IT firm fined
Enfield Council’s main computer supplier has been fined the equivalent of nearly £150,000 after its services failed to come up to scratch.
New papers presented to the council’s Special Projects scrutiny panel last Tuesday show that ITNet, which is just one year into a 10 year contract, has been fined the maximum possible amount following criticism of its service by council officers…Particular concern was attached to ITNet’s out-of-hours support cover and the way in which it logged service faults…
Enfield Advertiser 17th January 2001
You could accuse us of kicking a firm when it’s down, but when lives have been ruined in Hackney by ITNet’s incompetence and they still cream off millions in profit every year, it’s justified. It also begs the question, why didn’t Hackney Council strike a contract with them that included such penalty clauses ?
IN THE SHITNET- reprinted from Private Eye 26th Jan 2001
The neighbouring London boroughs of Hackney and Islington have finally decided what to do about their useless housing benefit (HB) contractor SHITNet – aka ITNet.
ITNet’s inefficiency has caused huge suffering and anxiety for the very poorest people it is supposed to help, while allowing fraudsters to carry on virtually unchecked. Hackney reiterated its decision, reached last autumn, to sack the company; but Islington has extended its £32 million, seven year contract.
Is Islington mad ? Lib Dem council leader Steve Hitchins portarys the decision as the tough renegotiation of an unrealistic original contract made with the former Labour regime. If the service doesn’t improve radically, he says, ITNet simply won’t be paid. Getting tough was the best, most cost-effective course.
Another way of putting it is that ITNet has the council over a barrel. Sacking ITNet would cost Islington £13 million and bringing HB back in house would cost millions more. What about finding another contractor ? Companies like Crapita in Lambeth and CSL in Croydon are every bit as bad as SHITNet. And in any case, after the financial and PR disasters of the past few years, such companies are no longer exactly queuing up to administer HB on councils’ behalf – which could yet prove a problem for Hackney.
One solution might have been to let Islington’s other neighbour Camden take over the running of the service. Camden, which resisted the 1990s fashion for “outsourcing” HB, runs the most efficient service of the inner London boroughs, and the cheapest, at £127 per claim. A deal was almost struck, but then Camden admitted it could be two years before a decent service was guaranteed, and that things would probably get worse before they got better. Islington chickened out and SHITNet stays.
And what about future HB strategy in Hackney, Britain’s worst council ? It can be summarised in four words: haven’t got a clue.
NIT-NET – reprinted from Private Eye 12th Jan 2001
While this article focuses on Islington’s experience of ITNet, we thought it might ring true for Hackney residents too…
Incompetent housing benefit contractor ITNet, due to lose its contract with Hackney this year, is now on shaky ground in neighbouring Islington.
A report by the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (BFI) into the administration of Islington’s annual £120 million HB service concludes that ITNet provides a “totally inadequate service” and that the council’s in-house anti-fraud team is so useless that fraudsters claim HB in Islington safe in the knowledge that even if they are caught they won’t have to pay a penny back.
The BFI says ITNet “is not learning from its own mistakes” and that genuine claimants “face hardship as they are unable to meet recent commitments as a direct result of claims not being processed”. The report observes that “contracting out has not been a success” and lays much of the blame for this with the council, which is accused of a “failure to manage or enforce the contact”.
Investigators found that 88 of the 131 staff employed by ITNet are temps; that staff have ample opportunity to commit fraud due to lack of effective management; and that the data ITNet gives the council regarding its performance is wholly unreliable…
So, when the Lib Dems in Hackney try to make political capital out of the Labour-Tory coalition’s failures with ITNet , just remember one word. Islington.
The IWCA is backing the survey carried out by the National Housing Federation into the failings of the housing benefits system.
When 500 people missed their holidays through a problem at the Passport Office, the front pages of the national press covered the story for weeks. The problems with housing benefit – and not just in Hackney – have led to people losing their homes and has affected 100,000’s of people and has hardly rated a mention in the national press. This is because the middle class journalists and the super-rich owners of the national press are not on housing benefit and don’t even know anyone on housing benefit – but they want passports so that they can travel abroad, whether on “business or pleasure.”
The IWCA, through this website and through today’s edition of the Hackney Gazette is urging anyone who has fallen victim to the Council/ITNet scandal to take part in an important report being drawn up by the National Housing Federation, which aims to tell the true story of the current crisis in housing benefit.
They aim to highlight the plight of those affected, because whether or not the Council have sacked ITNet, people are still waiting for their council tax and housing benefits . They are looking to include as many real life stories as possible. But if you want to remain anonymous in their report you can do so.
All you have to do to take part is to fill in a short form. The IWCA will send you a copy of the form (which must be returned by 12th February) if you e-mail your postal address to us at email@example.com
It seems as if Hackney Council has officially ended its contract with ITNet, the firm who have made life a misery for thousands on benefits around the borough. ITNet director Bridget Blow (salary and benefits for 1999 a paltry £289,000) stated that “the board intends to achieve a smooth handover, which it anticipates will occur within a short period” – for that read, cut and run. As of last Friday, the council are bringing the service back “in house”, but many outstanding questions remain.
