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Showing posts from October, 2005

Result on Silent Calls!!!

Silent Call Campaigner John Hemming MP has welcomed Ofcom's recent announcement on banning silent calls. "All telephone users", he say " should welcome Ofcom's action that will finally end the nuisance of the Silent Call. The use of an informational message will eradicate the worry and stress in relationships caused by Silent Calls. In essence the UK has now implemented the rules used in the USA. Hundreds of thousands of people have been harrassed by these nuisances."

"This is a major step forward in resolving automated phone nuisance. It is, however, not the complete solution. What is important, however, is that people will know what is happening so they can take action against those companies which continue to harrass them. The cowboys in the industry have hidden behind anonymity. They will no longer be able to do so."

"I would like to offer thanks to Ofcom for acting. Questions could be asked about why it took so long, but I would r…

Written Parliamentary Questions 31st October 2005

Carbon Dioxide Emissions
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what estimate he has made of the total amount of carbon dioxide released by private motor vehicles in (a) 1984, (b) 1994 and (c) 2004.
(John Hemming)

A: The following table shows carbon dioxide emissions from the private use of household vehicles:

Million tonnes of carbon dioxide
1990 58.7
1991 58.3
1992 59.0
1993 59.2
1994 57.9
1995 56.9
1996 60.0
1997 61.0
1998 60.5
1999 62.0
2000 61.3
2001 62.0
2002 64.1
2003 63.4

Source:
Environmental Accounts, Office for National Statistics

Data prior to 1990 are not available on this basis, and 2004 data is not yet available. The figures are on the private use of vehicles and so exclude use of vehicles by businesses.
(Stephen ladyman, Minister of State, Department for Transport)

Wall of Fame - Literature

This is our first list of regional authors both contemporary and past that could comprise the entries for the Wall of Fame. Thanks are due to Carl Chinn the Historical Consultant for the regional Wall of Fame.

William Shakespeare
J. R. R. Tolkien
D. H. Lawrence
Philip Larkin (Warwickshire poet)
Wilfred Owen (poet killed 1916)
Walter Brierley (Means Test Man Derbyshire)
Walter Allen (All in a Lifetime, born Aston)
John Hampson (Birmingham inter-wars novelist)
Edith Pargeter (novelist Shropshire)
William Shenstone (Halesowen Poet)
Meera Syall (contemporary novelist)
Henry Treece (historical novelists for children. Wednesbury)
P. G. Wodehouse (Shropshire)
Stanley Weyman (Shropshire historical romance novels)
Izaak Walton (fishing)
Sir Philip Sidney (16th century poet)
David Christie Murray (Cap O' Nails West Bromwich)
Washington Irving (wrote Rip Van Winkle in Brum)
Francis Brett Young (novelist Halesowen)
Jerome K. Jerome (Walsall)
A. E. Houseman
William Langland (Medieval. The Vision of Piers Plowman)

Peak Wood

This is an interesting article about problems with deforestation in the past.

This extract is particularly pertinent:
The timber crisis of the late Bronze Age was obviously not the extinction of all trees in the world. It didn't need to be, just as we don't need to run out of oil to face a similar fuel crisis. There was still lumber to be felled; but as Bronze Age kingdoms deforested their surrounding ecosystem, the nearest forest became farther and father away. Loggers had to travel farther to reach the forest, and once the trees were felled, they needed to be transported longer and longer distances back home. The energy invested was constantly increasing, but the energy returned remained the same. The ERoEI plummeted, and Bronze Age civilization collapsed into a dark age for several centuries.

ERoEI is Energy Returned on Energy Invested. Economists are obsessed with money when energy is far more important.

Written Parliamentary Questions 28th October 2005

Benefits
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions whether the Government continue to provide benefits to meet the interest payments on a loan which had been taken out by a person now on benefits when an endowment policy accompanying a mortgage matures but does not provide sufficient funds to pay off the balance of that mortgage. (John Hemming)

A: Yes; the balance of any loan which originally qualified for help with interest payments would remain eligible for such help where part of the capital is repaid. (James Plaskitt, Under Secretary of State Department for Work and Pensions)

Encounter Reciept Pilot Schemes
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department which police authorities are operating pilot schemes of encounter receipts. (John Hemming)

A: We are not aware of any police authorities operating pilot schemes of encounter receipts.(Hazel Blears, Home Office Minister)

Telephone Nuisance
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will press Ofco…

Yardley District Youth Festival

Last night I visited the final day of the Yardley District Youth Festival. This was organised by Ginny, Ness, Carol and the other youth workers (Ginny is actually not a youth worker) to whom thanks need to be given.

