Revealed: The EU deal that allows the DNA and fingerprints of 100,000 people to be shared with 31 countries before they are convicted in court

Digital fingerprint on a black background close up. 3d illustration.

If you are one of 100,000 people who are at any one time charged with an offence and are pleading not guilty you might be rather surprised by a deal that has taken place between the UK and the EU.

While the UK is officially playing hard ball in the official negotiations with the EU Commission it appears to have capitulated to demands to share DNA and fingerprints with 31 European countries not only of criminals but anybody who is charged with an offence in the UK.

What is more all this has been done behind Parliament’s back. The House of Commons was only informed when the deal was completed and not consulted about it. I wrote about this in Byline Times last month.

Reverses Parliament’s view

What is particularly egregious is that five years ago David Cameron’s Conservative government specifically refused to sign up to the same deal because it argued that people were innocent until proved guilty and should not be bracketed with known criminals. And Parliament was not only consulted, it even debated the matter.

None of this would be known now if it was not for the European Scrutiny Committee, chaired by veteran Tory Brexiteer,Bill Cash, had not revealed the row in a recent report .

To do this ministers have used a mechanism known as the Prum Convention, named after a small German town, to change the sharing of information and plan after Brexit to make further changes using “diplomatic notes” so Parliament will again not be consulted. The Convention allows “third party countries to join and covers Iceland, Norway, Liechenstein and Switzerland as well as the 27 EU countries.

James Brokenshire, security minister; Pic credit: gov.uk

 James Brokenshire, the security minister, has defended the changes as necessary as “important public safety benefits”. He added “the Government’s policy to date of not sharing the DNA profiles of criminal suspects “puts us out of step with EU Member States”.

 He also said one other reason was the National Crime Agency and Metropolitan Police Service have identified “risks and missed opportunities associated with not sharing suspects’ data” and support the inclusion of criminal suspects in the Prüm data sharing mechanism.”

Not impressed

However Mr Cash is not impressed and has written to him.

He said: “A change in the Government’s policy on access to the DNA profiles and fingerprints of criminal suspects therefore merits particularly close scrutiny by Parliament, given that it alters the very basis on which Parliament agreed to UK participation in Prüm data exchanges in December 2015.”

He challenged the minister’s written statement to Parliament asking him” to confirm that the notification given to the EU institutions on 15 June 2020 concerning the exchange of suspects’ data covers DNA and fingerprints and, if so, why this was not made explicit in your Written Statement to Parliament of the same date.”

Interestingly the Scottish government has not yet agreed to the change as policing and criminal justice are devolved matter. It has had the support of the Northern Ireland Executive.

The whole saga seems to be yet another example of double standards by the government. They make tough noises about Brexit then give away something that both a former Conservative government and Parliament refused to countenance.

They also like many other issues by-pass the UK Parliament and do deals under wraps and seem to have devised a system that will ensure that Parliament will have no say in any further changes. Another move towards an elective dictatorship rather than Parliament ” taking back control.”

Exclusive: How the People’s Tribunal will fight for every discriminated woman and girl in the UK

This new film released today covers both the reaction to the Judicial Review hearing last month and the birth of the People’s Tribunal. It also shows that under BackTo60’s leadership the two are interlinked.

The BackTo60 campaign was aimed to help 3.8 million women born in the 1950s get full restitution for their pensions. The People’s Tribunal has a hugely enlarged audience covering all women and girls in the United Kingdom and seeking to end the discrimination against all women.

Both are linked by injustice. The 50sWomen campaign wants restitution for the implementation of unfair laws – the 1995, 2007 and 2011 Pensions Act because of the adverse effect on one large group of women.

The People’s Tribunal want the UK to bring into domestic law the UN Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw).

The UK is already signed up to the convention – Margaret Thatcher did so in 1986 – but unlike other countries has not put the convention into UK law. The UK has also never appointed a representative to sit on the UN committee in Geneva either.

