Revealed:The chaotic free prescription and dental treatment scandal

An example of an attempt to check whether you are entitled to a free prescription by Trent Valley Surgery

If you are under 60 and over 16 do you know when you can get a free prescription and free dental treatment? No, if you don’t you are in good company and if you claim could even be one of 1.7 million people in England falsely sent a £100 penalty by the NHS.

A absolutely scathing report out today from MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee today describes the whole system for regulating free prescriptions and dental services as ” not fit for purpose “.

It reveals that despite a so called 24 page ” simplified ” guide telling you when you qualify most people are completely confused and rightly so.And if you get it wrong you are automatically guilty of fraud and get a £100 penalty fine rising to £150 if you don’t pay it promptly.

The report said :” Exemptions from prescription and dental charges include age, maternity, receipt of certain means-tested benefits, low income, and long-term medical conditions in some cases, although we are told that this list of long-term conditions has not been updated for 50 years [YES 50 YEARS -my point] save the addition of cancer in 2009. “

Worse qualification for a free prescription does not automatically qualify you for free dental treatment. And if you are on Universal Credit your right to claim will vary from month to month depending on your income.

The report says : “There is currently no way of indicating receipt of Universal Credit on prescription forms, resulting in more confusion, and the Department for Work and Pensions does not confirm eligibility when they write to claimants about their confirmed benefit entitlements.”

The result of all this chaos is that since 2014 no fewer than 5.6 million penalty notices have been issued and 1.7 million have had to dropped once the person challenged it because it was found out they were entitled to claim.

Naturally the threat of penalities has made vulnerable people more frightened of going to the dentist for essential treatment in case they were fined and to get prescription medicines.

Worse the policing of the system to prevent fraud has been an abysmal failure. The report found “nearly 115,000 people have received five or more PCNs [penalty notices] for prescriptions, over 1,600 have received 20 or more—yet only five cases have been referred to the Crown Prosecution Service. Only one has been heard in court ” Yes that it right one court case.

And anyway the NHS does not have a proper system for collecting the debt – relying in part on Capita.

The MPs said: “The PCN process generated a net yield of £25 million for the NHS, a pitiful sum compared to the annual cost of prescriptions which is around £9 billion. We do not dispute that it is right to try and deter fraud and recover costs mistakenly paid by the NHS, but the current system is not fit for purpose.

Now there is a simple high tech solution to check prescription entitlement in real time – and the government is committed to eventually introducing a computerised system. It is trialing one now in just four chemists. How pathetic is that.

Meg Hillier, chair of the committee, makes some very pertinent points .

Patients find it very confusing to understand whether or not they can claim free prescriptions or dental treatment because of a convoluted system that causes patients, in some cases, distress.

“A presumption of guilt means penalty charge notices are issued too readily, particularly where vulnerable people are concerned. Yet where there is clear evidence that people are persistently committing fraud by making false claims, there has been a failure to take effective action.

The Committee fully support efforts to deter fraud and pursue those who claim exemptions to which they are not entitled to but the current penalty notice system is cumbersome, inefficient and not fit for purpose.

The Department should substantially overhaul the system, so that those who are rightfully entitled to free prescriptions and dental treatment get the exemption they deserve.”

Over to the NHS to sort out this scandal – one among many. MPs want to call officials back next year to explain how they have solved it.

On Byline Times: MPs slam Home Office for “Windrush” scandal that hit 50,000 overseas students over cheating claims

Home Office HQ: MPs accuse the ministry under Theresa May of ” entirely unacceptable” behaviour in handling the problem

MPs today accused the Home Office of learning nothing from another “Windrush” scandal over their treatment of 50,000 overseas students from outside the EU and European Economic Area who were said – many wrongly – of cheating in oral English language tests to get a university place.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee said it is “staggered” by the uncaring attitude of the Home Office over the fate of thousands of students who were accused five years ago and had their visas cancelled or voluntarily left the country as a result. Others had to spend thousands of pounds to win court cases against the government to prove their innocence.

The full story is here on Byline Times.

On Byline Times: MPs slam secrecy and cover up over Brexit management consultancy contracts

Whitehall claimed ” administrative error” for all the secrecy

Whitehall is condemned yesterday by a powerful all party committee of MPs for being over secretive over the award of nearly £100m of management consultants contracts to handle Brexit.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee accuses Whitehall of breaching government guidelines in making public contract details, awarding nearly all the work to just six companies and covering up some of the contracts.

Full story on Byline Times.

