Tag Archives: bullying

Why the AO and HMRC need calling to account

I’ve written before about the failings of ombudsmen and adjudicators, the latter being Trash Heaps (think Fraggle Rock). In fact, they both could be, as are the organisations we bring to them.

The Nottingham based Adjudicator’s Office is a hive running round the Queen – and yes, it’s been a woman for six years: currently Helen McGarry.

Like her predecessor, she’s no Wincey Willis (think 1980s gameshow Treasure Hunt).

There’s a hunt with obscure words and a deadline, but the treasure is all the treasury’s. For the AO deals with complaints about Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and The Valuation Office.

I’ve long had issues with HMRC – the tax office – and it’s not hard to find others who feel the same. They especially like to pick on self employed people and small businesses. Their compliance checks can mean hours, as well as pounds – photocopying and scanning, buying cloud software to upload… and then HMRC ungraciously deciding that they won’t accept your offering. All of course at your own expense. Often their drawn out investigations are because of their own misinformation.

May of us are deemed to have not paid enough tax or paid it too late, or that we have received too many tax credits and they will not only cease, but be demanded back.

I’ve been bullied for some years – I won’t give personal details, but I’ve had to spend much energy on fighting HMRC and learning what hard hearted bullies they are, and how the system is designed for you not to be able to easily recover from it, in any sense. I have strong evidence of collusion but also misuse of law. I think they want compliance or cessation. In any sense.

My case returned to the AO for the 3rd time – a different part, they won’t reinvestigate old ones. They also don’t award for their own failings. And they know that the next tier – the PHSO – is useless. I obtained figures of the tiny percentage of cases which are ever upheld, let alone given compensation. They elongate and annoy, and you need your MP to apply to them. Mine, Clive Lewis, messed up by not sending the supporting documents and he refused to resend the case, even when the PHSO asked me to. Hence Helen McGarry thinks she sits safe, knowing she’ll rarely be called to account by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

The recent investigation seemed to be no such thing. Even the bit about frustration and sympathy was a cut and paste job. It was condescending and had little or no back up. I’d reapplied for tax credits a year ago, but they claim that my area’s roll out for Universal Credit had begun just after, so it was too late. If I’d had a quicker response from HMRC, I would have gotten the award, worth a few thousand. I note the statements which make me look unreasonable: “if [I’d] chosen to…” – utterly inappropriate; the ones that make them sound fair… it’s a school of writing that I see throughout bureaucracy and sometimes in personal emails. McGarry claims the law is on her side; nothing can be changed now. But I’m well aware of law being bent or ignored or even created to suit governments.

I am tired of these organisations not being accountable, of not righting wrongs and even acknowledging them. I am tired of Trash Heaps whose rather ill-judged pronouncements become binding, and who do not expect comeback. I am tired of governments who bully, not work for their people.

If you are too, then let’s stand together against it. We need an AO who’s fit for purpose and a tax office that’s fair – it’s supposed to be collecting for the benefit of the people. We need reform. We need leaders who listen and laws that benefit and protect us, not the few. We need different values that aren’t about greed and control, but respect and fairness. And yes, love, even in politics. And that means love of justice, a fierce love that stands up for ourselves and others and doesn’t take no for an answer.

 

 

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Why TV licences need to end

I note that many countries still have these – but that many have ceased them. In Britain, our license is decades behind what is on offer and how people view.

 

My issue is firstly that a compulsory legally backed fee was ever levied from the public. Although the British Broadcasting Corporation was created as independent, the fact that its licence was equated in law to tax – and thus has the same punishments of fees and ultimately imprisonment for non payment – shows that it is not independent from the establishment, and thus neither is the BBC. This shows how law and crimes are often relative and privately self serving, not public safe keeping.

 

That the decision for change has to come from parliament is also telling.

 

It is often commented on that the BBC is biased. Its news is very negative and feels created to gain a particular response. During the credit crunch and since Brexit, it repeats doomful ideas. Watching it alongside other news – and in the early evening, you can chain watch about 4 different channels – you see the particular tone of the BBC. In a couple of weeks, everyone appearing on BBC TV will wear a red poppy, which has connotations for beliefs about war. The BBC skips over other matters – such as the unpopularity of its licence and the widespread historic abuse in it uncovered around children’s presenter Jimmy Saville.

 

Although some proponents claim that the BBC is standard bearer in both television and radio, it is not to everyone’s tastes. Its programming is repetitive (thus across more channels we do not gain more content than before BBC 3 and 4 were created), and that its drama is outweighed by the reality and non narrative programmes. Peeking at the BBC’s website, I see that programmes about food, dancing, antiques and nature are high profile. We should not be paying for that website – one I don’t even really rate or find user friendly.

