Category Archives: investigation

How we did it: tracking overpayments to prisoners in England, Wales and Northern Ireland

Yesterday we reported on how prisoners in Northern Ireland were being paid  £1.94 million in benefits they were not entitled to. In this post we explain the background to the story. Continue reading How we did it: tracking overpayments to prisoners in England, Wales and Northern Ireland

Prisoners overpaid £2m in benefits in Northern Ireland

Prisoners in Northern Ireland have been paid £1.94 million in benefits over the last six years, despite not being entitled to them, according to data obtained by Help Me Investigate.

And “overpayments” to prisoners – the official term for paying benefits to those in prison – have increased by more than half in the last year for which figures were available.

Freedom of Information requests by Help Me Investigate reveal that the Department for Social Development in Northern Ireland (DSDNI) paid prisoners £198,299 in benefits in 2011, increasing to £307,501 in 2012.

Prisoners’ rights to benefits are suspended upon their criminal conviction. However, it is up to the Department of Justice or the prisoner to inform DSDNI of the conviction. Continue reading Prisoners overpaid £2m in benefits in Northern Ireland

Prisoner benefit overpayments plummet – but DWP still missing £21m

Benefits paid to prisoners have declined by 96 per cent since 2007 – but almost £21m is still missing because only half the money has been recovered to the Department for Work and Pensions, an investigation by Help Me Investigate has revealed.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) centralised its benefits database in April 2012, prompting the decline in overpayments to prisoners: data provided in response to Freedom of Information requests shows that in 2007 the DWP paid prisoners £8.8m in benefits, but this figure dropped to £320,000 in 2013. Continue reading Prisoner benefit overpayments plummet – but DWP still missing £21m

1 in 20 users of domestic abuse scheme affected by bedroom tax

Almost 1 in 20 households using the Sanctuary Scheme for people at risk of domestic violence have been affected by the removal of the spare room subsidy, reports Lorcan James.

Figures obtained from FOI requests to 79 Local Authorities show that from 2009, 281 households have been affected, meaning an average loss of £14 pounds per week. Continue reading 1 in 20 users of domestic abuse scheme affected by bedroom tax

Questions to NHS organisations on mental health unanswered

HMI Welfare wanted to know what help was on hand for people with mental health problems in hospital Accident and Emergency departments. It seemed a simple question: How many mental health staff work in A&E?

What we found, however, was an inconsistency across NHS helplines about who to ask about the services available to mental health patients.

We contacted:

  • NHS England,
  • a number of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs),
  • a central NHS Trust,
  • the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC)
  • The Bristol Commissioning Support Unit (CSU) press office,
  • the Kings Fund,
  • Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership Trust and
  • Bristol University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

At first it seemed simple: follow the money. We found out that the CCGs allocate the budget for mental health, and NHS England directed us to the CCGs for that reason.

The CCG allocates the money – but can’t say how it’s spent


However, Bristol CSU (which services the CCGs) said that although the mental health budget is allocated at CCG partnership meetings, you have to ask the service providers – or those who dispense the budget.

In other words, Bristol CSU said that the CCG has a mental health fund they divide up, with each labelled pot getting a lump sum, these being:

  • mental health trusts,
  • community mental health,
  • hospitals
  • and so on.

So with this in mind, Bristol CCU said at first to approach the hospitals as they are the service providers.

Hospitals – or mental health trusts?

But then the Bristol CSU communications department changed their mind. They said we needed to contact the Mental Health Trusts, because it is they who are the service providers who split up the funding for different services.

However the CSU also said we should in any case approach both the Mental Health Trusts and the hospitals.

It seemed that they – like other sources we called – were not sure.

When we did as the CSU directed and contacted the Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Trust communications department, they referred us back to the CCGs.

Running in circles: back to the CCGs

We pressed the trust for an answer. Their communications officer said that the Mental Health trust did have some liaison teams that work with services in primary care or the GPs, and invited us to send an email.

But their reply again passed the query back. It said:

“The provision of mental health in A & E departments is the responsibility of the CCGs (having taken over from PCTs earlier this year) as they are the commissioning body.

“As all CCGs have their own Press or Communications team, you can contact them directly.”

