latest annual report of the DVLA, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.

The scale of the problem led to a report from the new auditor general, Gareth Davies, to be attached to its annual accounts this year after the agency’s previous unblemished record in collecting car tax   became tarnished.

Up to 2014 when the car tax disc was abolished the agency collected up to 99.6 per cent of revenue. Since then the figure has fallen to 98.2 per cent – which might seem small – but is equivalent to an additional 500,000 vehicles evading tax. It is happening because people are telling the DVLA their vehicle is stored off the road but are continuing to use it.

The full story is on Byline Times here.

Campaigning Graffiti: How an older generation of pension protesters are using the tactics of young activists

My image and blog on the side of the Bank of England

Disruptive protests are seen mainly but not exclusively as the preserve of the young. Whether it is blocking roads like Extinction Rebellion or organising street protests they are not the natural first choice of people old enough to be grandparents..

Yet the government’s refusal to even discuss any compensation with 3.8 million women born in the 1950s who are now waiting up to six years longer to get a pension has seen the first disruptive action organised by ” oldies” in the capital.

First there was a rally in Hyde Park and march which ended in Parliament Square where spontaneously some of the protestors blocked the road forcing the police to divert traffic for nearly two hours.

Then there has been an extraordinary partnership with young people in a guerrilla marketing organisation to project on to prominent buildings like the House of Commons, the Bank of England and the law courts – slogans demanding action to redress the problem. I am told there are no laws to stop anyone projecting slogans on any building. It also included one of my blogs revealing the Thatcher government’s decision to all but end the Treasury contribution to the National Insurance Fund.

Then in the dead of night graffiti started to appear on the pavements outside prominent London landmarks with slogans as part of the BackTo60 campaign to compensate the women.

Here are some of the pictures:

BackTo60 logo sprayed into the Westminster pavement
Graffiti praising the lawyer Michael Mansfield who represented the 50s born women in the judicial review demanding compensation.
Logo outside the entrance to Portcullis House, Westminster
Graffiti outside the Treasury.

None of this has been reported in mainstream media. And the public who see the graffiti may be puzzled about what it is all about.

But there is a deeper issue. This particular group of women are a large bedrock of the older generation. They have been until now mainly apolitical, bringing up their families, going to work and living normal lives.

But the total refusal of the government to even discuss the issue has transformed this. Shocked by this attitude they are becoming radicalised and for the government this is very bad news. They did form a large part of the group who traditionally voted Conservative. Very few will vote Conservative at the next general election. Some will vote Labour, some Liberal Democrat, Plaid Cymru or Scottish Nationalist, some the Brexit Party and some not at all.

This means given the antipathy to the Tories among the young that many Tory MPs who think they have secure majority may find themselves out of a job at the next general election. And the government will only have itself to blame for not listening to them.

On Byline Times: Grayling on track for next ferry fiasco

Chris Grayling: Transport Secretary faces fresh contract debacle

Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, is facing a fresh fiasco over new ferry contracts to bring in goods if Britain leaves the EU on Oct 31.

The minister known as “Failing Grayling” has already cost some £3.5 billion in lost revenue and overspending in his three ministerial jobs since 2010.

A report from the Commons public accounts committee today reveals he just 21 days left to re-order contracts to bring in supplies if either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt sticks to the Oct 31 deadline – deal or no deal.

The full story is in Byline Times here.

Bonuses for Universal Credit bosses as record benefit errors and fraud revealed at the Department for Work and Pensions

The annual report that reveals the damning failures of the ministry to keep a grip on benefit and error fraud and the high pay and pensions of the people running the Universal Credit programme

Benefit error and fraud has reached record levels at the Department for Work and Pensions and it is going to get worse, according to its own figures released in its annual report for the last financial year.

 For the 30th year running the National Audit Office has qualified the ministry’s £86.6 billion benefit accounts because it considers them to be inaccurate

The most damning section of the report is on Universal Credit – whose current and previous directors – have just received bonus payments up to £15,000 each for their work.

The full story is on byline here.