 

I personally now don’t see BBC as appealing or good quality, in any of its media.

 

There’s also a certain kind of Britishness associated with the BBC. The BBC creates and maintains a status quo. Many of the BBC’s popular programmes are older ones. I’ve not yet seen it be ahead of the curve, and truly radical.

 

It’s also pointed out that BBC does have many adverts – for itself – and thus isn’t really better than a commercial channel.

 

The BBC hasn’t been the nation’s only provider of television or radio for some decades. By the early 1980s, there were four TV channels and three providers; the other two – Independent television (ITV) and Channel 4 – having to fund themselves via advertising, thus introducing the commercial break that is so familiar in other countries. There were other radio stations, locally and nationally, and further, if you could find the frequency. At that time, home video had arrived, and we covered the cost of what we watched in the purchase or hire fee.

 

And many videos – now in a different format – are of films, and I wonder if there’s a trend that non TV owners are regular cinema goers. Or perhaps they prefer theatre, or music, or sport, or lectures, or they’re involved in churches or politics.

 

So my point is that yes there are still people who don’t have a television and aren’t interested, and find other ways to find out about the world and have culture in their lives.

 

But these non viewers can be disbelieved and harassed. No, we’re not all glued to the box.

 

But it’s not easy to prove that we’ve no such box and that other devices which can pick up pictures are not being used for the purposes that require licensing.

 

I have seen some websites put out incorrect facts regarding when you need a licence: owning a DVD/video player and TV do not require one, it’s watching new programmes, live or recorded, on any device. It has been the case for some time that viewing prerecorded media only does not require a licence – and rightly so.

 

And if we’re watching DVDs of cinema films, then why should the BBC expect to gain a share by enforcing a licence that almost solely benefits itself? Or what of television shows that don’t come to Britain, or aren’t British made, or are made by another channel? The BBC doesn’t have to prove its share or gain an audience to elicit its fees, unlike anyone else.

 

This is the point that many people have made, and it’s been valid since the introduction of the 3rd channel, but especially from the 1980s, which is now over 30 years ago. By 2000, satellite and cable had arrived for many, as had the net. Now of course we have much greater choice and diverse habits and the BBC is an ever smaller offering of our media diet.

 

The BBC makes most of us pay them a tax (or be prepared to prove why we are exempt) but it itself does not pay corporation tax, as it’s non-profit making. This is huge: that it takes tax but doesn’t expect to have to run like other companies. It has also been accused of avoiding other kinds of tax on a large scale, by using a not long closed loophole.

 

And then, the most pertinent point: the TV license funds bullying.

 

I read huge numbers of prosecutions, many of which are thrown out of court. I’ve heard above 180,000 a year, and that 1 in 10 UK prosecutions are to do with TV licensing.

 

The licensing company has a whole collections arm, which are thus paid for publicly. They employ bully boy tactics, including their fear inducing adverts, with vans cruising about watching for signals from unpaid watchers, and then swooping on whoever answers the door, often exaggerating their powers (which is an offense of both kinds). They say that non payment is unfair on those who do pay, and call non payers “evaders”, which is an emotive and negative word.

 

But fee abolition website SpiderBomb shows that the BBC’s revenue from licensing creates a huge budget and it’s much more than it needs. Large salaries are pointed out – why should we have to pay for those? SpiderBomb suggests a much more modest fee is viable.

 

Yes I’ve heard the Beeb themselves argue that the radio part of the licence is pence, that it’s like a pint of beer each week, but what if we don’t drink Beeb beer? The price of beer argument’s a weak one, for some people still struggle with the £147 annual license and certainly the £1000 fine. There’s been much about the economic imbalance that the fee is a flat tax, unrelated to income (or usage), and that the poor are disproportionately harassed and even end up in prison because of this matter.

 

This sounds so familiar in inequitable governing around the world and history. I believe that the BBC and its overseas branches often argued for are part of empire retention, and that the real issue is about the use of public broadcasting.

 

And what if we resent funding a salaried collections company who are paid bonuses and given quotas, such as Capita are?

 

Many of us would be keen to not fund organisations of abuse and oppression, but we’re being forced to do so directly, via British law and our own so called Aunt.

 

Auntie Beeb is not seen as our caring trustworthy source of news and stories, but a not so subtle controlling matriarch who seems exempt from critique and change.

 

The BBC is one of a large family now, and a relation we may not ever spend time with, especially due to her brutish behaviour – that she requires gifts for visiting not only herself but other aunts, and sends in her henchmen for those who don’t. Is this someone you want to have a relationship with, and feel should go unchecked?