Any such legislation would transform women’s rights to fight discrimination and have a massive effect on the legal system of this country.

It would also give women a massive confidence boost that they would know beyond doubt they are equal to men and if they are treated any worse than men have a powerful tool to pursue any injustice through law.

Some people might think that in modern Britain women already do have equal rights with men. But when you think that despite equal pay laws and an Equality Act under the Blair Labour government, many women still do not have equal pay now nor do they have equal progression in their chosen career.

Despite strides – including all women short lists – there is not equal representation in Parliament among MPs and women more than men suffer domestic abuse.

Professor Jackie Jones, who was an expert witness in the judicial review and is part of the People’s Tribunal team, explains all of this very well in another YouTube video which you can watch below.

Finally all this going to cost money and today the People’s Tribunal launch a big crowdfunding appeal to set up and run the tribunal. They need to raise £75,000 but it will be worth every penny. The link top the crowdfunder is here.

Exclusive: Now 9.8 million men over 60 had their national insurance contributions paid by the state

The revised DWP answer

Revised figure doubled for ” men only national insurance subsidy”

The Department for Work and Pensions has revised the estimated number of men over 60 who received what are known as ” auto credits” towards getting a full pension from 4.65m to 9.8m between 1983 and 2018.

The 4.65 million figure was already staggeringly high but the new figure is more than double the number previously disclosed. It is also well over double the number of 1950s born women who are currently waiting for their pension for up to six years.

The scale of the payments has been kept quiet by the Department for Work and Pensions for 37 years. It was only revealed last month when Myfanwy Opeldus, one of 3.8 million women facing now a six year delay to get her pension, got the admission from the ministry through a Freedom of Information request. 

Letter issued after court hearing

Yesterday the Department for Work and Pensions wrote to her again raising the figure to 9.8 million. The letter came just after the Court of Appeal hearing into the judicial review this week heard about the plight of women affected by the rise in the pension age and was told by Michael Mansfield about the men receiving ” auto credits” which was not known at the time of the first judicial review.

The new disclosure makes it even more galling for the women who were originally promised they would have their national insurance contributions paid between 2010 and 2018 only to have the offer withdrawn a year before it was due to start. A number have had to pay thousands of pounds to make up the sum for a full pension while others simply have not been able to afford it.

The letter does say that not all 9.8 million men would have benefited as some would have died, others would have full insurance records and some would have been working abroad.

enormous subsidy for men

Nevertheless the scale of the subsidy must be enormous and a benefit for people years after it was offered by Sir Geoffrey Howe, the Chancellor of Exchequer in 1983, to encourage men to get off the dole to keep the very high unemployment numbers down at the time.

This story seems to get worse and worse so let us hope there will some justice from the courts for all the women concerned.

50 women’s pensions: An extraordinary Judicial Review Appeal hearing

The Master of the Rolls, Sir Terence Etherton Pic credit Wikipedia

Judges are inscrutable. Like wise old owls you can never be sure what they are thinking. This week’s two day hearing of the Court of Appeal into the rejected judicial review on behalf of 3.8 million women born in the 1950s who saw their pension age rise from 60 to 66 was no exception.

However the proceedings were extraordinary for a number of reasons. For a start the introduction of new technology clashed with the traditional proceedings of the courts.

Hit by Covid 19, the Court of Appeal decided that ” public interest ” in the case was so great that it should be live streamed with some of the judges and lawyers contributing via video link. They were justified with audiences over 2000 peaking at one point to just below 4000 – Court No 71 could never hold anything near that number ever, Covid 19 or not. Now two days later it has been seen by over 16,000 people.

For the first day it worked. But during the second day it ran into a number of technical problems -including cutting people off. And at the very end of the day the technology fizzled out for me so I didn’t see the very last part of the hearing . I have now seen it and Michael Mansfield makes a strong defence of why 50s women have been so badly affected by the delay in the pension age, citing one case where a woman contemplated suicide. He also emphasised the failure to notify people properly, saying there was a common law duty to do so.

