Sunday, August 31, 2014

ANDIUM HOMES - rents still going up even when the lifts do not...aspects of Jersey "social housing" ....

This is a picture of the Lifts at Ground Floor level in a Le Marais High Rise block now administered by ANDIUM HOMES with a UK based Chairman who takes £40,000  for just 30 hours work per annum.
There are others on the  board who takes similarly inflated payments for very few hours too...

Only one of the two lifts here is currently working.

As we all know, ANDIUM have taken over the so called "social housing"  portfolio from the States Housing Department and plan to turn this into a money generating asset as part of the Ozouf Master Plan with the one dominant objective of USER PAYS....all rents are being increased across the board to achieve 90% parity with "Private sector" rents although we all know that there can be no such parity...

These lifts are essential in a high-rise building of 14 floors and it is inevitable that they will be out of action briefly on occasions for repair etc.

However, due to long term lack of maintenance under the late Housing Department, the lifts are now undergoing major rebuilds over several months.

Here the "odd floors" lift has been sealed off for about two months and is not now expected to be back in service until 8 September.
The "even floors" lift is therefore having to carry all passenger and goods traffic until it too is taken out of service for repairs which will probably take several months too.

Obviously this activity causes  inconvenience to residents - especially those with disabilities or their disabled visitors who are currently forced to use the stairs if their floor is an "odd " one.

Deliveries  and removals of large items of furniture have also been disrupted... YET... ANDIUM have just announced a 2.35% increase in rents for the flats at Le Marais (and presumably other properties in its care) from 6 October.
Service charges are also being increased  (heating, hot water and water) in line with utility company rises.

It seems that the interruption of lifts provision is not considered a SERVICE by ANDIUM .

Would a private landlord be able to increase rents in such circumstances? Does inconvenience to tenants have no price?

In theory, Jersey still has a Housing Minister in Deputy Green - but he has already declared his plan to become a Senator and seeks the Health Department Ministry after the election.

It is very likely that the Housing Ministry will be scrapped in the near future too (and absorbed into the Population office under the CM) with ANDIUM being given almost total control over the 3,500 "publicly owned" social housing units of accommodation entrusted to it...

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Creeping SECRECY - the enemy of democracy and freedom of expression - alive and well in Jersey

The States of Jersey is currently recruiting people - medical practitioners only  - to serve on Social Security Appeal Tribunals besides “side members” for Employment Tribunals and the newly created Discrimination Tribunal.

Only “doctors” are being recruited to sit on the panels that consider Income Support and Medical Board Appeals. They are paid at the rate of £220 per half day and are to be available for about ten half-day sessions each year.

“Side Members” for the Employment and Discrimination Panels need have no professional qualifications and will be paid at the rate of £97 per day and should be available for about 20 days each year.

According to current adverts the Social Security Minister “is legally bound to ensure that claimants to benefits have access to an independent Appeal Panel”.

But as is becoming ever more obvious, that Appeal Panels composed of three doctors are hardly independent when considering awards of benefits that have been made on the basis of a medical board decision from a fellow doctor. Especially when that doctor is sitting alongside the Social Security Officer during the hearing, defending the decision previously made….

The potential conflicts must be obvious - but the doctors have now decided that these Tribunal hearings must be heard in private because their own “Trades Union” – the BMA – is concerned about the role of one doctor being critically examined – and possibly criticized – by a Panel of three others.

Of course the local doctors do not express it in these terms but the result of recent decisions is that ALL such hearings will soon have to be held in secret although the law requires that they are held in public, except in exceptional circumstances.

It is the Claimant who is supposed to be able to object to the hearing being held in public – but there must be more substantial reasons than just “feeling uncomfortable”.  Such principles apply to ALL public hearings where there is a “public interest “in the matters to be decided.

These principles have been argued in local and other courts of law and are well established and understood. It would be laughable for persons to be able to require that Court hearings generally are held in secret because they feel “uncomfortable”
…see for example  JEP v AL Thani and 4 Others etc 2002 JLR 542

Of course, claimants are entitled to privacy and there is no need for their identities or any confidential information to be released – but it is essential that the hearings are seen and heard to be conducted fairly and that the decisions of the Social Security Department are proper and consistent.

Appellants could be screened from view if necessary but public scrutiny protects the claimant as well as the wider public interest.
Ironically, I have yet to hear a Panel protest that an appellant is inadequately represented when he or she is trying to surmount the inequalities of  a professional lawyer presenting the case for the “other side” whilst they must speak for themselves and very often in broken English too. Equality of arms does not seem to be a priority with these panels.

If panels are truly concerned to achieve a “fair hearing” then they have, in my experience, a very limited priority for securing it.

There were 52 Social Security Tribunal Hearings held from 1 January 2012 to 30 June 2014. These dealt with a range of matters such as Cold Weather Bonus, Invalidity Benefit. Income Support with or without impairment Component, Incapacity Allowance etc.

Details of the appeals and decisions made are never published so that it is impossible for other claimants or the general public to gain useful, precise knowledge about the proceedings even though the Panels do submit their Appeal decisions in writing to the Social Security Minister.