 

Today, a debate is happening in Westminster about the TV tax. Let us ensure our views are listened to and that it’s not replaced (which it needs to be) with more draconian rules.

 

– We need a new system which doesn’t involve further watching the public, as I fear subscription and online based scenarios lend themselves to, and we know that digital television sets assist with

 

– Fines and especially prison and door to door bullying is an abuse and needs to stop

 

– TV licensing needs to come off people’s criminal records; it makes a mockery of what law and crime really is

 

– Look to New Zealand as an example of a country who stopped the licence through peaceful people power

 

– Find a solution which reflects people’s habits and what there is now

 

We’ve put off this conversation too many times: we need to listen to the public to create a decision, and make something for them, not against them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Parking Pains

I took what was supposed to be a nice walk today, to think about my next novel.

 

I got plenty of thinking done – but not the sort I’d planned. And it wasn’t the pleasant, relaxing invigorating joy that a walk should be.

 

Because every few steps I saw another of those bloody signs.

 

The private car park ones, from people such as Parking Eye and National Parking Enforcement and similar names, all with something aggressive in their title.

 

So why have these notices popped up so much in the last 10 or even 5 years?

 

Companies who employ these firms claim that their parking is being abused; that people are overstaying or that non customers (or residents or workers) are using their facilities. So they contract private parking enforcement firms to ‘manage’ the parking spaces, sometimes on wasteland, to threaten motorists into not using their space, or staying too long, or parking outside of the sometimes too small and vague markings.

 

Even if there are issues with visitors being unable to park, this is not the right way to deal with them. By all means, get in touch and ask people to move on, but I cannot see how these henchman are needed.

 

Having the intrusion of being photographed each time you come in and leave which is then used to harass you for a disproportionate charge for going 1 mintue over an arbitary limit is a far truer example of abuse.

 

The truth is that these firms hope of course that drivers will commit what they consider a misdemeanour and garner them some revenue, to top up the fees from the landowner.

 

I don’t see that these companies run a legitimate business, for they exist from someone’s else’s faults. There is often no real harm done by the drivers and the companies create some with threats of bullying.

 

Much of the time they are guarding free parking where other custom is being given.

 

I think there needs to be a debate about paid parking and how motorists are over charged on many matters. Many of us can’t park even at our homes, even when we’ve paid permits, and parking charges are high. Many parking rules, private or otherwise, are more arbitrary than for safety – which is the only fair reason to penalise on parking.

 

We want to cut down on cars, but we also want drivers so we can make money from them. I especially note this contradictory call from councils.

 

These parking firms don’t give us much choice – for as we hove into the only parking place available for us to visit our friend, pop to the shop, have a drink, attend a business meeting, collect someone off the train, even go to church, we are greeted by a notice. Yes, usually not at the car park entrance – where the salient point will be that it’s free, or otherwise – but at the place we park. And we’ve already gone through a barrier, and can’t easily get out.

Perhaps we don’t see those horrid signs. Now I’ve noticed them I see the signs everywhere, but I didn’t for a long time. If it’s a free carpark and one that is for visitors, why would I imagine that I can be charged?

 

Their notices are ugly. ‘Private property’ is one of the first and most common things they say – so this is definitely capitalist. Not – ‘visitors only please’, or even, ruder, ‘private carpark’. I disdain anyone who puts up private property signs, it doesn’t speak well of them.

 

Then the signs say – if you don’t do this arbitrary thing, you ‘agree’ to being clamped – but clamping in Wales and England has been illegal on private ground for 5 years – and charged £60 to £250. But for what? And that removing these signs is a criminal offence.

 

I see a criminal offence here. I certainly see a moral one.

 

The removal of the signs being illegal is questionable; it would mean that the fees – note, it’s not a real fine – can’t be pursued. Those signs are vital to their having any credibility and success. They masquerade as real fines, which can only come from councils and the police. They use county courts to enforce these, but that is an abuse too. Parking Eye – Britain’s worst and most aggressive – is making a loss in legal fees to recover their invoices. That says a lot about them, and also the legal system.

 

They pay solicitors to send out letters which threaten credit rating harm – which is only possible, and much further down the line. (The credit system is something I want to question too.) This practice speaks ill of the solicitors.

 

There is, I understand, no legal basis for these fees. (It’s supposed to be under contract law but this is contentious).

 

I also challenge the legality of de facto one sided contracts.

 

These companies are buying driver’s data from the DVLA (Britain’s vehicle licensing authority), but this is effectively bribery and abuse of government information.