Sadly the room (at the Lea Hall British Legion) was too dark to warrant taking photos, but it was an opportunity for local children to lobby their MP and Councillors.

Later on I attended the police surgery in Willclare Road. The local drugs officer turned up and explained about a new system for concealing Ecstasy found in Leeds and other parts of Yorkshire. It involves creating a drugs paste and hiding it between the teeth and the upper lip. It is known as "E by gum". (well the joke went down well in the meeting - it may not work in writing)

Russia plans peak oil in 2010

Russia's oil production is unusual because it initially peaked during the soviet period. They made a bit of a mess of things generally and there is now a move towards a second peak. The Russians recently (Tuesday) said that they were aiming at about 10.3 mbbl a day which is higher than September 2005's 9.53 mbbl/d.

Yesterday the Daily Express led on the cold winter and possibility of a consequent difficulty with gas supply - you read that first here.

Written Parliamentary Questions 27th October 2005

National Grid
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what consultation has occurred with (a) the general public and (b) industry about the reduction in voltage on the national grid that may be required in the event of a one in 50 cold winter. (John Hemming)

A: My officials are investigating the impacts of voltage reduction measures undertaken in other countries in the past year. We will share the findings with industry and other interested parties.(Malcolm Wicks, Energy Minister)

Power Cuts
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment has been made of the possible implications for the operation of medical equipment of a cut in mains voltage during a one in 50 cold winter.(John Hemming)

A: Medical equipment is designed to operate at the standard supply voltage and within the statutory limit for the UK of plus 10 per cent. minus 6 per cent.
In NHS hospitals, where the supply voltage falls to a value likely to give rise to danger or equipment failure…

Progress on Silent Calls

The attached story is about how the Call Centre Industry is getting ready to get rid of silent calls. What we need now is for Ofcom to play their part. I received an email today from Ofcom which said:

We're happy that we're making good progress. We'll be in touch when we have anything more useful to report.

This is not as good as it could be, but is better than nothing.

Sprit Group Drinking in Last Chance Saloon at Sheldon Inn

A bit of a mixed metaphor I suppose.

I was pleased that the Spirit Group withdraw their application for an extension of hours at the Sheldon Inn which has in recent years caused major problems. Regardless of the efforts of the manager and his wife the fact is that the Spirit group make it difficult to maintain order.

It would have helped if they had given some notice of withdrawing the application as I had to get permission from the Whips to atttend this rather than The House, Cllr Sue Anderson also had to take time out as did local residents.

We all warned them that they may see the pub shut down unless they move very quickly to sort things out.

Luckily it is just an ordinary shooting

There was someone else shot in Lozells last night. "Luckily" it was an "ordinary shooting" and not related to the racial disorder that happened on Saturday night.

It is really sad, however, that we are now in a situation in which there are "ordinary shootings".

The situation in Lozells/Handsworth/Perry Barr is from one perspective simple, but from a more detailed perspective quite complex. Although it is not directly faith related the council has been working on supporting multi-faith activity recently.

Sadly this has been undermined partially by the bureaucracy creating unnecessary hurdles, but hopefully I knocked over the hurdles this morning and we should make more progress.

Medical Confidentiality

People may wonder what Medical Confidentiality actually means. Well in practise it means that the Doctor may pass matters revealed in confidence to Social Services and then it can end up being passed by them to the national media. Although this is not with the consent of the management of Social Services it does show simply that you should be very careful what you tell your Doctor as it may end up in the national media.

