Help Me Investigate in 2013 – and 2014

As Help Me Investigate starts to plan new investigations in 2014, it’s a good time to look back at what we’ve been up to over the last year across the four sites (not including this blog). It’s easy to forget how much you do in a year – thanks to the many contributors who made everything below happen. As always, we’ve learned a lot and hit the new year wiser.

HMI Health

Help Me Investigate Health kicked off the year by organising an event on reporting the new health system with the BBC College of JournalismIn April we took part in and reported on a masterclass on health reporting organised by the National Union of Journalists and in May we spoke at and liveblogged a Medical Journalists Association event on the reorganised NHS.

HSJ logo

HMI Health editor Tom Warren and HMI Education editor Matt Burgess worked with the Health Service Journal to compile a list of FOI emails for clinical commissioning groups – the new bodies controlling health spending.

And we scraped the data that helped Scotland’s Sunday Post report on councils abandoning elderly people because they couldn’t afford the care at home and a 7% increase in absenteeism in Scottish authorities.

We also reported on Barnet, Enfield and Hillingdon referring fewer than 4% of depressed patientsNHS Merseyside spending £65,000 on re-hiring staff who worked for its predecessor, and the worst times to go to A&E in the Midlands.

Tracking accountability and money in the new health system – diagram

Throughout the year HMI Health tried to help explain the reorganised health system and also published guides to Serious Untoward Incidents and FOI and how to find hospital food hygiene ratings in your area.

It was a good year for Help Me Investigate Health editors: Alex Plough landed a role at Reuters, then his replacement Tom Warren joined the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The site is currently without an editor.

HMI Education

Help Me Investigate Education had a particularly busy year. Nicole Froio worked with The Guardian on reporting on students seeking counselling going up by one third, and with the Birmingham Mail on reports that hundreds of academics in the region were on zero hour contracts and which universities in the region were the worst for complaints.

Universities using zero hour contracts

We also fact-checked myths about international students and whether schoolchildren were being ‘left behind’ by shorter school days.

Other stories included:

We published guides on How to find out about schools’ pupil place shortageslooking at the data behind academic zero hour contractsfinding leads in university council minutes, what information universities record – and what might be requestedthe new education site school places; academies and the Freedom of Information Actdata sources for higher educationHow to find school food hygiene ratings; and useful searches for finding out about school management.

We worked with Unileaks to publish data on complaints made against universities, shared absence figures for persistent offenders at special schools, and looked at privacy issues around children’s home data.

Congratulations to Editor Matt Burgess who had to leave the site when he landed a job with a news agency.

HMI Olympics

Help Me Investigate the Olympics continued to explore FOI responses from councils and police bodies on Olympic Torch Relay expenditure. The initial results were rounded up in ‘Raided reserves, extra staff, and lots of bunting: how did your council foot the £13m torch relay bill?‘, while the full data was published in an interactive database and in The Guardian.

We also shared information with the Press Association after their reporter repeated the same process three months later, and worked with the Birmingham Mail to report on the Olympic letters that cost as much as road closures.

Hartlepool Council defends Olympic relay fund

The Hartlepool Mail quizzed Hartlepool Council about details revealed in their response, while the Stoke Sentinel and Huddersfield Examiner were among many local newspapers to follow up on other local details.

Carol Miers wrote about Somerset County Council’s refusal to explain why it destroyed correspondence with the Olympic body LOCOG, and how wealthy London boroughs paid less for the Olympic Torch Relay.

Gesbeen Mohammad worked with Northern Ireland investigative site The Muckraker on The £1m cost of policing the Northern Ireland Olympic torch relay, and wrote about The £6.5m cost of policing the Olympic Torch.

At the end of the year published our ebook 8,000 Holes: How the Olympic Torch Relay Lost Its Way on the longform writing site Medium. The site will now sleep.

HMI Welfare

Help Me Investigate Welfare began looking at zero hour contracts at the start of 2013 before it hit the mainstream news agenda, as Danielle Hudspith reported on the Number of employees on zero hour contracts doubling in 6 years. We were also investigating the bedroom tax early, with Abbey Hartley, Enya Quin and Daniel Jones looking at the potential impact in March with the Birmingham Mail and writing a fuller report in ‘The Bedroom Tax in Birmingham: no place to go

We worked with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism to scrape data on payday lenders, worked with housing charity Shelter on the changing housing sector, and spoke at a workshop organised by London charities on welfare reform.

In July the DWP changed its “open data” tool StatXplore after Help Me Investigate raised concerns

We’ve factchecked the claim that 900,000 people dropped benefit claims “rather than complete assessment”? shared data on prosecution and benefit fraud, and written a guide on how to investigate Illegal use of B&Bs to house homeless families.

Contributor Jess Denham reported on domestic violence victims in London facing the longest wait for re-housing in 5 years.

HMI Welfare also got a new editor in 2013: with previous editor Chie Elliott now working in publishing, Carol Miers moved to the site following her work as one of the driving forces behind Help Me Investigate the Olympics.

Foodbank donations at Tesco


She’s been covering food banks, publishing data on the impact of benefits on single parents and zero hour contracts, and looking at which authorities have the highest applications for children in care. She’s also written about the difficulties around finding out which NHS organisations hold information on mental health spending.

2014 – it’s all about welfare reform

In 2014 we plan to focus particularly on welfare issues, including child poverty, food poverty, immigration and access to services, mental health and joblessness, and the one year anniversary of the bedroom tax. If you want to get involved, please contact or contact us on Twitter @carolmiers and @paulbradshaw.

2 thoughts on “Help Me Investigate in 2013 – and 2014

  1. Pingback: Help Me Investigate in 2013 – and 2014 | Online Journalism Blog

  2. Pingback: Review of 2013 on Help Me Investigate | Help Me Investigate Welfare

Leave a Reply