So that completed the full circle. NHS England also told us to go to the CCGs, and the Department of Health thought the CCGs might know – but if it was policy we wanted on mental health provision in A & E, to contact the mental health team in the Department of Health.

“Contact mental health charities”

Then the Health and Social Care Information centre (HSCIC) said… to contact mental health charities.

Finally, a specialist NHS employee – a commissioner – explained that usually the hospital will liaise with the NHS Mental Health trusts to agree what provision goes in to Accident and Emergency.

With primary care provision coming under CCGs nobody could inform HMIW who to send Freedom of Information requests to regarding mental health.

What, for instance, are the responsibilities of the MH Trusts liaison teams?

Did Mental Health come under primary care? Are Accident and Emergency departments part of acute care?

“Mental health doesn’t come under primary care and is commissioned differently,” Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health trust informed us.

“We do provide mental health services but if they are in a primary care setting such as an A & E department, it would still be a matter for the commissioners to decide what is needed and how to fund it.”

So it seems that Accident & Emergency is primary care. Relentlessly we rang up the advisory Kings Fund in case they knew more. Their reply to an email, which followed up the telephone call in order for them to consider the question more fully, included fourteen different links which did not answer the question.

So what then did the hospitals say? Those asked were too busy to reply. Aintree NHS hospitals trust did not reply to an email and on telephoning, the hospital switchboard directed to a recorded message with an emergency number.

Again after contacting the Patient Support and Complaints Team at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, they too said to send an email which they acknowledged. In it they stated they aimed to reply within three working days but they are now well outside that target.

It seems that they do not really know or do not want to say. Sending in an FOI might make them find out. In any case, it is not a small area of concern. As Professor Sue Bailey, Royal College of Psychiatrists said in a Centre for Commissioning report :

“Commissioners need to know that 5% of accident and emergency attendances, 30% of acute inpatient bed occupancy, and 30% of acute readmissions are mental health related (RCPsych, 2004)”

It seems that if they do not know, they do need to find out.

Related: Guidance for commissioning integrated Urgent and Emergency care, A ‘whole system’ approach.

Teachers at top universities on zero hour contracts

Four of the UK’s top universities are among those employing the most lecturers on zero hour contracts leading to insecure and uncertain work.

Research from University and Colleges Union (UCU) shows Bath, Edinburgh, Lancaster and Glasgow universities together employ 5,500 teachers, researchers or academic services staff with no guarantee of work.

When contacted some universities were quick to qualify their use:

  • Lancaster University said the contracts were only for students.
  • At Cambridge where they have 83 staff on zero hours, a spokesperson said in a statement they were only used in very specific situations:

“Typically, such contracts are used for seasonal work, and are advantageous to employees who are taking a second job that they need to fit around other commitments, or students wishing to do some flexible working alongside their studies.”

Fourteen of the top twenty universities in the Complete University Guide for 2014 are using zero hour contracts. Only London School of Economics (LSE), Exeter, York, Leicester, University of Birmingham and King’s College London do not. An LSE spokesman said:

“LSE has not and does not employ any staff on formal zero hours contracts of employment.”

Locations of the twenty Higher Education institutions with the most zero hour contracts.

More than 1 in 8 of those employed in higher education survive on zero hour contracts, the University and College Union (UCU) survey shows.

Of those in teaching or research it is almost 1 in 6.

The data shows that of 141 HE institutions, more than half use zero hour contracts.

Back in May, on learning about the spread and impact for its members, UCU began making Freedom of Information requests to find out how widely the contracts were used. 87% of institutions responded.

The survey defines zero hour contracts in use in Higher Education (HE) as an arrangement where the employer has no obligation to offer work or guarantee a minimum number of hours.

After seven years in higher education, for example, a PhD student on a zero hour contract would have no security of income. Visiting lecturer Carrie Dunn wrote about the high workload and the insecurity this brings.

Some say the unpredictability of research grants and lecturers on sabbaticals demands flexibility but those facing sudden drops in hours may have been unaware of their terms when they radically altered without warning. As an alternative, centres have offered short term or minimum hour contracts.

Since the UCU survey, Edinburgh University has agreed to stop using zero hour contracts and signed an agreement with UCU after the survey revealed they were the worst employers having the highest number on zero hours at 2712.

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