 

I query the underlying basis of the companies, rather than whether you were unaware or unfairly caught out.

 

I encourage businesses and land owners not to use them and for anyone who receives a notice from them to fight it. Let your favourite cafe and shop know how you feel about their use of these companies. Avoid custom.

 

Find another way to manage your parking – differently worded signs and without threats and privacy invasion.

 

There are many sites about how to fight these parking people and also petitions for greater regulation, and for the banning of these companies.

https://www.change.org/p/campaign-against-illegal-practices-by-private-car-park-companies-and-debt-collectors This site has many good points and a sound legal basis.

I’ll encourage others to do their own research. These firms are often acting unlawfully, and are living from harassment dressed as a service to landowners.

Instead, I refer you to a Suffolk village who says “no claims, no fines” and asks us to donate when we park towards the village upkeep. It works, and we lingered rather than moved on without spending like we did the Parking Eye run retail park.

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A film that shows what the people can do

Today, I again saw a film that makes me inspired and alive. It is Belle, which shows us what can happen when people of conviction speak out for justice. It was an issue that felt so entrenched and widespread, with opposition so numerous and powerful, that a hope of quashing it must’ve felt extremely daring.

But this is the real story of how a major step was taken towards justice and the end of something that had caused so much suffering and been a disgraceful aberration of human rights.

It made me think about the essence of all injustice, and how it relates to continuing despicable problems.

A powerful group defines themselves as other to another and sees that other either as a threat or something less valuable than themselves. Therefore, that other is there for their profit, to be silenced and destroyed.

Once we start to care and give features to those we have commodified, once they cease to be expendable or wicked, we cannot continue treating them as we have. This is true of all earth life. It is true of those we call enemies, those and that which we would use for our own gain.

Not saying: it’s always been that way, it’s too big; it’s too costly to change or end, but: this is enough!

The more I read history, the more I see the themes of control by fear occurring, from armies to bailiffs – people carrying out the instructions of another without question. Rebels will be punished. Conformity is rewarded.

But I also read stories of people who did push for change, of balls of moss that gather in size and momentum.

Stories, actual and imagined, can give us the impetus to put faces on those we refuse to see, give voices to those who hadn’t been heard, and to empower us to take on that which pretended to be invincible.

I post this as the Tory party conference takes place in Manchester this weekend.

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Police commissioner – why I’m not voting

There has been some talk that voting should be compulsory. Yes people died to allow all to vote – but it is an opportunity – it should not become a requirement, with further policing to force us.

 

As I’ve said before I suspect the lack of turnout is the belief that voting doesn’t work: that first past the post system does not mean our choice will even count; or that all the candidates are much the same – and none of them are who we would like or who will make a positive difference.

 

Many people in Britain feel that voting for their local police commissioner is not something they want to bother going to the poll booths for. Candidates mostly stand for a political party and the ones I have read of do not impress.

 

What I fear this move is about is creating pleasing seeming statistics, and more “tough on crime” talk. It could make life hard for both the police and the public.

 

What policing should be about:

‘Police’ is an unfortunate phase, a verb that means to nose and control. What we need is a body who helps keep us safe through laws only needed for protection – and not the powerful few. Laws should not be excuses to collect revenue for governments through fines. They should not be nannying, controlling punitive rules. We should not fear or distrust our police, who should not be curtailing freedom of expression.

 

The Green Party, who did not want this to come to vote, put questions to the candidates, including public accountability and the right to peaceful protest.

 

Nationally, we read regularly of police brutalities to protesters; and in the last week, there has been news that questions the behaviour of undercover police.

 

My local force has recently blasted front pages with their sprees of raids, and threaten more; their ‘message to criminals’ is, when finally deciphered, is aimed at minor crimes and a show of strength. Raids should be about emergency  rescue, not minor drug dealers. It also publicly sent messages to potential kerb crawlers, displaying their car number plates.

 

Meanwhile, it made reporting crime (which was largely down to their lack of doing their duty) more trouble than it was worth and failed to follow up a complaint for inappropriate behaviour.

 

I think many of us have mixed stories of the police, and as we pay for them through council tax, they especially need to be accountable to us and doing something worthwhile.

 

As there is no space on the voting form for ‘none of these’ or ‘I don’t want this’, I am saying it here, and making clear what kind of police force we expect and need, and making a stand against the force we often actually get.

 

I hope the prediction of under 15% turnout is true – do not we have a law that there needs to be a minimum proportion for a vote to count? Most of us don’t want this imposed on us – isn’t that a voice in itself?

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