Completely Useless?

Is ITNet completely useless ? Well, thousands of people on benefits would already say so, but a recent article from the Enfield Advertiser suggests they can’t do anything right:

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 ?

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.

IWCA Backs National Housing Federation Survey

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

ITNet contract "officially terminated"

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.

Ombudsman Attacks Council over ITNet Delays


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.

IWCA letter in the Gazette about ITnet

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

ITNet sacked!

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.

Autumn 2000 Newsletter


Hackney Independent – Stanway area edition

IWCA local newsletter for Geffrye Estate, Harman Street, Rosalind & Cordelia

Hackney Council are about to make up to cuts of at least £22 million – on their own figures – which may end up being nearer £40 million pounds worth of cuts. They say that this was because they were overspending, but have you noticed any “overspending” round here? They can still afford to pay Council boss Max Caller £3,000 a week and pay all the councillors’ expenses, but our essential services are on the line.

When they came round asking for your vote last time, how many councillors said that they would be bringing in these sort of cuts? None of them did, and they have no mandate or support to do so. More than that, these services don’t belong to the councillors – they are ours. We have paid for them with our rents and council tax several times over and no councillor has the right to sell them off.

Our community is under attack from two sides. Not only is the Council cutting back our essential services, but they are encouraging developers and housing associations to gentrify our Borough and ‘socially cleanse’ the Borough of us – the working class majority.

Resistance to both these attacks must be from us – it’s our estates and community that is most affected. We can’t expect any favours from the Council. Instead we need to decide what which essential services we cannot lose, draw a line in the sand and plan what steps we will take to defend them. Parents from two nurseries have already occupied them and are keeping them open themselves rather than let the Council close them.

We should never let Labour get back in. The Labour government has proved no better at funding Hackney than the Tories. Labour now runs Hackney Council in an alliance with the Tories and it is these parties that are bringing in the cuts. The Hackney Labour Party is now a middle class party that has no interest in representing the working class.

And the Lib Dems are no better. They are very good at telling you what you want to hear when they are in opposition, but they helped get the Council into the mess when they ran the Borough with Labour. In neighbouring Islington the Lib Dems run the Council and are bringing in their own £2 million cuts plan.

There is no point in looking to any of the political parties on Hackney Council. The IWCA is seriously considering standing in this Ward in the next Council elections We need to replace the middle class parties on Hackney Council with working class representatives. The time for protesting to the Council has gone, we need our own representation.

IWCA needs your help

The IWCA was set up to involve and represent the interests of the working class majority in Shoreditch. We felt that the political parties were no longer able to do this, and that the developers were being given a free hand to gentrify our area.

You only ever see the other parties at election time, but the IWCA has tried to get round to every door asking about repairs, ITNet, anti-social behaviour or phone masts.

The IWCA needs your help. How much help you can give is up to you – but if you can help deliver newsletters, take a petition round your block or even make the tea at meetings there is a part you can play. And by attending our meetings you can help make decisions on what issues we take up and how we campaign on them.

If you want to know more about the IWCA you can attend the meeting below or phone us on 07000 752 752. If you can get onto the internet, look up our website on

Phone masts – unsafe and unwanted

Have you seen the phone mast on top of the building on the corner of Kingsland Road and Pearson Street?

This mast is emitting pulses of radiation up to 217 times a second, and anyone living within 100 yards is affected. That means York Row, most of Harman Street and the nearest blocks on Geffrye Court.

Hackney Council are taking a small amount of money from the phone companies and not telling us about the health risks.

Federal Law in America, and similar laws in Australia, New Zealand and Sweden have made it illegal to place the masts close to homes, schools and hospitals. But the Council let them be put up next to our estates, and have even let one be put up opposite Laburnum School. Were you consulted before this phone mast went up? And has anyone told you about the health risks? This is another example of how the Council treat us like second class citizens. After all, have you ever seen a phone mast on top of a private block?

The IWCA believes that there should be no mobile phone within 100 yards of council estates or schools. We also believe that there should be ballots on every estate to see if tenants want the phone masts down. If they do, the Council should break the contract and take them down.

If you would like a free information pack on mobile phone masts, call the IWCA on 07000 752 752 and leave your details on the answerphone.


Everyone knows how hard it is to get your housing benefit or council tax benefit paid. The Council has a legal duty to get you your benefit within 2 weeks of you giving them your details – but instead the Council blame ITNet, the private contractor they brought in to do the job for them. While we have no time for ITNet – a firm that made £10 million profit a year but is causing suffering to thousands of hackney people who are not getting their benefits – the buck stops with the Council. Typical of them, they privatise a service and then pretend that it’s not their problem.

The Council got a lot of good publicity by saying they had sacked ITNet – well they haven’t. They are still in place and we are still not getting our benefits paid.

Those of us who are on benefits, or whose family and friends are on benefits know what a big issue this is. Our middle class councillors have no idea what it is like not being able to pay the rent, and that’s why they didn’t sack ITNet a long time ago.

The IWCA held a surgery in the Geffrye Estate Community Centre for people who were having trouble with ITNet. We arranged for benefits experts to attend to give people advice, and have since followed up everyone who attended. We aim to hold another surgery soon, but if you are in need of immediate advice, call the IWCA phone number – 07000 752 752 – and Carl Taylor will get in touch with you to help with your benefits application or to give you any other support.

letter to Hackney Gazette about ITnet

At last!
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

IWCA letter in response to articles on ITNet in Hackney Gazette

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.

Dan Carter
Hackney IWCA