Henrietta Hill was questioned by the judges about indirect and direct sex and age discrimination and how the lawyers saw their case being applied.

The judges reserved judgement which means it could be a few months before there is a decision.

Judges were engaged

The three judges presiding over the hearing were engaged with the debate.. The Master of the Rolls, 69 year old Sir Terence Etherton, is also president of the Property Bar Association and chairman of the Trust Law Committee and a visiting professor at Birkbeck College. In his youth he was a fencer and a member of the GB International Fencing Team, including being selected for the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.

Lord Justice Sir Nicholas Underhill Pic credit: Judiciary website

Lord Justice Sir Nicholas Underhill, 68, is a former president of the Employment Appeal Tribunal so well versed in complex cases. He also is a former Attorney General to the Prince of Wales.

Lady Justice Dame Vivien Rose Pic credit: judiciary website

Lady Justice Dame Vivien Rose,60, is the most recently appointed appeal judge of the three, is an expert in EU and UK competition law, tax, has been a Treasury legal adviser and held a post in the Ministry of Defence as Director of Operations and International Humanitarian Law during the Gulf War. Unlike the other two judges, who were educated at public schools, she was educated at a London comprehensive school and is the first lawyer in her family. She also sings in a choir.

Sir James Eadie : Pic Credit: blackstonechambers.com

Given this expertise of the judges it was extraordinary that Sir James Eadie, QC, the Treasury First Counsel, nicknamed the ” Treasury devil” should try to get the Judicial review declared unlawful.

He was building on the questioning in the previous judicial review which raised whether Ms Justice Dame Beverley Lang was right in granting the judicial review for the 3.8 million women in the first place.

He was shot down with a rapier like comment from the Master of the Rolls who pointed out he could have raised this immediately after her judgement at a special hearing and again when the judicial review was heard.

” Not in my brief” -Sir James Eadie

His reply was “it was not in my brief from the DWP ” and talked about ” the bigger picture”. My interpretation of that is Amber Rudd, then works and pensions secretary, would have been well aware that to strike out a review for 3.8 million women would have been political dynamite and caused widespread furore well beyond the actual case.

But Sir James persisted citing judgments which said that the case could have been held in 1995 as soon as the Pension Act was passed. Michael Mansfield,QC dealt with that claim in his summing up.

What is important is that the judges were really engaged with the arguments and tested both sides equally. They looked at the notification ( or non) notification issue of the pension age rise, listened to the arguments involving EU law and the relevance of the UN Convention of the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and noted the auto credits issue which allowed 4.6 million men over 60 from 1983 to 2018 to have their national insurance contributions paid by the state.

Sir James Eadie’s tactics seem to be to try and get most of the case law raised by Adam Straw and Henrietta Hill for the 50swomen ruled as irrelevant.

At one point the Master of the Rolls intervened to point out to Sir James that Adam Straw’s argument about one particular case was aimed at making a specific legal point not about the content of the case.

The other DWP tactic was to use out of date information. Sir James used 2011 as the reference for the continuing rise in longevity ( and pension payment costs) – the high point of the increase – ignoring it flatlining since. This I gather was corrected by Michael Mansfield later.

Sir James also got it wrong when he said the purpose of the case was to reduce the pension age to 60 for all women. It isn’t. It is to fully compensate the 3.8 million women who feel cheated about waiting six years for a pension and not being properly told about the change.

The DWP switched tactics over the economic plight of the 1950s women – in the original judicial review he made great play of the fact they were not worse off but some were well off.

This time he acknowledged that 1950s women faced economic disadvantages and social ills but these, he argued, were nothing to do with the raising of the pension age.

