Private Eye on ITnet

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.