Written Parliamentary Questions 19th October 2005

Gas and Electricity
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what demand modelling he has performed to examine the interplay between gas and electricity generation in the event of a one in 20 cold winter. (John Hemming)

A: The Department has not undertaken demand modelling to examine the interplay between gas and electricity. This is undertaken by National Grid, as system operator. National Grid's consideration of the interaction between gas and electricity can be found in Section C of its Winter Outlook Report, published on 5 October: (Malcolm Wicks, Energy Minister)


National Grid I
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of the impact of a reduction in the voltage on the national grid in the event of a one in 50 cold winter on (a) domestic and (b) commercial consumers. (John Hemming)

A: If voltage demand measures were needed to handle a short-term electricity shortage the most likely visible impact on consumers would be a sli…

Parliamentary Approval for War and NHS EDM

I find myself in London to support the Private Members Bill in support of parliamentary approval of the initial deployment of troops before going to war. This is an important piece of constitutional legislation.

One interesting argument a Conservative used against it was that the PM should be able to go to war and sign treaties without coming to parliament. One would presume that he would make an exception for European Treaties such as the EU Constitution.

Whilst here I have submitted an EDM about the NHS which follows:
John Hemming
Title: Financial Crisis in the Health Service
That this house notes persistent statements from health service managers implying that both 25% of NHS bodies are insolvent and that the NHS in aggregate is insolvent, recognises that much of this results from simplistic, ideologically driven meddling in the operation of the Health Service which has been underpinned by a failure to understand where market mechanisms are appropriate and where they are not appropria…

The rule of law in Perry Barr

There do appear to be some problems relating to an alleged criminal offence developing in Perry Barr at the moment. We had similar difficulties about 2 years ago. What is critical is that people accept that they need to use the rule of law to resolve such problems rather than merely force of numbers or political pressure.

The first step has to be for witnesses to report the allegation to the police.

Written Parliamentary Question: Winter Gas Import Capacity II

THE QUESTION: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what the UK daily natural gas import capacity via pipeline or LNG was during the winter of 2004–05; and what the estimated import capacity for the coming winter of 2005–06 is. [17558]

THE ANSWER: Total import capacity for winter 2004–05 was 60mcm/d. For the winter 2005–06 it is estimated at 95mcm/d. Further information, in particular concerning the likely evolution of UKCS gas production levels and our gas import capability, can be found in the Secretary of State's "First Report to Parliament on Security of Gas and Electricity Supply in Great Britain". This was published in July 2005, and is available on the DTI website, at http://www.dti.gov.uk/energy/publications/policy/sec_supply_first_report.pdf

Written Parliamentary Question: Winter Gas Import Capacity

THE QUESTION: To ask the Secretary of State of Trade and Industry, why the UK-Europe gas Interconnector was unable to import at full capacity during winter 2004-05; and what assessment he has made of the performance of the facility in 2005-06.

THE ANSWER: The flows of gas through the Interconnector are driven by the price differentials between the UK and the Continent. The direction of the flows during the winter 2004-05 was as expected, given the differentials. National Grid, in their Winter Outlook Report 2005-06, have indicated that they have adopted conservative assumptions that imports through the Interconnector for winter 2004-05 will be an average level of 42mcm/d, with a maximum capacity of 48mcm/d. The report is published on the Ofgem website at:
www.ofgem.gov.uk/temp/ofgem/cashe/cmsattach/12493_214_05.pdf

Groundhog Day

For those who are not aware of the Film the plot is basically that someone continues living the same day time after time (34 times in the film).

With the ejection of Ken Clarke from the Tory leadership contest we are essentially at the same position. Even pseudo wet David Cameron goes on about reducing taxes.

The problem is that, although the Labour Party have made a mess of running public services, a substantial majority of people - particularly those living in urban areas - depend on public services. Public services do need revenue to run.

The Conservatives, therefore, are guaranteed to continue to issue a message that they are not a political party aiming to represent the interests of the financially weaker members of society.

There is also a difficulty in developing a type of politics which is not in any way dependent upon convictions and beliefs. There is always the difficulty that politics is a bit like an ocean where some ships drift aimlessly, others steam purposely in a dire…

Walking an offence in Scotland under Terror legislation

The operators of the Port of Dundee said today they had no choice but to have a pedestrian using the cycle path through the area “arrested” under anti-terrorism legislation, writes Steven Bell.
An incident involving local businesswoman Sally Cameron has led to claims of “ridiculous” heavy-handedness on the part of port security and the police.

Ms Cameron (34) was stopped by police, allegedly under the Terrorism Act, but the case has subsequently been dropped by the Procurator Fiscal.