Why does this man keep secret the pay and perks for people running David Cameron’s taxpayer funded National Citizen Service scheme?

micheal lynas

Michael Lynas Chief Executive of the National Citizen’s Trust. Pic credit: Twitter

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

This is Michael Lynas. So far he has spent £475m of taxpayer’s money as chief executive of the National Citizens Trust – a legacy project of David Cameron’s government aimed at providing community projects to aid character building  for 15 to 17 year olds across the nation.

His Linked In profile reveals that his sole qualifications  to do the job are a four year spell as a consultant for Bain and Company and just under three years in Downing Street as a policy adviser to David Cameron and Nick Clegg. He is obviously conventionally bright having studied at  Harvard and Cambridge.

Recently he appeared before MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee following a highly critical report from the National Audit Office questioning whether  National Citizen Service was value for money. The NAO pointed out that it was almost entirely funded by the state and the cost providing places on its schemes was very high. Also it has paid out money up front to organisations for places that were not taken up and was now trying to get the money back. I have written about this in Tribune magazine.

Indeed he was challenged by MPs about his ( lack of ) experience.This is the extract from the minutes:

Michael Lynas :”I have been involved in this now for eight years. I helped
to set up the first pilot. That is my ultimate experience. I have worked in
Government covering everything from the London 2012 Olympics to the same-sex marriage proposals when I was a senior policy adviser at No.10.
Chair ( Meg Hillier MP) : The same-sex marriage proposals, important as they were, are not quite the same things as running a contract with a big budget.
Michael Lynas: The Olympics had a large budget, obviously. When I was a management consultant for five years I looked at a whole range of projects, some of which were very large, but as I said, I have not managed something with this budget before.”

But the MPs were also concerned about the complete lack of transparency in declaring the salaries of directors -including himself- and senior staff  who are funded by the taxpayer. This is because  the trust was set up as a community interest company by David Cameron – so it did not have to disclose any details of the pay or perks  of directors or senior staff. Even though it was funded by you and me  –  the taxpayer.

MPs challenged him to publish the information and he agreed he could – but avoided pledging to do so. A flavour of the exchange can be seen here at the hearing.

Kevin Forster MP :”I have asked you if there is a legal bar to sharing that information and you have not said that there is.. .But you have said several times that you are waiting for the new Bill to go through. I accept that would be a new transition and structure but, if you want to sharei nformation and there is no legal bar to do doing so, and it relates to an
organisation that is taxpayer-funded, why don’t you do it?
Michael Lynas: I absolutely agree. I just thought it was a question about whether we did it under the auspices of the new arrangements or whether  we did it before then. We can do it before then.
Mr  Richard Bacon MP: This question of whether we do it under the old auspices or
the new arrangements: how profound is that question and how difficult to solve? Why does it matter? Why can’t you just do it, if it doesn’t make any difference? Are you familiar with the maxim, “Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness”? Why don’t you just get on with it?”

An examination of the accounts and the original advertisement for the job of chief executive does reveal some information. Mr Lynas’s original job was advertised at £120,000 a year. The accounts reveal that in 2015 the highest paid director ( and he is also a director) received £117,688 a year and £5775 towards his pension. This increased by nearly £20,000 to £137,253 in 2016 and to £6343 towards his pension. We don’t know if that is him but it is very likely it is.

Total payments for directors increased by £45,000 in the same period from £466,608 to £511,182 whole pension contributions rose slightly from £23,025 ro £23,480.

Now there are 12 directors – eight are non-executive and four are executive – so you  might assume they share this between them. But you would be wrong because one of them, Lord David Blunkett, the former Labour home secretary, has had to declare what he gets in the House of Lords register of interests – even if the trust wants to keep it secret. And guess what, he is doing it pro bono – not claiming a penny salary for sitting on the board.

And I would be willing to bet the other seven- Dame Julia Cleverdon former chief executive of Business in the Community ; Pippa Dunn, Nick Farnhill, John Hartley, Sue Gray.,( Director of Propriety and Ethics at the Cabinet Office) Martina Milburn, ( head of the Prince’s Trust)  and Shaun Watling- may be in the same position. The Prince’s Trust confirmed that Martina Milburn also gives her time on a voluntary basis.

These leaves another four executive directors to share the spoils ,Will Gallagher ( resigned last December);Doug Fraley ( resigned June 2015); Simon Jones ( resigned January 2016) and Natasha Kizzie in the previous financial year. Indeed the disappearance of so many executive directors seems to suggest another hidden story. Particularly since Will Gallagher was NCT’s chief operating officer and Simon Jones was NCT’s finance director. Natasha who is still in post is director of communications and marketing.

The accounts also reveal that in 2015 50 staff shared a £3 million wage bill. They are now over 100 staff.

The Trust will be forced to release information once  a bill  turning it into a public body goes through Parliament under Theresa May’s government.

