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.
Hackney IWCA was pleased to see in the Gazette of 23rd March that residents of Hawksley Court estate had successfully prevented the installation of a mobile phone mast. This is exactly the sort of community-led initiative that the IWCA supports and it is good to see local people standing up against the spread of these masts which are dangerous and unwanted .
When Hackney Council and private companies like Orange treat ordinary working class people with such disdain is it surprising that residents get sick of being treated like second class citizens? From the disasters of IT Net, the lack of consultation over tenants being “decanted” from Florence Court right through to the dubious ballot over Fellows Court’s transfer and now this example of arrogance, it should be clear to us that the council will only sit up and take notice when we take matters into our own hands.
The residents of Hawksley Court have set a good example to the rest of the borough.