Most appeals are rejected – “against the appellant” – viz 44 of the 52 referred to above.
No records are kept by the Social Security Department whether hearings are held in public or private.

Traditionally, the general public has not attended the hearings which take place in the Jersey Employment Tribunal (JET) suite behind the Ann Summers shop in Bath Street.

They are not advertised but a notice is stuck to the JET door (at first floor level) on the Thursday before the week in which they take place.

Recently the Panels have tended to exclude the general public from being present so that the hearings take place in secret.

The hearing re Mrs MP and the Social Security Department is such a case and took place on Thursday 10 July and was held in secret before Doctors Ford (Chair), Loane and Richardson.

The Appellant said only that she would be “uncomfortable discussing details of her medical condition in public.”

I objected to a secret hearing and argued on a public interest basis that the hearing should take place in public.

However, the Panel of three doctors retired to consider the matter and then returned to announce that the hearing would take place in private and added its own reason;

“The Tribunal was concerned that the panel might be limited in their ability to make enquiries of a confidential nature into the Appellant’s medical conditions, and thereby be unable to make a full and accurate assessment of the Appellant’s disablement.”

Of course, a similarly phrased reason could be used to ensure that ALL tribunal hearings – whether relating to medical, social security, employment or discriminations matters – are held in secret.

Such a degree of general censorship is very dangerous. It amounts here to nothing more or less than a professional desire to conceal its membership from scrutiny. It is the type of concealment that allows professionals to avoid responsibility for their actions and decisions.

It is wholly wrong that such Social Security panels are composed exclusively of doctors.

For the past few years I have been attending the various forms of Tribunal hearings – including some in the Courts – and there is a worrying trend towards increased secrecy. It even occurs in the management of Scrutiny Panel Hearings.

I have blogged here about the trend, especially regarding Social Security appeal hearings and how I am being ejected more and more frequently  – see the tom gruchy blog on 2 March 2014 – and I am copying below another blog about Secret Social Security Appeals from 24 June which ploughs a similar furrow….
This current posting picks up where these left off.

I have invited Senator Le Gresley, the Social Security Minister, to give an interview or offer any comments and am currently awaiting his response.

Deputy Tadier has already written to the Judicial Greffier about the management of Tribunals and his personal experience of the Social Security Appeal process. That response is also awaited.

The international background to all this lies in the hysteria of governments to reduce their Social Security expenditure and obligations.

The current obsession with such initiatives as Bio-psycho-social assessment regimes is being discredited the world over. The French company that administered the assessment regime in England has resigned following the volume of criticism from those aggrieved and even suicides from the hardest hit claimants.

MPs in the UK have described those companies behind the regime as “running disability claims denial factories.” There has been immense criticism of the Cardiff University’s role in the scheme and the doctors who implement the “disability assessment regime” and the part played by huge insurance organizations as “outlaw companies”.

Locally, one UK-based consultant doctor has been leading the Social Security medical assessment team and training others in the Bio-psycho-social methods of assessment.

There is little or no scope here for dissenting medical opinions. The primary aim is to reduce costs and to disallow claims.

It is all the more essential that Appeal Hearing panels are composed of persons with genuinely independent minds and opinions. They must be prepared to challenge the decisions made at Medical Boards and by “Determining  Officers” of the Social Security Department.

The recruitment of doctors to sit on such panels exclusively is outrageous.

Jersey doctors should refuse to participate in the current system and the panels should be opened up to non-professional membership.

 The trend towards secrecy must be stopped.

 NEXT I am publishing below the posting prepared in June this year on the same subject;

Deputy Southern presented a Social Security Appeal for a claimant yesterday (23 June)  at the Tribunal Office behind the Ann Summers store in Bath Street.

The claimant did not appear and the hearing proceeded in private before a Panel chaired by Advocate Zoe Blomfield sitting with Mrs. Le Monnier and Dr Loane. Two Social Security officers also attended to present that Departments case.

I had attended to observe the proceedings at 11 am but Deputy Southern applied for the hearing to be in private and so I was required to leave – along with two Social Security trainees.

 The chair somewhat reluctantly allowed me to make a Representation as a member of the public and I argued that it was a matter of public interest that such matters of administration should be observed and reported upon. I emphasized that the claimant need not be named at the hearing and that the general public would have no means of knowing his or her identity.

Nevertheless the chair ruled that since the Tribunal deals with medical matters making them public would cause upset and embarrassment to the claimant - so I was ejected.

A few days previously, on Friday 20 June I had been similarly ejected from a hearing chaired by Dr Richardson sitting with Drs Ford and Loane. Then the claimant did not appear at all and was not represented but the hearing proceeded with two Social Security officers only present.

Then the chair was even more hostile to my speaking but I made an attempt at presenting reasons why I should be allowed to observe the proceedings – especially since the claimant had expressed no view on whether the hearing should be held in private or otherwise.

Nevertheless, the chair ruled that the claimant had not given permission for his personal details to be discussed in public and so I was required to leave.