I asked for the trust to release these figures now  and explain how much of the millions they lost on ” ghost places” they had recovered. I got no reply – no doubt Mr Lynas was too busy to be bothered by pesky journalists.

But I might say when the public sector ( especially education) is being squeezed by cuts and wage freezes – the largesse shown  to a few here is out of proportion. Unless of  course the former PM arranged ” mates rates” for the privileged few so they could help the underprivileged masses understand their role in society.

 

 

 

Bumped by Trump: How Whitehall used the US elections as cover for £1 billion military spending blunders

donald-trump-pic-credit-cnn

Donald Trump Pic credit: CNN

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One of the oldest tricks in the Whitehall playbook is to use a major event as cover to publish unpalatable or embarrassing news.

It means the media are diverted by the event and don’t notice the announcement or report.

It worked an absolute treat for the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury over the US elections to hide two very bad news stories for them. They couldn’t believe their luck when Trump unexpectedly won.

The Ministry of Defence took advantage on polling day to slip a very embarrassing announcement about money for war veterans pensions and disability payments. Evidently the previous July the Treasury, believe it or not, forgot to include in its spending statement the proper  money to pay them this year. As a result they will have to raid the contingency reserve for emergency payments to make sure these veterans have the money.

Mark Lancaster, parliamentary secretary to the ministry, admitted the error in a written statement to the Commons just as Parliament rose on November 8  describing the failure to disclose it as an “inadvertent publishing error”.  It involved a staggering £438,193,000 in the Armed Forces Pensions and Compensation scheme which is available to serving and former personnel who are injured in military service including in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The second cover up by the Ministry of Defence came on results day. This was an embarrassment to the image of the Ministry of Defence. For years they have endured criticisms on cost overruns on equipment, bad spending decisions and lack of control.

Last year this was all meant to change. A new agency the Defence Equipment and Support, was supposed to take control  and rein in all these errors. It describes itself as a bespoke agency in charge of equipment and projects for the armed forces.

Well it seems to have deliberately chosen  the US election day to publish its first report. The reason I suspect is that the National Audit Office has qualified its accounts and made a stinging attack on its performance. The NAO can only release this when the report is published and the agency chose election day to do it.

The report by Amyas Morse, the Comptroller and auditor General is damning.Some £499 million of public expenditure cannot be properly accounted for.

“I have qualified my opinion on the financial statements due to a limitation on the scope of my audit because DE&S has been unable to provide me with adequate evidence to enable me to confirm whether or not the private sector support costs, other programme costs and the related trade and other payables balance shown in the financial statements are free from material misstatement.

“I believe this situation has arisen because the Agency’s financial management systems, processes and controls for these transactions and balances are not yet sufficiently well developed to meet the Agency’s needs.”

Examples include having to manually insert some 100,000 changes into the computer programme because it had not  been drawn up properly. And reporting money for the wrong year.

Luckily in both cases MPs are not going to let the matter rest- and come back to the issues

Nia Griffith, the shadow Defence  Secretary has attacked the government for putting at risk funding to help military veterans warning that they must be given an urgent reassurance that they will not lose money.

Anne Marie Trevelyan, Conservative MP for Berwick on Tweed and a member of the  Public Accounts Committtee, said :“At a time when we are seeing a lot of change in the Ministry of Defence, causing a great deal of anxiety for those who are serving, it is very disappointing to see Defence Equipment & Support has not got to grips with financial management.

“At the same time there are serious issues with service family accommodation, highlighted by the Public Accounts Committee which would benefit from a much smaller investment.

“This points to a lack of joined-up financial planning in the Ministry and raises concerns about whether the department is delivering value for money across the board.”

Quite right. Whitehall must not get away with playing games with how it discloses it is spending our money. I have written a news article for Tribune magazine on this.

 

A4e: Six jailed in £300,000 fake job fraud scam

A4e: Improving People's lives -and defrauding the government

A4e: Improving People’s lives -and defrauding the government

The scandal that rocked A4e, the private contractor condemned by the Commons Public Accounts Committee, for fiddling the books, hit home this week.

Six people were given jail sentences and another four were given suspended sentences by a judge at  Reading Crown Court.

The BBC reported here yesterday the sentencing by the judge. The scheme as reported earlier on this blog involved mentoring single parents – some of the most vulnerable in society so they could get work. But the £1.3m Aspire programme turned out to be a vehicle for fraud by the staff.

The court was told  staff made up files, forged signatures and falsely claimed they had helped people find jobs, enabling them to hit targets and gain government bonuses.

Judge Angela Morris said there had been a “systematic practice” of compiling bogus files over a “considerable period of time”, behaviour which she described as “appallingly cavalier”.