For people watching this case it must have seemed a bit arcane that it is based on case law rather than – though Michael Mansfield did highlight their catastrophic plight – going into detail of the hardships of 50swomen. Full statements on the hardships faced by the two women cited in the case were passed to the judges by Michael Mansfield.

judgement time

Now for a judgment. The point of a judicial review is to question the administration of a policy to see if it was fit for purpose and had not disadvantaged people.

Therefore don’t expect a judgement ordering the women must have all the money. But you could expect a judgement saying the system cheated them which will have to lead to action by the government to redress the matter.

Either way win or lose the BackTo60 campaign will be considerably enhanced by the outcome of this case – because it highlights the women’s plight and will be a force to reckon with. Going to law is much more powerful than trying to persuade MPs.

After all very few campaigners can claim to have their case examined by the Master of the Rolls and I know BackTo60 lawyers are delighted that they got an appeal on all the points they raised in the first judicial review.

A new campaign: A People’s Tribunal to get rid of ALL discrimination against girls and women.

BackTo60 yesterday launched a new campaign to get the United Kingdom to implement something they should done 34 years ago – pass laws to both empower and eliminate all discrimination against women.

For 1986 is the year Margaret Thatcher decided to sign up to the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women ( acronym CEDAW) but failed to put through Parliament any laws to back it up.

This should not be a Left versus Right issue – since Thatcherites and Corbynites and anybody in between- should agree. Unless they still hold the nineteenth century view that half the nation are inferior and should not have equal rights with men.

BackTo60 decided to launch this because next week’s Court of Appeal hearing on the government’s denial to pay back the 3.8 million women born in the 1950s their pensions from 60 to 66 – also involve the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women – because there was no level playing field for women to get their pension in the first place.

This enormously broadens BackTo 60’s campaign since it involves campaigning for the rights of half the population.

The mechanism they have chosen to bring this to public attention is a People’s Tribunal – these date back to the 1960s when the Bertrand Russell Foundation – held an inquiry into the US role in the Vietnam War.

This new tribunal is expected to consist of three independent ( probably retired) judges and led by the advocate John Cooper QC. a human rights and criminal law barrister, who is regarded by the Times as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in the country, and was on the tribunal that investigated atrocities in Iran.

Two other key members are Professor Jackie Jones,a former MEP for Wales and Professor of Feminist Studies at the University of West England , a leading advocate and expert on CEDAW and Hannah Manzur, a former EU  Gender Policy Advisor at the European Parliament,. Here is the full statement:

John Cooper said the issue should not be controversial – ” it is like motherhood and apple pie”.

He said the tribunal should have three main goals – independence, transparency and authenticity.

” There are three main areas to investigate: Why CEDAW has never put into UK law; whether there was any good reason for not doing so, and most importantly, to make recommendations on what should happen next.”

He added that he was already having support for the idea from a number of leading figures.

Jackie Jones said on the launch: ” Enough is Enough. We have waited nearly 40 years for this. It high time this is written into law and it is really important that girls now at school should be able to reach their full potential.”

Hannah Manzur said :

“We are delighted to announce the establishment of the CEDAW People’s Tribunal which will act as a powerful tool in both pushing for progress on gender equality and shining a light on the Government’s failure to uphold its binding promise to take proactive and comprehensive steps to eliminate gender discrimination.

” Forty years after this groundbreaking international convention was signed by the Government, women and girls still face overwhelming barriers to achieving their full potential due to persistent inequality and discrimination.

“This Tribunal will collect an authoritative body of evidence and expertise which will be reviewed and deliberated on by a panel of independent judges.

” We will be working to assess the gap between the Government’s commitment to CEDAW and its record on gender equality, including its failure to transpose CEDAW into domestic law and appoint a UK CEDAW representative. It’s time for us to hold the Government to account on its duty to eliminate discrimination against women and make gender equality a reality for women and girls across the UK.”

The only thing I have to add is that I shall be backing this campaign with the same vigour I have showed in reporting and investigating the BackTo60 campaign for full restitution for the 3.8m women who lost out on the raising of the pension age.