These are the latest chapters in a long “public interest” battle and the rulings seem to defy the policy decisions previously given to me via the Bailiff’s Office and the Judicial Greffe viz
14 April from Judicial Greffe;
“The Bailiff’s Office has requested me to respond to your emails to him dated 1 March and 2 April regarding the complaint set out in your letter of 7 December 2013….. As you are aware each of the Tribunals shall sit in public unless it considers it necessary to sit in private. The general presumption is that a hearing shall be in public unless the Tribunal considers it necessary to sit in private.

I wish to inform you that in future each of the Tribunal will hear in public any application on behalf of an applicant that the matter be held in private and any member of the media or public present will have the opportunity to address the Tribunal in relation to that application. The decision in relation whether it is necessary for the sitting to be held in private is one for each Tribunal. The Chair of the Tribunal will express in a few sentences the reasons for its decisions to hold the sitting in public or private as the case may be.”

Further email 2 May from Judicial Greffe;

…”There is also a change to the way Social Security hearings are administered. As always the presumption is that these hearings are in public. In future if an applicant wishes the hearing to be in private they must apply to the Tribunal. The Panel will hear the application at the start of the hearing and after the applicant or their representative have stated their reasons why they wish the hearing to be in private any members of the public or media present will have an opportunity to address the Tribunal prior to a decision being made. The Chairman will give the decision with brief reasons. If the decision is for the hearing to be in private all persons not immediately involved with the hearing will be asked to leave.”

Bearing in mind that no information about Social Security Tribunals or the decisions made is published or released into the general public domain, the importance hearings taking place in public cannot be overstressed.

The public must have a right to know what decisions are made by the Social Security Department and how public money is dispensed.

Furthermore the old principle that “Justice must be done – and seen to be done” must apply to these Tribunals just as any other court process. This is for the protection of claimants making appeals as much as any other more general purposes.

Since virtually all Social Security appeals will raise issues relating to sensitive heath or medical matters it is absurd that this might be a standard reason for the hearings to be in private. Virtually all hearings would be held in private on that basis and this standard could be extended to Employment Tribunals or Discrimination Tribunals when they are convened in the near future.

Following these two non hearings I have written to the Minister for Social Security under the FOI code requesting details of all Social Security Tribunal appeals since 1 January 2012.

I have also complained yet again to the Judicial Greffe about the procedures being followed at the Tribunals.

There is yet another Social Security Hearing scheduled for Friday 27 June and I will attend in order to observe the proceedings as a member of the public.


This posting will be sent to ALL elected States Members by e-mail and their comments or action invited.


Monday, August 4, 2014

Jersey celebrates war officially yet again - whilst Italian students celebrate life and LIBERATION...Jersey 4 August 2014

It may be my jaundiced view but I am sick of celebrations of "glorious death in war".
Today it is the 1st World war yet again. Last week it was the 18th century Battle of Minden. Soon it will be the Battle of Britain again and then The First World War all over again and the drum beating of Armistice and the 11th hour of the 11th day of the Remembrance etc...
and so it goes on. The constant selling of the absurd message that somehow death for King and Country is  the proper thing - the ultimate sacrifice and all that stuff...

This evening in St Helier the "official" manipulation of the historic record was played out for the umpteenth time. There were 1500 or so  empty seats when I video recorded the proceedings in the Royal Square under the long dead gaze of King George II's golden statute. That is about the same number of Jersey men who died in combat during  the war and it is no coincidence that the empty seats looked like a battle ground graveyard of tombstones...

But does it make any difference if we remember the fallen ? After all, the ghastly  killing continues as we all know in many locations across the world.
So just why did 16 millions die from 1914 to 1919 in recorded battles? What should we be really doing NOW in Jersey to help stop the murder of innocents in Syria, the Ukraine or Gaza? Is it really helpful to dress our young people in military uniforms? Does it serve any useful response purpose to dress aged combatants in the garbs of 18th century-like pantomime characters?

Is this "orchestrated tableau" just another event for our entertainment....

Part One of my video ( just over 2 minutes long) consists of images only. There is no commentary. If you don't get it than I can do no more...but just to point out that the twelve Jersey Parishes each had chosen 12 people to follow their Constables in laying wreath. That means a total of 144 people - or a gross as we used to say in olden times - yet I was unable to find any Portuguese, Polish,  Romanian, Thai, or other notably "foreign" names on the roll call. Although the Bailiff referred to the "community" in his foreword  to the official programme - the diversity of that "community" is hardly evident here...

Part One

As the evening darkened, my video camera followed the images as they presented themselves. I did not have time to plan and I forget to load that image which showed a "Portaloo" in Church Yard and another just around the corner - presumably because St Helier is so short of public toilets that these had to be provided at short notice to satisfy the "Bailiff's Panel" for the event.
What a shame that proper toilets are not available for the public 365 days....

I did not stay for the grand finale - so these Royal Square images cease at the commencement of the main theatrical event...but I did pass by Liberation Square on my way to catch the bus - and there encountered a much more enlightened and  spontaneous manifestation.  These are images  of a group of Italian STS Students making the liberation statue come to life in a way that I have never previoulsy experienced...what a pity that the official ceremonial originators did not employ these students to organise the main event...

Part Two