Friday, 9 September 2011

The perfect crime

    When something dodgy happens once, it's unfortunate. When it happens twice, it's a coincidence. When it happens three or more times however, nobody could be excused for smelling a rat.
    T is a homeless bloke, a friend of a friend. An honest bloke who takes pains to keep out of trouble with the law, he lives on a piece of wasteland somewhere in my town and sells the Big Issue to support himself. My friend trusts him, and so do I.
    For a while, he used to have a flat. A tiny cubicle in a large house subdivided by a dodgy landlord into as many units as possible to milk the benefits system, but it was somewhere to call home after years on the street. His housing benefit was paid directly to the landlord, he never saw any money directly but since the flat was of more value to him than the money that suited him fine.
    After a few months in his new flat, he was evicted. Why? None of his benefits had been paid to the landlord, leaving him in arrears. The system had failed him. To add insult to injury, the benefits people claimed he owed them money because they'd overpaid him. Money he'd certainly never seen, as neither had his landlord, that is.
    He's a lot more positive than I think I'd be in his position.
    You might say T's case in unfortunate. But as the aftermath of recession tightens its grip, it's a story I'm finding rather familiar. Take my friend R, for instance. She's living at the moment in her caravan, parked next to my parents' cow shed. A year ago she lived in a small house with her two children and had a decent job, then she was made redundant. Yet again, she claimed housing benefit to be paid directly to her landlord and her landlord never saw a penny of it.
    She was evicted early this summer.
    Touch wood, she'll find herself back under a roof fairly soon now. Unlike T, she has the children to take care of, so her case will have higher priority. It's been no less stressful or disruptive to her life for that though.
    T's case followed by R's case, you might say they are just a coincidence. But I could relate several more very similar tales from my pool of friends and acquaintances, all of whom have claimed housing benefit which has been processed by the system but has never reached its destination. And I am just an ordinary person with a pretty normal life and social group, I don't move in any circles that make me more likely to meet benefit claimants, these are just normal people like me who have fallen upon hard times. It is not a huge stretch of the imagination to interpolate the experiences of my acquaintances across the entire benefit dependent population and reach the conclusion that this must be happening to a huge number of people.
   When something dodgy happens three or more times, I smell a rat. This is public money, taxpayer's money - My money - being spent on the safety net that protects us all, and it's being processed by the system but not reaching its destination.
  I sense a scam, money doesn't just disappear. I think our housing benefit system would benefit from a significant audit, because somewhere along the way a lot of money is being diverted from its intended recipients. It could be that the system is so incredibly incompetent that  mere non-payment is the norm, but since we are not hearing politicians crowing about unexpected surpluses in our benefit budget it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that significant fraud is involved. Whether this is the work of many small-scale fraudsters within the system or fewer fraudsters working on a larger scale doesn't matter, both as taxpayers and as potential benefit recipients we're being ripped off, and that is not acceptable.
  It's the perfect crime, if you think about it.The benefits people are uncaring and inefficient so hardly bother what happens, and the victims are largely people at the very bottom of the pile to whom nobody will listen to. The amounts of money involved in each case are fairly small, perhaps a few thousand pounds, so there is never enough money disappearing at once to raise an alarm. And even if an alarm was raised, our tabloid press have made such a good job of demonising benefit claimants based on the outrageous few rather than the deserving many, that there is no political capital in it being pursued. Diabolical in its cleverness, you might say.
    There was a time, many years ago, when I might have looked upon this issue with a "So what?" attitude based on youth and inexperience. Sadly in my town at least, compassion fatigue is the norm as the public view of the homeless is one of aggressive beggars, alcoholics and drug-addled criminals. But that is a dangerously naive view, as a long career in the tech business featuring several lengthy spells on the dole has taught me. It's getting crowded on the outer edges of society, and the crowds are formed not of a demonised feral underclass but of normal people like you and me who have fallen on hard times. As well as short changing the taxpayer, this disappearing money hits those who can least take it, and in most cases they were also taxpayers once.
    I'm afraid I don't expect to hear any time soon that they've fixed it though. 


  1. This sort of thing tends to be symptomatic of local government these days. How difficult is it to trace where the money has gone? One would assume that any Landlord would have the cash delivered directly into their account and consequently check whether it has been paid or do they have so much cash in their accounts that they do not notice if it isn't there? Any monies being paid out of a public account such as that of the benefits system surely would be recorded with all the relevant account numbers and such. It isn't exactly rocket science is it? I read today in the news that a couple who had just built their £250,000 house 15 feet from where it should have been placed through no fault of their own, have been told to demolish it and rebuild it 15 feet away! The fault seems to have been with the planning department but it would be easier and more sympathetic just to move the boundary on the old map from which they had taken the parameters. What's 15 foot to a piece of land in the middle of nowhere? The mind boggles at the incompetance of it all.

    Shirley Anne xxx

  2. It does make the mind boggle, doesn't it.