She said: “No amount of pressure justifies the wholesale fabrication of information in files or the forgery of other people’s signatures on documents, all of which is designed to extract money from the Department of Work and Pensions.”

The roll call of fraudsters are:

  • Charles McDonald, 44, of Derwent Road, Egham, Surrey, pleaded guilty to six counts of forgery and one of conspiracy to commit forgery. He was sentenced to 40 months in prison.
  • Julie Grimes, 52, of Monks Way, Staines, Surrey, pleaded guilty to nine counts of forgery. She was sentenced to 26 months in prison.
  • Nikki Foster, 31, of High Tree Drive, Reading, pleaded guilty to nine counts of forgery, and was jailed for 22 months.
  • Ines Cano-Uribe, 39, of Madrid, Spain, was found guilty of one count of forgery and one of conspiracy to commit forgery. She was jailed for 18 months.
  • Dean Lloyd, 38, of Rochfords, Coffee Hall, Milton Keynes, pleaded guilty to 13 counts of forgery. He was given a 15-month jail sentence.
  • Bindiya Dholiwar, 29, of Reddington Drive, Slough, pleaded guilty to seven counts of forgery, and was jailed for 15 months.
  • Zabar Khalil, 35, of Dolphin Road, Slough, was found guilty of one count of forgery. He was given a 12-month sentence, suspended for two years.
  • Matthew Hannigan-Train, 31, of Westacre Close, Bristol, was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit forgery. He received a 12-month sentence, suspended for two years.
  • Hayley Wilson, 27, of Middlesex Drive, Milton Keynes, was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit forgery. She was given a 12-month sentence, suspended for two years.
  • Aditi Singh, 32, of Albert Street, Slough, pleaded guilty to two counts of forgery and one count of possessing items to commit fraud, and received a 10-month sentence, suspended for two years.

However less we forget the Department for Work and Pensions was severely criticised in a Commons public accounts committee report for failing to conduct checks on what was going on with A4e at the time – and the company was only investigated because whistleblowers came forward about what was going on.

Chris Grayling, then the minister responsible for employment, took no action to investigate further either. As the PAC said at the time in a report  on A4e and other programmes the DWP never looked at whether A4e was ” a fit and proper contractor” to run other programmes.

A4e chief executive Andrew Dutton said  yesterday the company has a “zero-tolerance policy” towards fraud and money had been set aside so “the taxpayer will have lost nothing” from the scam.

Mr Dutton said: “Their claims do not reflect the way this company operates, or the values of our 2,100 staff, whose honesty and integrity are much-valued.”

I remain to be convinced whether the company has truly reformed.

Is Whitehall still letting profit hungry contractors off the hook to rip off the state?

Chris Grayling: His £400m gift to contractor's profits sparked a pathetic clampdown pic courtesy: BBC

Chris Grayling: His £400m gift to contractor’s profits
sparked a pathetic clampdown pic courtesy: BBC

Remember the major row over  justice secretary Chris Grayling’s “poison pill ” contract to privatise the probation service. This allowed  the successful bidders to walk away with up to £400m profit on a ten year contract should an incoming Labour government have the temerity to cancel it if they won the next election.

Grayling  not so innocently said that this was just normal Whitehall practice. Margaret Hodge, the chair of the Commons public accounts committee said it was “It is not value for money. It is unacceptable and must be challenged before the event.”

She demanded something be done and now the Treasury have responded. They have written to every accounting officer of every ministry and every government agency laying down new guidelines. You can read the letter here and see my news article in Tribune this week.

In my view the response is particularly pathetic and certainly not nearly hard-hitting enough to protect taxpayer’s money.

Of  course accounting officers are reminded that they must consider value for money and must be able to justify such decisions but it does include some  remarkably helpful  “get out “clauses that allow such deals to continue.

One  says they should consider: “whether it is likely that, if the public body terminates the contract for policy reasons, the supplier would have a legal case to claim even without the clause being in the contract.” Well it might but I would be amazed if a judge allowed them to keep all projected profits.

They are also expected just to ask rather than instruct companies “whether the market be willing to bid without such clauses, particularly when outsourcing for the first time, or establishing a new market.” And they should ask whether such a deal is “normal practice in this area of business.”

To me this seems an open invitation for private contractors to say, of course it is, where if they had a private contact with another private firm, they would lucky to get all the money back if the other company just collapsed.

It is only that the Government cannot go bankrupt that they are in a position to negotiate such terms.

Now of course accounting officers could refuse to sign such one-sided contracts in the first place and demand the minister in charge directed them to do so. But in fact remarkably few permanent secretaries and chief executives  ever do this. They can be counted on the fingers of one hand in any financial year.

Once again this coalition government is running the country for the benefit of private companies not for the taxpayer or even to the benefit of the ordinary public.