Government concede victory to unions over pension discrimination for over 4.1 million public sector workers

Stephen Barclay, chief secretary to the Treasury. Pic Credit: gov.uk

Judicial review forces ministers to open negotiations and defer major changes to pension schemes until 2022

Steve Barclay, Chief Secretary to the Treasury,chose a heavy news day today to slip out an announcement that the Treasury had finally given way to the courts and dropped pension discrimination against 4.1 million workers in Whitehall, the NHS,teachers, prison officers and firefighters and ambulance staff .

This came after losing legal battles to the FBU firefighters union, the GMB, the PCS Whitehall union and the Prison Officers Association over what was seen as age discrimination over cuts to their workplace pensions.

The announcement means that terms offered to staff will revert back to the original position – and that includes a lower retirement age – until 2022 and everything is up to grabs during fresh consultations.

£2.4 billion in pension surpluses

It could also mean that some £2.4 billion at present held in pension surpluses, particularly in Whitehall, may have to be redistributed back to the workers in reduced pension contributions or better benefits.

The sting in the tail is that the government want the costs of the victory won by the FBU at the Court of Appeal – which scrapped a discriminatory system that put younger people employed at a disadvantage – should be taken out of the pension surpluses.

The story of the FBU victory appeared in an article in December on this blog.

Any such moves are to be fiercely resisted by the unions. As one GMB official put it: ” We are not going to accept we should pay when we won the argument and the government lost.”

“They knew they were wrong”

Rehana Azam, GMB National Secretary said: 

“It’s welcome that Ministers have in the face of sustained pressure finally U-turned on the pause they imposed on the drawing down of pension benefits. Their indefensible decision has left public sector workers facing financial hardship. 

“GMB has long campaigned for the lifting of the benefits pause the Government unilaterally imposed on our members without consultation. Hard-working public sector workers should now get what they’re owed. 

“The Government has had to make a U-turn because they knew they were in the wrong and were poised to lose the Judicial Review GMB and others had brought against them.  

“Any suggestion that it should now be public sector workers who now bear the costs of Ministers’ discriminatory errors will be fiercely resisted. GMB will not stand by if the Government intends to break its word and force public servants to pick up the bill for its own mistakes. “

The timing of the climb down is interesting as it comes a week before the court of appeal hears the case against raising the pension age from 60 to 66 without proper notice brought by BackTo60 on behalf of 3.8 million women demanding full restitutionb for the loswt money.

The GMB which led the charge over part of the fight is 100 per cent behind the 50swomen and their cause to get their money back.

Revealed: How “Failing Grayling” derailed transport billionaires Richard Branson and Brian Souter

Ex transport secretary Chris Grayling Pic credit:BBC

Chris Grayling – who tomorrow is expected to become chair of Parliament’s intelligence and security committee – is a byword for wasting public money.

I have already written for Byline Times on his activities – and so extensive were his failings it took two long articles to add up the cost of Chris Grayling. You can read them here and here. He seems to have cost the nation some £2.7 billion – an extraordinary achievement for one individual – as well as causing misery for the probation and prison service and for millions of commuters.

Yet every human being can sometimes get things right. And last month Chris Grayling did so in a decision which involved risk.

A court judgement – virtually unreported except in the Financial Times – vindicated a very controversial decision he took as transport secretary way back in April last year on every count.

Grayling decided to disqualify three bidders from getting hold of three very lucrative rail franchises – the West Coast main line from London Euston to Glasgow and Edinburgh; the East Midlands franchise and the commuter lucrative South Eastern franchise from Kent into London.

Sir Richard Branson : A quote that came back to bite him

The bidders banned were Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains (as part of the West Coast partnership with the French state owned SNCF) Sir Brian Souter’s Stagecoach and Arriva owned by German state railways Deutsche Bahn.

