Bedroom tax ‘could make thousands of poor people homeless’
Tens of thousands of the poorest people in Britain risk being made homeless because of the bedroom tax, according to an analysis of councils’ assessments of the welfare cut.
From last month, housing benefit has been reduced to council or housingassociation tenants who ministers claim have more bedrooms than they need.
Data from 107 local authorities shows 86,000 households have been forced to look for one-bedroom homes, of which only 33,000 have become available in the past year. Read more
Randeep Ramesh | The Guardian | 27th May 2013
Legal aid cuts: what price justice?
In Sheffield magistrates court, Mr Zahedi has just been bailed; he only speaks Farsi. He is shaking his head as if a terrible mistake has been made, not by the court, not in the charge, but that his standing in this room at all, in his glass cage, is all the result of a factual error. He blows everybody a kiss in thanks. His bail conditions are that he stay away from a particular person; they can’t curfew him because he’s homeless. Most nights he sleeps behind the police station.
His solicitor, Lucy Hogarth, explains: “It took me and the clerk to persuade the court that they couldn’t remand him in custody, because the trial isn’t going to result in a custodial sentence. But the prosecutor wanted to lock him up.”
Her next client, Mr Oates, is up for benefit fraud, but the Department for Work and Pensions hasn’t sent the paperwork for two days, during which time he’s been held in a cell. “Without me asking,” Hogarth says, “he’d probably still be in there.” Read more
Zoe Williams | The Guardian | 24th May 2013
Paramedics ‘blacklist’ 600 Scottish homes
Nearly 600 homes across Scotland have been blacklisted as being too dangerous for ambulance crews to enter without police protection. The 593 addresses have been pinpointed because of previous attacks or threats on paramedics.
The statistics were obtained by the Conservatives under Freedom of Information legislation. The Scottish government said the figure was a “small proportion” of the country’s 2.5 million homes.
NHS Lothian had the most red flagged addresses, with 162, followed by Greater Glasgow and Clyde with 147, and Fife with 68. The Scottish Ambulance Service confirmed the snapshot for May 2013, which was an increase from the same time in 2012 when 437 addresses were red flagged. Read more
BBC | 26th May 2013
Investors target City regulator over handling of 2008 bank collapse
Campaigners fighting on behalf of almost one million Bradford & Bingley investors have fixed their sights on the City regulator.
The Bradford and Bingley Action Group (BBAG) has lodged a Freedom of Information request with the new Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to see whether its predecessor – the Financial Services Authority (FSA) – withheld information from shareholders in the lead up to the bank’s collapse in 2008.
Bradford & Bingley, best known for its bowler hat logo, was heavily exposed to the troubled buy-to-let mortgage market in the lead-up to the financial crisis. The lender ran into difficulties when funding from the wholesale money markets dried up. Read more
Jamie Dunkley & Roger Aitken | The Independent | 26th May 2013
Police pay £40m to translate inquiries
POLICE FORCES have spent nearly £40million on translators for suspects and victims unable to speak English over the past three years, an investigation by The Sunday Telegraph has established. The Metropolitan Police paid out £7.1million on interpreters and translators in a single year. The London force listed 97 languages it has paid to translate, including African dialects such as Wolof, Yoruba and Oromo.
Rural constabularies have also spent substantial sums on language services. Thames Valley Police’s bill for translators and interpreters has exceeded £1million in each of the past three years. Forces in Kent, Norfolk and Lincolnshire have at times spent more than £400,000 a year on translation.
Polish, Romanian, Mandarin and Lithuanian are among the languages which police authorities most frequently require interpreters for. The figures – obtained using the Freedom of Information Act – expose one of the hidden costs of years of high migration. Read more
Robert Watts | The Sunday Telegraph | 26th May 2013
How taxpayers are paying for Speaker John Bercow’s nanny to live in a grace and favour flat in the Houses of Parliament
The Commons Speaker is facing a storm of criticism after it emerged his children’s nanny lives in a taxpayer-funded apartment in the Houses of Parliament. John Bercow – who earns over £140,000 per year and has backed calls for pay rises for MPs – and his wife Sally have given their nanny the run of the housekeeper’s apartment near their own palatial rooms inside the Palace of Westminster.
