[We have a new picture of Ben today – so you can see what he really looks like under those shades. But today Ben is going into rant mode … ]
Warning….fledgling UKIP zone ahead. Who said we turn into our parents as we get older?
I don’t always know where I am going when I start writing these but when I finished I had to add this bit because it was only then that I realised my theme this week is news stories that reflect my daily experiences
It seems that the next target in the government’s sights to save money is in, among others, the area of fraudulent tenancies and homelessness claims.
Eric Pickles gets tough
On the CLG website on Thursday Eric Pickles unveiled a ‘10 Point Plan’ saying
“It’s time to get tough and take on the fraud cons. At a time when we need to cut the national deficit and government waste, cleaning up fraud could save the taxpayer over £2 billion in recovered cash”.
Fighting the fraudsters
For once I welcome the plan in principal, simply because in my office we are overwhelmed with fraudulent cases, so much so that instead of concentrating on investigating homelessness claims and protecting the vulnerable, we spend too much time scrutinising passports and other documents under our optical equipment trying to catch people out.
We even have to photograph our clients these days because we were getting so many cases where the person who turned up at the temporary accommodation we provided for them was not the person who we actually interviewed.
(My favourite being a woman with 2 very patient kids who sat quietly on mum’s lap for the 40 minutes it took for the interview to take place. Just as her application was about to get rubber stamped one of the kids turned to her and said “Can we go now Aunty Jan?”…..wwooooaaaahhhh lets start again shall we?)
Its not the fact that forged documents are so sophisticated these days, often they look like they have been done with crayons, but most units I train around the country don’t have the equipment or the training to enable them to know what to look out for.
I reckon that if training was given and access to the excellent ‘Document Checker’ website a lot of that £2 billion could be saved straight away.
And if fraud is such a big issue, why have the government ditched the safeguard documentation and proofs we had for marriages of UK citizens to people from abroad?
The BBC reports of registrars seeing a rise in suspicious, sham marriages recently as a result of changes to the way things are done. Mandy Brammer, the deputy superintendent registrar for Brent, said the problem had increased in the north London borough which sometimes saw five or six suspected sham marriages a week.
For my part in the past month I have had 3 cases of illegal evictions where foreign nationals, without recourse to public funds, got their rights by being married to Polish nationals who did have recourse. When interviewed each said their wife was visiting family in Poland with their child. When I advised them that I would need to have the wife in front of me with her details, each man said they had phoned them and unfortunately their father was sick so they couldn’t travel!!!!!!!!!.
Do you get the impression that there is a sham marriage broker operating in our area? You would think they would at least have the imagination to come up with a different story.
How it happens
You see it all starts with a single fake document. Different organisations do different checks. They can get a decent looking fake ID card off of the internet and with that, open accounts, get gas and electricity bills and with a few documents behind them a paper trail starts to build up.
Last week I interviewed a woman whose surname on her passport didn’t match that on her child’s birth certificate. It turned out that all the hospital required for proof of ID was her gas bill. The gas bill…..then the birth certificate. You see how it goes?
And even when you try to report things you hit a wall. I recently tried to report a major fraudster landlord we deal with to the tax office for not paying tax on the rental income. The serious voice on the other end of the phone asked me for his name. I replied that we had 11 different names for the guy and weren’t sure what his tax was registered under. His sombre, no-nonsense tone dissolved and he replied apologetically “Our computer doesn’t allow us to take a complaint against alias’s”. Computer says no then!
Housing benefit again
And as I slowly morph from Alf Garnett back into my real self I also turn to the ongoing slow motion car crash that is the housing benefit reforms.
Regular readers will know that Lord Freud, perhaps a more acceptable mouthpiece than Pickles (But then again who isn’t?), has been banging on for a while now about how housing benefit cuts will drive rents down.
Well a survey carried out a few months back by my opposite numbers in Barking and Dagenham Council of their private rental sector reveals that not only will their local landlords not be lowering rents, they will in fact be increasing them. These views are apparently shared by landlord’s in other boroughs within the East London partnership.
The reason being good old supply and demand backed up by the large number of young couples who are working, so not in need of housing benefit but not earning enough to buy.
Today I did a presentation to Hounslow Chamber of Commerce on the pitfalls and benefits of being a landlord. Out of the 26 people there, mainly landlords and 2 estate agents, everyone was emphatic that they would not be lowering rents.
Shelter report rise in harassment and disrepair
Finally, Shelter (reported here on the RLA site) came up with some disturbing figures 2 weeks back about a 23% rise in the complaints of harassment from rogue landlords and a 40% increase in disrepair complaints .
Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said:
“The housing minister’s claim that ‘the vast majority of England’s three million private tenants are happy with the service they receive’ has been seriously thrown into question.
He went on to say
“It’s frightening to see that complaints about bad landlords are increasing at such a rate, at the very time that renting a home is fast becoming the only option for thousands of families across this country”.
From my position in the frontline I can also confirm that we have seen a worrying rise in my area of dodgy and unscrupulous letting agents, some of whom are joining forces in ways we haven’t seen before, I can obviously say no more but I will report as things develop.
So there you have it. Fraudsters, sham marriages, rogue landlords and ill thought out government plans…….same as last week then!
Photo credits: passport and sham wedding from ukhomeoffice,