John Hemming's Web Log John's Reference Website
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
  Discretionary Housing Payments and the "Bedroom Tax"
OK, so it isn't a bedroom tax, but everyone understands what those words mean.

Today the administrative court did not conclude that the government's policy on disabled people and the spare room subsidy was unlawful. However, the details are important. There are people who as a result of disability do need a spare bedroom. There is no question about this. The government's plan was for these people to be funded through Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP). The court accepted that the government were producing detailed guidelines to ensure that such people go get DHP.

I had a case like this in my constituency. Initially the council refused DHP, but I complained about this and they granted DHP.

A big question in terms of the implementation of this policy is the amount of DHP that is available. As at the first quarter in Birmingham Quarter 1 a total of £1,007,256.94 had been spent or committed. £763,395.70 was spent in the first quarter, £207,282.05 was committed for Q2, £34,140.57 for Q3 and £2,438.62 for Q4.

The budget is £3.7m, but in fact if you take the funds spent in Q1 and multiply that by 4 you get 3,053,582.8 still leaving over half a million. On the other hand if you take the total spent and committed and multiply that by 4 you get an over spend.

The council is obviously being careful with this, but given that central government have announced an additional £35m then there the budget is not going that badly.

The figures for solihull are more flexible.
Total budget £294,866.00
Paid to Date £35,664.23
Committed £27,457.67
Unallocated £231,744.10

What concerns me is that people are getting really stressed about the removal of the subsidy for spare rooms when in fact there remains spare capacity in the DHP budget. There are still the four options of downsizing, which a lot of people are doing, getting DHP, taking in a lodger (which is now in the financial interests of tenants much that the Taxpayers Alliance have criticised this) and simply paying it which some people are doing.
On Saturday I met another family living in a 1 bedroom council flat. They clearly want to move out. Hence there remains a lot of flexibility in the system.
What concerns me particularly is that the reporting of the "bedroom tax" often doesn't mention the options of DHP or taking in a lodger. It is very important that people know that they have a number of options. Often campaigners do not refer to DHP thereby discouraging people from asking about it.

Here is a detailed article about the court case. Here is the judgment.

Sunday, July 28, 2013
  Camilla Cavendish on published judgments - Martin Narey is wrong (as is often the case)
Camilla Cavendish has written in the Sunday Times about the publishing of the judgments. Her column is behind a paywall, but I have extracted the last paragraph:
You may say that this is none of our business. But the number of blunders that seem to have been made in this case, by a local authority in chaos, suggests it needs to be our business until there is true openness. I hope the good lord justice will finish the job; and that those who so confidently proclaim that there are only a “handful” of miscarriages of justice will realise how tragically wrong they have been.
Friday, July 26, 2013
  "In effect a last resort"
It is interesting to note in Peter Jackson's judgment here the following:
(2) In this Court there is no disagreement in relation to legal matters. With the advantage of the decision of the Supreme Court published only yesterday in the matter of Re B (A child) [2013] UKSC 33 it is clearly understood that an order of the kind that was made in this case can only be made where it is necessary and proportionate and in effect as a last resort in meeting the needs of the child concerned. Further, when considering arguments about the manner in which the trial judge approached matters, the question that the appeal court must ask itself is whether the judge was wrong. What is interesting about the Supreme Court decision is that it lowers the threshold for challenging adoptions through appeal from "plainly wrong" to "wrong". Although anyone who has studied any substantial number of care proceedings knows that adoption is not "a last resort", but the preferred option for local authorities for children who are of an age that can result in an adoption. I have the 2012 figures (that is to 31st March 2012) for Infants (children under 5).
Of the 5,800 children who left care 2,300 were adopted, 500 were subject to a residency order and 870 a special guardianship order. Only 1,100 returned home. 380 left care for "another reason". (10 died and 60 transferred to another LA).
What do we learn from this. We learn that less than a fifth of children that leave care under 5 go home. It is important to note that an interim care order is granted only on "reasonable grounds" not actually proof. Care is defined on the narrow ground of children compulsorily in care rather than including children on S20.
Thursday, July 25, 2013
  The publishing of judgments
The Daily Mail has an article by Sue Reid talking about the changes in terms of published judgments.

The production of the new practice direction was subject to an entry on this web log about two weeks ago.

What is the case is that you can find on Bailii a number of published judgments from some judges already. Some of them seem to be on Recent Decisions, but not under the relevant division.

Even though only a few of the better judges have started publishing their judgments there are already some interesting judgments published This one is one of Mr Justice Peter Jackson (who I believe to be one of the better judges>. In essence children who were placed with the grandparents have been put into foster care because the grandparents allowed the parents too much contact. There are two points about this. Firstly, people would not generally be aware that this would be likely to happen. Secondly, it raises a complex question as to whether this is actually more generally best for the children and how reliable the assessments are by the local authority and its agents.

This case is one about parents who have been to Ireland. I know of many parents who have gone there. I now recommend that people avoid Ireland as the system there has decided simply to push people back to England. I don't recognise the case reported, however.

There is also a Schedule 1 Children act case that I cannot re-find at the moment which looks at the law around Artificial Insemination. What I note about this case is the magnitude of the legal costs.

Later comment. I have now found it. The total legal costs were £294,000 (see para 12).