This issue. The one relating to Walter Wolfgang, the proposals to introduce internment by the back door (90 days), show the problems with the balance of where legislative powers lie.

The police do make mistakes. The problem arises that the consequences and fall out from those mistakes can be very damaging. This is what happened in Northern Ireland. Justice needs to be done and seen to be done to obtain acceptance that justice has been done. Otherwise resentment grows and has a consequential effect.

Radio Cat

We visited the Cats Protection League again today. Our home visit had happened earlier today to check whether we had appropriate accommodation for a cat. We have encountered a slight problem in that the CPL rules say no more than 2 cats. We have around 5 now, only two of whom are officially based in our house.

I almost managed to find a White Persian, but it was actually a Seal Point Persian.

One interesting notice was about the Radio. They keep a radio for the cats, but it is crucial that it is tuned only to Radio 2 or Radio 4. I wonder what would happen to the cats if it were to be tuned to Heart FM or even Kerrang.

I can understand the logic of using a station which has some talking on it as well as music. However, it creates interesting thoughts of heavy metal rock cats addicted to cat nip being developed by exposure to Kerrang with perhaps a tendency to claw the furniture.

Energy efficiency and Railways

One issue which is not really studied much is the question of energy usage and railways. One figure quoted to me is that the newer community rolling stock in the South East uses 33% more energy than that which it replaced.

The challenge is that the strength of the carriages has been increased such that much more energy is used to move passengers. I have not been able to source the allegation, but it is alleged that Japanese Rolling Stock uses 50% of the steel that UK Rolling Stock uses.

The issue here, of course, is one of safety. As a very frequent Rail user I want to feel safe when travelling particularly as I am not in any way in control of the situation. As a Driver I can take action to minimise risk, but as a Rail (Bus or Air) passenger there is little I can do.

I wonder, however, if we have actually ignored the question of energy efficiency on the Railways in recent years.

Still my favourite mode of transport is by train. I quite dislike driving as it is dead time that I can do…

Non Habitually Resident

The Civil Service have been driving away the values of the Social Contract for many years. The concept of the Social Contract is that people fund the government and as a consequence people obtain support from the government/society.

This concept has faded in recent years with a growth in means testing and a development of a system based almost purely on arbitrary need.

This causes a particular problem with the NHR test for benefits. If someone leaves the country to find work and then returns they can find that they have disqualified themselves from obtaining benefits. Similarly you need to live 2 years in the UK to qualify as homeless. If you are homeless abroad and wish to return then there is no support.

I encountered a problem where someone who had worked and paid taxes for around 35 years retired abroad then returned to the UK last week and basically found himself destitute. The situation is actually sadder than that.

The fading away of the social contract and social queue is c…

Computer Problems

I try to make sure that my political office is about as efficient as possible. The objective is that everything that comes in on a day goes out the same day. The complications of trying to deal with the City Council Computer Systems and the Parliamentary Communications Department and get everything to work do cause some stress.

I have now moved the casework server for the third time. It started on the 6th floor of Canterbury House, moved to the Deputy Leader's Office, the to the Group Chair's office and has now moved to the 2nd floor of Canterbury House. The 6th Floor is the City Council's Computer Department, the 2nd floor is the offices of John Hemming & Co.

The problems with routing over the last few days have basically prevented my office from working. Hopefully, now things will run a lot smoother.

It still remains that I cannot properly access the internet via the Parliamentary Network and have to use my Vodafone G3 card to do that. The PCD don't want peop…

Brown causes road safety problems through means testing

One of the problems we have locally is that the job of a crossing warden is being undermined by means testing.

Although people get paid about £40 per week, after means testing deductions they end up with around a fiver. This has resulted in large numbers of vacancies for crossing wardens in Birmingham - and probably nationally.

I will be chasing up the full figures nationally.

Earthquake

I think the government are responding more quickly to disasters now. It struck me as odd that during the aftermath of the Tsunami the media had managed to get on the ground, but the government and many agencies had not.

Birmingham has responded well, not just because there are many people with links to the area, but because Birmingham does tend to respond well.

The Regulatory Reform Select Committee

On being elected the Whips ask which committees members are willing to sit on. I said I didn't mind.