- What will the council do for a computer system ? Will they be leasing it all back off the discredited private company ?
- How long will it take to clear up the mess and sort out outstanding claims ? The IWCA are still advising Hackney residents who have been waiting months for payments.
- How did the council ever sign up to a contract with a firm like this without getting some sort of guarantee of service, or at least the chance to claw back compensation if things went wrong ?
Let’s hope this is the last we see of this firm or any other half-witted privatisation scheme for essential services.
With uncertainty still surrounding Hackney Council’s position on ITNet, the incompetent firm “running” the benefits service, the Government Ombudsman has added his voice to the criticisms already made by the IWCA and many others.
After looking at the case of one claimant, he has described the failures of the benefits system as “truly astonishing” and even adds that the council admit that service delivery has been “completely unacceptable” since ITNet took over in November 1997 – 3 whole years ago !
One of the main problems, as the IWCA pointed out at the time, was that it took a councillor on benefits himself (Vernon Williams) to make the middle class councillors of Hackney realise that they were sitting on a massive problem.
It doesn’t take a genius to realise that the whole system is still in a mess and many people are still suffering because of it. Sadly not ITNet though, whose massive profits will undoubtedly grow this year as they have every other year. To see just how nicely they’re doing at our expense have a look at their attractive no-expense spared website and click on the annual report. We await the next one with interest.
So ITNet have finally been given the boot – good, this is something we’ve been campaigning for all year. Now it’s time to boot out all the councillors who allowed this scandal to wreck so many people’s lives.
And before the Lib Dems start crowing about their role in getting rid of ITNet, let’s just have a look across into Islington where the Lib Dems are in control of the council, and see who’s running the benefits system there? None other than our old, incompetent friends ITNet.
And while it’s good to see benefits coming under the control of the council – which is at least partly accountable to local people in that we can vote them out – we’ll never get true accountability until the council starts to represent the working class majority in Hackney. After all, if any of these councillors had actually been on benefits themselves (Vernon Williams excepted), they would have known what was going on a lot earlier.
To make sense of how this disastrous series of events started, we only need to look at the make up of our council. Whatever parties they come from, they represent the middle classes – none of them have a clue, or give a damn, what’s going on in the lives of the working class majority they are supposed to be representing.
Dan Carter – Hackney IWCA
Original version of Letter in Hackney Gazette 12th October
After 2 years of benefits chaos, Hackney Council has given bungling benefits company ITNet the boot.
The 10 year contract worth £70 million was terminated last week amid scenes of back-slapping from the Labour group. Clearly they feel that they’ve got something to celebrate.
While the IWCA is glad to see the back of ITNet and its money-grabbing attempt to clear up at the expense of working class residents, we’d also like to point out that it was Hackney Council who put them there, Hackney Council who ignored complaints about their service right from the beginning and Hackney Council who are now apparently celebrating a job well done.
Until we get councillors who actually represent working class people in the borough we’re bound to have a repeat of performances like this.
We’ve got rid of ITNet , now let’s get rid of these councillors.
A solution to the problems of not getting your benefits paid by ITNet. Just move out of the borough to your country retreat!
Unfortunately this is only an option for the likes of Lib Dem Councillor Neil Hughes and not something the majority of us can afford.
Isn’t it about time we had councillors who were prepared to stand their ground and fight for the interests of Hackney’s working class majority ?
Helen Caterwell – letter in Hackney Gazette 21st September
Your stories in last week’s Gazette on the ITNet fiasco raise a couple of interesting points but perhaps a couple more could be taken into account as ITNet’s £70 million contract is just the tip of the iceberg. The company made over £10 million profit last year and one of its directors, Bridget Blow, made herself a tidy £289,000 after all her bonuses and benefits were taken into account. It’s almost insulting to think of the contrast between Ms. Blow and the people of Hackney (and Islington too) who have suffered at the hands of this private company, living on run down estates and having to wait months for the money we’re entitled to, while the directors of ITNet pop the champagne corks at their AGM and laugh all the way to the bank.
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised; after all, private companies set out to make a make a profit and Hackney Council should have realised that before jumping into bed with one of them. If, as it seems, there’s no way out of the contract now or penalties that can be imposed on the firm for its disastrous performance, one thing we can do is offer support to tenants who’ve been affected. The IWCA has run one successful benefits advice surgery on the Geffrye Estate so far and is set to run more over the borough in the next few months, while the group Whose Benefit ? has been set up by victims of ITNet and can be contacted at PO Box 55, 136 Kingsland High Street, London, E8 2NS. The council and the company they’ve shacked up with may want ordinary people to feel powerless but there is a lot we can do.