The reason why Grayling disqualified them is because all three did not want to take on a big share of the liability for paying out pensions to some 346,000 retired and active train drivers and staff while they were running the services. Instead they wanted to make as money as they could by dumping the pension cost onto the state – that’s you and me.

pension costs

Their move was despite a ruling by the Pension Regulator which said anybody running a privatised rail service should have to fund any pension shortfall and not taxpayers.

Their decision caused consternation in rail franchise industry since two of the contracts were subsequently let to new providers. The East Midland franchise was awarded to Abellio East Midlands Ltd and the West Coast Partnership franchise was later awarded to First Trenitalia West Coast Rail Ltd. The South Eastern competition was cancelled.

Expensive law case

A lengthy and extremely expensive trial followed with costs building up not only for the ministry but the three companies and the companies who subsequently won the contracts who had to keep an eye on the case. Deutsche Bahn’s owned Arriva decided to settle out of court.

So complicated is the judgement from Mr Justice Stuart Smith that it runs to 193 pages and the Courts and Tribunals Service issued a rare explanatory memorandum to help the public understand it.

If it had gone the other way it could have thrown the whole rail franchise system into further chaos – since it would have meant that the two private contractors would have won the franchises by an illegal competition and they would have to bid again.

But it didn’t. As the Department for Transport said; “We strongly welcome this decision, which finds our franchise process was fair, our conduct was transparent, and the disqualification at the heart of this case was proportionate.”

There is a sting in the tale. The Department of Transport want Sir Richard Branson and Sir Brian Souter to pay all its costs.

Sir Brian Souter was chairman of Stagecoach when Grayling took action. He is still a member of the board.

This is a blow to Sir Brian who condemned the ministry when it took the original decision as ” dysfunctional and deceitful”.

And it will be lesson for Sir Richard who once wrote: You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.

This time he has taken a real tumble, particularly after suing the NHS when he failed to win an £82 million contract and then blaming the NHS Commissioners. See the riposte here. The case was settled out of court and it is understood his company Virgin Care got £328,000.

This new judgement may explain something else. The Department for Transport is very wary about continuing the present franchise system. And because of Covid 19 it has virtually nationalised the railways. I suspect it won’t return to the old system as it won’t want any more nail biting court cases even though it won.

Labour is much clearer – they will simply nationalise the system permanently – a decision that its new leader Sir Keir Starmer has followed through from Jeremy Corbyn.

Universal Credit: Fear and Loathing for 2.9 million in the Poverty Trap

The government’s Universal Credit logo – the slogan is makes work pay. Pic Credit: gov.uk

Today the National Audit Office produces a timely report on the operation of Universal Credit and the impact on claimants of having to wait five weeks to get paid.

It comes when the numbers claiming the benefit has jumped from 2.9m to 6.1 million because of Covid 19.

The report investigates the plight of those needing to claim before Covid 19 struck and it paints a particularly bleak picture.

It is also relevant to the group of 1950s born women whose pension has been delayed from 60 to 66. As the Independent reported separately recently the rise of women making claims for such benefits – soared from 7,578 to 36,527 between 2013 and 2019 – and was almost three times more than men who are aged 60 and over.

Fear factor

What is alarming about the findings – which are an analysis by the NAO of the Department for Work and Pensions own figures – is that many of the people were too frightened to claim and delayed claiming for up to three months after they lost their job.

This damning point is raised in the report. It says:

“Our consultation with claimants and support organisations indicated
that a “fear factor” about Universal Credit is also likely to play a part in some people delaying a claim, or not claiming at all. This may result from people hearing about bad experiences from friends, family or the media, for example.
Some respondents told us they were worried about whether they would be able to cope during the wait.”

As a result the report says the DWP’s analysis of earning data ” found that almost half(49%) of households who claimed Universal Credit in the four years to mid-2018 had no earnings in the three months before they claimed the benefit.