It remains, however, that Social Workers are often under pressure to say things in court that they do not believe are true. I know of one social worker who was fired because she wanted a child to return to its parents based upon her professional experience. This arises from the central government pressure on outcomes. The same problem exists for experts as well (I have had whistleblowers who are experts tell me this).

It is still the case that there have been contempt hearings that have not followed the practice direction of 3rd May. I will be particularly interested to see if there are published judgments for some of the cases that I am following. It is also still necessary to get some proper independent scrutiny on the evidence in cases. We also need to ensure that experts are properly independent and fulfil their duty to the court.

I also agree with Sue Reid that we need some form of jury system with greater independence from the state than the childrens panels in Scotland. I take the view that strengthening the case conference is the best way to achieve this. However, too often it is easy to see cases which seem to be fixed from end to end.

Monday, July 22, 2013
  The Friends of Hassan Water Fund
Hassan2 Following the sad and unnecessary death of Hassan Mahmood last week his friends have launched a campaign to raise funds for a project in Niger.
Saturday, July 20, 2013
  Ukrainians arrested in Yardley over Mosque Bombings
With the EDL doing the best they can to cause further division in society comes the news that the people arrested for the Mosque Bombings, who were working in Yardley Constituency, are Ukrainian (see today's Birmingham Mail - I was aware of this beforehand from the police, but had not got their permission to reveal this).

This raises some serious questions as to the motivation behind this spate of terror attacks. Ukraine, of course, is neither a member of the EU nor of the EEA. There is a division between Russian and Ukrainian cultures in Ukraine. It is worth people being aware that there are people whose objective is to cause division. The people who oppose violence and division need to stand together against people like the murderers of Lee Rigby, the EDL and others who wish to create division and strife.

Noting later that a further arrest has occurred it raises yet further questions. Ones which, over time, will be answered - however.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013
  Can you trust Labour with the NHS? Should Andy Burnham Go?
Labour have to respond to the revelations today that they did not respond properly to being sent data on higher than expected death rates from 2001.

The link above is from an interview on BBC Breakfast (That I watched whilst in the Gym as one does).
Sir Brian Jarman, Emeritus Professor at Imperial College's School of Public Health has said information on higher-than-expected death rates was ignored for more than a decade.
He told BBC Breakfast: "My view is that there was political pressure for the information to be ignored and had been ignored at least since 2001.
"I actually sent the data to Andy Burnham in March 2010 and seven of the hospitals in the 14 were among the ones that I sent him."
"We published the information in national newspapers every year from 2001 onwards," he added.
We also have the further revelations about the Liverpool Care Pathway. This seems to have been used in the case of John Maddocks whose daughter was imprisoned in secret for taking him to a solicitor in an attempt to rescue him from a care home (in which he died).

To me it appears clear that Labour were more intent on covering up problems with the NHS than sorting them out. That is a very strong allegation to which they have to respond, but I think it is in practise too late.

Andy Burnham, himself, is in a touch and go situation. March 2010 was a relatively late point at which he could have responded. However, he was health minister for much of this period and part of the Labour government complacency about inadequate standards in the NHS.

The interview also mentioned that the Labour administration and the heads of the regulators have already admitted substantially that there was a cover up going on.

My own view is that the obsession with targets deprioritized the care of patients.

Friday, July 12, 2013
  The new draft Family Court Transparency Practice Direction
A new practise direction involving the publication of judgments has been published. I don't think it is on the Judiciary website as yet.

It is an improvement and should be welcomed. However, until there is independent scrutiny of the evidence (which is where much of the difficulties lie) there will remain many problems.

Later amendment: Here it is.

Thursday, July 11, 2013
  I won't accept the IPSA pay increase
I have previously said (actually on Radio WM) that I would not accept the IPSA proposed pay increase. I think IPSA are wrong about this. My own view is that they should concentrate on ensuring that MPs do not have to subsidise the operation of their offices. I believe that around 92% of MPs are having to do this now. That is the sort of issue that causes problems for people of ordinary means who wish to be a Member of Parliament. Obviously I don't need the increase as anyone who has looked at my declaration of interests would know. However, I think it is wrong for this to be done at a time when parliament is asking for restraint from others.
Monday, July 08, 2013
  Labour's incompetence in running Birmingham City Council
It is difficult running public sector organisations during austerity. However, Labour's incompetence in running Birmingham seems to exceed their traditional levels of incompetence.

The first thing they did on taking control was to change the structure of the cabinet. Rather than having a system where it was clear who was responsible for what issue power was diffused. That means that any difficult decisions get kicked into the long grass.

Then we have the Wheelie Bin saga. They have messed up on their financial calculations and are now expected to spend around £1 Million on publicity alone.

We also have the saga about charging people on JSA Council Tax. Initially they decided to refuse the government grant and charge 20% to people on Council tax. After some effort from me keeping the door open to a request for funding they have now agreed to charge only 8.5%, but because they have done this part way through the year they have not got the software sorted out. Hence we have this story where they are asking the poorest people to pay more than they owe.

This decision rests fairly and squarely with the political administration. Labour nationally are still facing both ways on the cuts although they do seem to accept that austerity will be needed beyond the 2015 general election. However, they seem to be intent on doing the most damage with their cuts rather than trying to protect services.


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