As a consequence I got the Regulatory Reform Select Committee. Actually this is a very interesting committee. I don't know for certain, but it appears that this is the only select committee that actually scrutinises changes to primary legislation that are not being debated as such.

Regulatory Reform Orders are motions that actually are not debated on the floor of the House of Commons (or House of Lords) that involve changing primary legislation.

These can be quite wide ranging such as the Forestry Commissioners wanting additional powers to do commercial leisure development in the public Forests. This is a bit stretching of the legislation.

It appears that with the new Regulatory Reform Bill that the government actually want to have ministers change primary legislation by edict without the scrutiny of the Regulatory Reform Committees. This is a fundamental change to the constitu…

Brown taken to Secrets Watchdog

The Treasury Macroeconomic Modelling team have finally decided that they won't give me a copy of the assumptions file for the 2005 budget. Hence I am taking Gordon Brown to the Information Commissioner.

Press release is as follows:
John Hemming MP has reported the Chancellor to the Secrets Watchdog for his failure to reveal budget calculations. John Hemming MP, a computer specialist, has hacked in to the Treasury's Economic Modelling Computer System. He has been told, however, that the calculations for the Budget are secret. He has therefore taken the Chancellor to the Secrets Watchdog (Information Commissioner) to get him to reveal his workings.

"When people do maths exams," he said, "they are supposed to provide the workings. The Civil Servants in the Treasury, however, are saying that their calculations are secret. I think they are wrong under the Freedom of Information act. What have they got to hide?"

The Treasury Macroeconomic Model computer syste…

Free Energy Schemes

The link is "Eric's History of Perpetual Motion and Free Energy Machines" which gives a list of the various scams that have been tried over the decades as mechanisms to get energy out of thin air.

The OM Energy scheme as far as I can tell talks about separating hydrogen from oxygen in water by generating a magnetic field by spinning the water. This is "powered" by the exhaust gases from a petrol engine. The "hydrogen" is mixed with petrol and used as part of the combustion system.

Superficially it would be possible to inject some hydrogen into an internal combustion engine and add to the fuel that way. Whether this would work that well or not is not the big issue.

The big issue is that when hydrogen is burnt it turns into water. So there is a defined amount of energy needed to separate oxygen and hydrogen and a defined amount of energy released when they are united. Even if no energy was wasted either way those amounts are exactly the same.

If we def…

Perpetual Motion Engine - funded by government!

Yes ... it appears the government have funded a perpetual motion engine company run by a bunch of Russians.

Cars would use water as the main fuel and need only a small amount of petrol, thus cutting costs for motorists.

Trade Minister Ian Pearson said: "The successful creation of OM Energy Ltd as a UK company represents UK Trade & Investment's steadfast commitment to help develop global entrepreneurship based on exceptional intellectual property.

I wonder how much of our tax monies have been sent in this particular direction.

Another letter to Malcolm Wicks Gas Supplies 20 mcm/d down on last year.

In the National Grid's Winter Outlook report 2005/6 (released 5th October 2005) it states that even with the Liquid Natural Gas imports from the Isle of Grain terminal (estimated at 17mcm/d max) the UK will have 20 mcm/d less natural gas than last winter.

I have heard (but not been able to confirm) that the first scheduled shipment for commissioning the Isle of Grain LNG terminal has been redirected to the USA. This is about 122 mcm of gas (about 10 days supply via the Isle of Grain). In isolation this is not a problem. However, if LNG tankers continue to be redirected to the USA it could exacerbate the tightness of supply this winter.

National Grid predict that if the winter is as cold as 1985/6 (1/20) that to satisfy domestic demand and those other people not metered for gas on a daily basis that a reduction in demand of 2,200,000,000 cubic metres (2.2 bcm) will be required.

They also say that only 0.6 bcm can be found easily as a result of higher prices, but would require a re…

PFI Costs £21 per square foot excluding land

At the District Committee last week we were presented with the case that to have a community space of 3,300 square feet available from 8am to 6pm could cost 71,000 per year for 30 years.

Given that we need access during the evening this is a complete non-starter. The point to remember with this is that it ignores the land values. You could argue the case that the community were being priced out. That may be true, but everything I see about PFI is massively expensive (and involves tying up the public purse strings for decades).