Taking this into account and the additional five week wait to get the benefit this meant that many had to apply for advance payments to tide them over or go to food banks simply to get food to live which then had to be paid back by deducting it from the meagre universal credit they have to live on.

DWP headquarters in Westminster,London.

A particularly revealing table in the report puts together this bleak picture. It shows that an astonishing 80 per cent of all low income people starting to claim the benefit were in serious debt. Some 77 per cent had to rely on advance repayable payments. Another 34 per cent owed money to other government departments – often historic debts. And six per cent had third party debts,like unpaid council tax, child maintenance, rent and water arrears.

Nearly as badly off were claimants with a disabled child, disabled people and carers. Some 65 and 70 per cent had serious debts.

Now as the report shows this is against a dramatic improvement of paying the benefit on time from 55% in January 2017 to 90% in February 2020.

However, as the number of people claiming Universal Credit has grown, the number of people paid late has also increased from 113,000 in 2017 to 312,000 in 2019. In 2019 those new claimants who were paid late faced average delays of three weeks in addition to the five-week wait. Some 6% of households (105,000 new claims) waited around 11 weeks or more for full payment.

Universal Credit expansion delayed

The government has also limited the expansion of universal credit – delaying the final date of switching from other benefits from March 2023 to September 2024 at an extra cost of £1.4 billion to £4.6 billion.

Yet despite spending £39m to try and explain the new benefit to wary claimants the National Audit Office concludes the ministry has a communications problem.

Meg Hillier, chair of the Commons public accounts committee, said: ” too often the most vulnerable claimants still aren’t receiving the money they are entitled to when they need it most.”  

Stephen Timms, chair of the Commons work and pensions committee. Pic credit: Twitter

Stephen Timms, chair of the Commons work and pensions committee said:

“This hard-hitting report on Universal Credit from the National Audit Office confirms the Select Committee’s concern that that the five week wait for the first payment causes ‘financial hardship and debt’.

” It provides further evidence that the initial planning assumptions for Universal Credit were naive. We now know UC will cost an extra £1.4bn to the public purse.  It will take more than twice as long to roll out as originally planned.  Far from reducing fraud and error, Universal Credit is driving historic record high levels – more than £1 in every £10 paid through UC is incorrect”

Neil Couling director general Universal Credit

There is one man who has done rather well out of all this. He is “Mr Universal Credit” Neil Couling, who is in charge of the benefit at the DWP. According to the latest DWP accounts for 2019 he received a bonus of £15,000 on top of a salary of between £150,000 and £155,000 a year. He has got pension benefits worth a cool £80,000.

He will be appearing before the Commons work and pensions committee next Wednesday to explain how well he has handled the benefit for the 2.9 million claimants.

Revealed: 32 years of benefit payment failure by the Department of Work and Pensions

DWP celebrating 32 years of inaccurate accounting

Yesterday while all eyes were on Boris Johnson’s ” Build,Build, Build ” speech the Department for Work and Pensions slipped out their annual accounts for the last financial year.

In what looks like a classic “cover up ” job to bury bad news, the ministry probably did not want the world to know that their accounts had been censured for material inaccuracy for the 32nd year in a row.

The reason is the failure of the ministry to be able to account for unacceptable levels of fraud and error in the huge number of benefit payments. Billions of pounds have been overpaid to claimants through fraud and mistakes by claimants and errors by officials. And billions of pounds have been underpaid by officials to claimants because they have made mistakes in calculating people’s benefits.

The latest figures are a record for every year since John Moore, was social security secretary under Lady Thatcher in 1988.

It shows that ” Excluding State Pension, the estimated rate of overpayments has increased again to 4.8% (£4.5 billion) of estimated benefit expenditure, from a restated rate of 4.4% (£3.8 billion).

“The estimated rate of underpayments, excluding State Pension, has decreased to 2.0% (£1.9 billion), from its estimated rate of 2.2% (£1.9 billion) in 2018-19. The rate of overpayments in 2019-20 is the
highest estimate to date.”