The nanny’s accommodation in the Commons is entirely covered by the public purse, including the council tax and utility bills. The arrangement has been described as ‘indefensible’ by a former chairman of the Standards in Public Life committee. The Bercows, who have three young children, have separately acquired a riverside property nearby for £935,000 just four miles away.
Previously the couple said that their nanny was ‘live-in’. But according to details released after a freedom of information request, it now transpires that she lives in a separate flat consisting of one bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and a living room. Read more
Gerri Peev | The Daily Mail | 28th May 2013
Police Chiefs Fears over Bettison Quiz
SOUTH Yorkshire Police’s chief constable was keen to avoid questions about Sir Norman Bettison after the Hillsborough report, a previously secret email shows. The two men worked together at West Yorkshire Police before David Crompton left to head the South Yorkshire force.
They were in touch over Hillsborough before last year’s damning report, which revealed Mr Bettison’s role in the aftermath of the 1989 disaster. The day before the Hillsborough Independent Panel report, Mr Crompton and Mr Bettison swapped emails.
Mr Crompton, 49, told the then-West Yorkshire chief constable he did not expect a “direct focus” on him. But the HIP report, which exposed a police cover-up, did feature Sir Norman’s role – and led to calls for him to resign. And today we can reveal Mr Crompton was reluctant to answer questions over Mr Bettison, 57, after the details emerged. Read more
Jonathon Corke | The Daily Star | 28th May 2013
Just 6% of British army uniforms are made in the UK while £75million of manufacturing is outsourced abroad
Just six per cent of army uniforms were made in Britain last year under manufacturing contracts worth £5million while £75million worth of production was outsourced to India, China and Eastern Europe.
Struggling defence companies in the UK have been forced to lay off staff and open factories overseas in a drive to cut costs or risk losing contracts.
Senior Tory MP Patrick Mercer – a former Army colonel and former security spokesman – claimed there was a security risk involved with making the kit abroad and said ‘every soldier should have a uniform made in Britain’. The staggering figures were released by the Ministry of Defence under a Freedom of Information Act request by Mail Online. Read more
Rob Cooper | The Daily Mail | 27th May 2013
Over 100 skipfuls of rubbish on roads and railways
LITTER louts drop enough rubbish at the side of Scotland’s railways and roads every year to fill 112 skips – or two Olympic-sized swimming pools. Figures released through Freedom of Information show 1,800 tonnes of refuse are collected each year, ranging from old furniture, washing machines and televisions, to food packaging, paper and cans.
The cost of the clean-up operation is about £60,000 a month. Last month, almost 4,000 hours were spent clearing litter from motorways in Glasgow and surrounding area.
Transport minister Keith Brown urged people to dispose of their rubbish responsibly. He said: “Scotland is a wonderful country and its natural beauty is a key factor in attracting tourists. Read more
Claire Gardner | The Scotsman | 25th May 2013
Owners bear the brunt of catalytic converter thefts
THEFTS of catalytic converters ripped from vehicles across Nottingham soared by over 300 per cent in 2011-2012, a Freedom of Information request by the Post has revealed. Figures in 2013 have also already overtaken total offences in 2009.
The crimes represent just under 20 per cent of all recorded metal theft offences in 2012. The data shows an increase of 256 offences over the 87 reported incidents in 2011. It is the also the highest recorded number of catalytic converter thefts over the past five years.
Police say intelligence shows that the crimes being carried out mostly by organised gangs. Catalytic converters, devices used to reduce output of toxic chemicals, are being targeted for the valuable elements they contain. Platinum and rhodium from converters can fetch hundreds of pounds on the black market. Read more
Tom Norton | The Nottingham Post | 24th May 2013
Fire crews save pets from peril
They were among hundreds of bizarre calls to firefighters in Courier Country — including a cat that got its head stuck in a TV. A freedom of information request has revealed a series of strange animal emergencies such as a Perth iguana that got stranded on a roof and a dog that trapped its head between railings in Dundee’s Whitfield area.
Some of the more distressing calls included a dog impaled on a fence in Aberargie, a dolphin that got into difficulty at Moncrieffe Island and a horse that had to be put down after falling into a well in Auchterarder.