The Treasury like it because they claim it reduces the risk of the price going up. The point is that the price is put particularly high at the start and the administrative costs of setting the schemes up are massive. The game is to get the capital cost off the PSBR, but the cost of doing this is massive.

This has a list of PFI projects agreed by the government. The total value is £42 bn.

That ignores all the projects in the pipeline and does not tell us how mu…

IEA change tack slightly

This is an interesting article referring to the International Energy Agency starting to resile from their prediction of peak oil being about 2030. They are arguing a case that:

“It should be noted, too, that there does not tend to be great interest in new types of resources among service and supply-sector players…they need to have ready customers for their new products and cannot easily justify developing products for a market that does not yet exist. Furthermore, private industry cannot be relied upon to invest in research on technologies that are too far from being economical.”

This economic argument ignores the issue of EROEI - Energy Returned on Energy Invested. I heard an argument once that if people eat celery the energy taken to consume the celery is more than is obtained from the celery. I never liked celery anyway so as a dieting mechanism it never attracted me.

However, EROEI always trumps the laws of economics being as it is the law of conservation of energy. Extracting …

July's Crude Oil: 73,596,000 barrells a day

September's "International Petroleum Monthly" has just been released by the EIA in the USA. (see link). The EIA collate crude oil production figures from a number of sources and then make them available both to the US Government and the rest of the world via the web. They are always working in arrears and often the figures they produce are estimates that are adjusted later.

As usual the last figure they have is for July 2005 which is 73.6 Mbbl (as title).

There is a separate calculation for Natural Gas Liquids which is running at 7.6 Mbbl.

The total supply is running at 84 Mbbl.

Like all figures relating to oil supply there are complications. One complication arises from governments not giving full information. Another complication is that not all oil is equivalent which is why you have WTI (West Texas Intermediate) prices and Brent prices. Often specific oils will be priced in relation to WTI or Brent. There are lighter and heavier oils. Some countries count barr…

Critical Path Analysis and Children

This is a picture of me with the coordinator and chair of Homestart - Cole Valley. They held their first AGM on Monday morning.

HomeStart are a charity with provides mainly voluntary support to families with children under 5. They have about 20 volunteers working in Yardley and Sheldon (and now Shard End).

Their funding comes from the PCT, Social Care and NRF plus donations.

Of course we now have a major delay on NRF (yet again) because getting the Regional Government Office, ODPM Nationally and various others to agree on what to do is relatively difficult.

The problem is that to do a good job with voluntary funding needs planning, but it takes so long to agree how to do things that everything is delayed then rushed. It is because government seems incapable of critical path analysis and as a consequence children suffer. (not just children)

Still the people are doing a good job for families locally.

Buddhists and Murder

Not really two things that should go together. However, given the sad world that we live in I started out the day in Acocks Green. Sadly one of my constituents was murdered on Thursday night. I started the day talking to local residents about this and liaising with the police about the matter.

My original plan had been to start with a visit to the Buddhists, but I felt it was important that I went to Acocks Green first. I then visited the buddhist temple.

The buddhists had done well with the supreme patriarchs of Switzerland, Italy, France and Germany visiting Birmingham. Sadly the UK's supreme patriarch was too ill to travel.

Later in the day I am to review the issue of mental health and deaths in custody.

We have developed a criminal justice system that has a large number of problems. The problems range from inappropriate mechanisms for handling mental illness through to a cautions/final warnings system that encourages crime. In the mean time, however, the Prime Minister com…

Yardley Old Park Clean-up

This morning, after a minor false start, I started by collecting rubbish on Old Yardley Park with various local residents who are taking part in an annual clear-up.

To me the big issue really is how we persuade people that parks are not rubbish bins. We are spending a lot of effort on clearing them up, but really we need people not to drop rubbish in the first instance.

I turned up at my advice bureau on time (normally I am about 30 mins early) which meant there was a queue. The numbers of people turning up seems to be gradually increasing. There are also a continuing flow of people that I have not had dealings with before.

My casework team (Angie and Daphne) are finding that things are now running quite smoothly although we still have connectivity problems with the broadband connection that links the office to the casework server.

I have had a few cases recently where people seem to be being means tested for housing and council tax benefits on incorrect figures. This may be because t…