The worst benefit is the new hated Universal Credit which has suffered from both overpayments and underpayments and claimants have to wait five weeks before they can get it. Since the payment depends on claimants’ monthly varying income the scope for inaccurate reporting of the money is large.

The report says: “For Universal Credit, the estimated rate of overpayments increased from 8.7% to 9.4%. This is the highest recorded overpayment rate for any benefit other than Tax Credits (administered by HMRC), which peaked at 9.7% in 2003-04.”

“Underpayments rates have fallen for Universal Credit, Employment and Support Allowance and Pension Credit, and the estimated rate for Housing Benefit has increased. Personal Independence Payment has the highest rate of underpayments at 3.8% of expenditure in 2019-20. This rate has not changed from 2018-19.”

But the small print of the report also reveals how the Department calculates this. It takes samples of benefit payments to arrive at these figures but the National Audit Office reveals that 61 per cent of the benefits paid out to claimants are based on recalculated estimates for the previous year.

Some other omissions are staggering. The Department has never checked whether payments are accurate for claimants on Disability Living Allowance for 16 years – last done in 2004-05.

More extraordinary the Department has never checked whether money paid out to 12 million pensioners is accurate or not since 2005 – that is 15 years ago.

Instead the department maintains there is no serious fraud or underpayments in pensions – calculating it as just £300 million out of an annual payment of £98.6 billion.

Given this year we had a case this year of a 94 year old pensioner being owed a staggering £117,000 because of 34 years of underpayments, I find this complacency mind blowing.

I also think the National Audit Office, as their auditors, is remiss in not asking for an update.

Next year’s estimate of benefit fraud and error is likely to even more out of kilter thanks to Covid 19 as the ministry have got rid of staff monitoring fraud to be able to pay out the 2.6 million claims for universal credit.

And although the department is said to be investigating 143,000 suspicious claims under Covid 19, it can’t follow them up because it can’t visit them at home.

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said :

“I am concerned that fraud and error in benefit payments have risen again. Fraud and error have a real cost, both for those who face deductions from their income due to overpayments and because it reduces the public funds available for other purposes.

“As the Department takes on a set of unprecedented challenges arising from COVID-19 it is more important than ever that my qualification is not seen as business as usual and the Department responds in a cost-effective way to minimise risks of fraud and error.”

Next year I am certain will be the 33rd year the ministry accounts are questioned and found wanting.

My interview on Salford City Radio with Ian Rothwell on the latest injustices to 50swomen

My Interview with Ian

As it gets nearer to the appeal hearing brought by two members of BackTo60 on July 21 to recover their lost pensions from 60 to 66 I gave another interview tonight to Ian Rothwell, presenter for Salford City Radio, which has been covering the issue of the women’s lost pensions.

I make no apologies for raising again the extraordinary findings that the Department for Work and Pensions has admitted that 4.6 million men were able to get auto credits from the age of 60 for 35 years from 1983 to 2018.

The disclosure is all the more damaging because a central theme of the DWP at the court hearing was that the raising of the pension age from 60 to now 66 was an issue of equality to end discrimination against men – without disclosing the scale of auto credits given to men to cover their national insurance contributions.

Even now while many women born in the 1950s are suffering severe hardship by waiting for their pension, men have the opportunity, thanks to ex pensions minister, Steve Webb, raising the issue ,to claim back the money they lost if they had paid national insurance contributions while they were over 60 during this period.

The DWP may be able to claim that for some men they already had enough contributions so it was immaterial, or that some died or moved abroad before they could claim their pension, that misses the main point.

The main point is that there was much more of a level playing field between men and women than the DWP acknowledged at the hearing. Men needn’t have paid NI insurance even if they took a low paid job. And if they had an occupational pension and their wife had retired they needn’t have bothered to contribute any further to their state pension or even worked.

Anyway you can hear the interview at the top of the blog.