When Hackney and Islington councils tendered out their benefits provision to private company ITNET, even the most pessimistic opponent of privatisation couldn’t have realised how much worse things could get. Thanks to ITNET’s pitiful service – all nicely sewn up in a contract that has no leeway for penalising them for poor performance – thousands have people have had to wait for as long as eighteen months for their correct benefit to be paid. Hundreds of others across both boroughs have been sent threatening and intimidating letters over council tax and rent arrears that are not their fault, and in some cases people have been driven into breakdowns or eviction.
The letters pages of local papers such as the Hackney Gazette and the Highbury and Islington Express have been piled high with letters from tenants complaining about the service that ITNET have provided. But has anything changed ? Tenants have tried writing to councillors, MPs, direct to ITNET, but with no noticeable improvement in service. Islington council are even reported to have suggested throwing more money ITNET’s way to get them to sort out the mess.
In Hackney, the group WHOSE BENEFIT ? has been set up by victims of the ITNET fiasco; the group includes Vernon Williams, a Hackney Independent Councillor who – being on benefits himself – has been threatened with being debarred from office – unable to vote as a councillor – because of his arrears. The IWCA has been involved in this group from the initial meeting and has started work on offering practical support for tenants who have been left high and dry by this mess.
The IWCA started by leafletting the Geffrye and Harman Street Estates in Shoreditch, advertising an advice surgery, which took place last Monday (15th May) and offered specialist benefits advice to local people. This successful surgery is due to be repeated on other estates in Hackney, so if you are interested contact the IWCA number or email us with details.