Data was requested from all eight of Scotland’s former fire services to cover the last five years, however only three responded with results. Since 2008 there have been almost 139 calls to animal-related incidents in Tayside compared with around 670 in Strathclyde since recording mechanisms changed there in 2009. Read more
Graeme Bletcher | The Courier | 27th May 2013
Sharp drop in school attacks
The number of physical attacks by pupils on teachers in Bassetlaw has dramatically reduced in the past year, according to new figures. Data obtained through the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act shows there were zero recorded incidents between 2012-13 – compared to three in 2011-12 and 13 in 2010-11.
According to Notts County Council, the recorded attacks happened at Portland and Valley in Worksop and Elizabethan and Retford Oaks over the past three years. Of the total number of physical attacks, three resulted in exclusion, six pupils were verbally reprimanded and three cases put down to special educational needs.
There were no verbal attacks recorded over the same period. Katy Williams, director of business services at Outwood Grange Academies Trust, which governs Portland and Valley, said the data was a clear indicator of Outwood’s approach to discipline. Read more
Worksop Guardian | 25th May 2013
USA: Lawsuits seek more than U.S. acknowledgement of drone killings
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama is facing demands in court to reveal more about the U.S. drone program, despite his speech addressing it on Thursday and his government’s acknowledgement a day earlier that four Americans have died in drone strikes.
Civil liberties advocates, news organizations and the families of those who died have brought lawsuits in New York, Washington and Oakland, California, challenging the government’s refusal to provide information.
Now that the drone program’s existence has at last been confirmed, government lawyers on Wednesday indicated they would abandon their previous arguments, which did not confirm or deny the drone program. In the case in Oakland, they said they would give a new response to the Freedom of Information Act request filed by the First Amendment Coalition within 30 days. Read more
David Ingram | The Chicago Tribune | 23rd May 2013
USA: EPA out of control
The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative advocacy group, has sued the Environmental Protection Agency seeking an explanation of why it has been denied waivers of fees for provision of documents while environmental groups almost always got waivers. Just more evidence EPA is becoming a law unto itself.
Christopher Horner of CEI used a Freedom of Information Act request to examine document requests over about 15 months. His own requests for waivers were denied 14 out of 15 times; requests from environmental groups were granted 75 of 82 times.
Every time Horner appealed (he didn’t say how many times that was) his request was granted. EPA’s inspector general says he will look into the accusation; the acting EPA administrator, Robert Perciasepe, says EPA’s policy is not to discriminate in waivers and anyway, documents increasingly are provided in electronic form, which incurs no fee. Read more
The Boston Herald | 26th May 2013
DENMARK: City Council moves to counter freedom of information act
The oft-criticised freedom of information act (offentlighedslov) proposal received another blow yesterday when the Copenhagen City Council approved a proposal from Enhedslisten (EL) aimed at maintaining transparency at the council level.
EL’s proposal is based on a principle that citizens and the media should enjoy the highest amount of transparency possible when attempting to gain insight into council policymaking.
“The City Council must, as much as possible, work towards transparency and openness in our administration and I am really pleased with this law,” Rikke Lauritzen, an EL spokesperson, told Berlingske newspaper. Read more
The Copenhagen Post | 24th May 2013
TURKEY: Reporters Without Borders Condemns Sentencing of Sevan Nişanyan
Reporters Without Borders firmly condemns the sentence of 13 and a half months in prison that an Istanbul magistrate’s court passed yesterday on Turkish-Armenian journalist Sevan Nişanyan for posting “insulting” comments about Mohammed in his blog.
“Nisanyan’s jail sentence is a grave violation of freedom of information and sends a threatening message to fellow journalists and bloggers that is unacceptable,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It should be overturned on appeal. Suppression of comments critical of Islam has no place in a secular country such as Turkey.”
“We have often hailed the gradual weakening of Turkey’s Kemalist – secularist, nationalist and militarist – taboos but democracy will not benefit if they are replaced by a new religious censorship.” Read more
Reporters Without Borders | 24th May 2013
IRELAND: Central Bank warned in advance over Joyce coin
The Central Bank was warned about potential design and copyright problems before it issued the flawed €10 James Joyce commemorative silver coin last month.
Department of Finance officials alerted the Central Bank on at least two occasions about the possibility of difficulties with the James Joyce estate over copyright and design. The details are contained in documents obtained by RTÉ News under Freedom of Information.
The coin sold out within two days of being issued on 11 April, despite carrying on its front an error in a quotation from Joyce’s most famous work, Ulysses, alongside an image of the author that was not approved by his estate. Read more
The Irish Times | 24th May 2013