Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2871

Tories take benefits from the poor to pay ‘forgotten’ debt

Troublemaker looks at the week's news including Tory benefit cruelty and Labour's tech lobbying
Issue 2871
A graphic of an elderly person looking stressed with overlays of over due debt letters and universal credit letters

The Universal Credit is pushing people into debt

Thousands of people face ­benefit deductions because of tax credit debts they didn’t know about. In excess of 800,000 households on Universal Credit received less money last year because they were previously awarded “too much” in tax credits, the BBC has found. More people will go on to the scheme from September.

To repay the debt, monthly benefits can be reduced by up to 25 percent by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Tax credits are initially calculated according to claimants’ circumstances at the start of each financial year. For those with fluctuating incomes and family circumstances, this can lead to wrong payments. At least 80,000 households across Britain owe £5,000 or more, which will take years to pay off.

In some cases, these debts have been forgotten about for years, coming to light only when households are placed on universal credit. With all remaining tax credits ­recipients set to be transferred on to the system from September, campaigners fear many more households will be alerted to years-old debts.

The charity Citizens Advice said an “illogical situation” had occurred in which households facing deductions were being referred to local ­authority hardship schemes—funded by the DWP—for support. Nancy Crow from Somerset currently owes more than £5,000 to the DWP, having been told she was overpaid in working and child tax credits for several years between 2005 and 2016. She is entitled to about £400 a month in benefits under universal credit, but has seen this deducted by about £50 a month.

The 61-year-old former nurse has now fallen behind on rent and says she has been left with little to survive on. She has used food banks, gone without heating and electricity, and has even resorted to payday loans.

Labour just Google it

Senior Labour Party figures accepted valuable gifts from Google in the days before abandoning a plan to tax digital giants more. Labour’s shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds, his senior parliamentary assistant—who is his wife— and Keir Starmer’s political director all attended Glastonbury festival in June as guests of YouTube, which is owned by Google.

Including accommodation and “hospitality”, Reynolds estimates his Glastonbury package for two was worth £3,377. That’s rather more than two regular tickets, which were £335 each. The next day, reports emerged that Labour had ditched its proposal to increase tax on digital businesses like Google. The Digital Services Tax, introduced in 2020, is a 2 percent levy on the British income of online companies.

In August last year, Reynolds and his shadow chancellor colleague Rachel Reeves had called for an increase in the tax to 10 percent. As recently as 5 June, Reynolds was still talking about the policy. Yet on 26 June this year, the day after Glastonbury ended, the policy had been ditched, with Labour saying it had “no plans” to raise the digital service tax.

Meanwhile Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell’s political adviser, Labour’s executive director of policy, and the party’s head of domestic policy all accepted tickets and transport to, and “hospitality” at, the Brit Awards in February from the digital giant. Starmer’s political director also accepted transport to and “hospitality” ahead of the event from Google, though his ticket, along with that of Starmer’s private secretary, was covered by Universal Music. YouTube will sponsor an event at Labour’s conference next month with the chair of the business and trade select committee, Darren Jones.  The talk, hosted by the New Statesman Media Group, will be on “harnessing tech for growth”.

Ten water companies paid no tax last year despite some of them releasing sewage into rivers and seas, according to new analysis. The water industry received nearly £97.1 million in tax rebates after the introduction of the government’s post-Covid “super deduction” rebate scheme. Northumbrian Water reported a £21.9 million tax rebate, the highest of all the firms, while it paid out a £105 million dividend this year. The tax rebates introduced by Rishi Sunak when chancellor in 2021 allowed companies to claim rebates worth 130 percent of investment.

Insurer Direct Line has admitted it ripped off customers by overcharging for their home and motor cover. Under rules introduced last year, insurers have to charge existing customers the same as they would charge new customers.  But Direct Line said last week it had not complied with the rule in some cases, meaning that “customers have paid a renewal price higher than they should have”. The company will refund anyone who has been overcharged. That will cost it £30 million.

Windsor agreement hotel to be knocked down?

A billionaire Tory donor has been ordered to tear down his five-star hotel. Surinder Arora, has been told by officials he will have to demolish all or part of his luxury Fairmont Windsor Park Hotel after building an extra wing and extending into the eaves without planning permission. The hotel tycoon, the founder and chair of Arora Group, has until October to appeal.

The council found the development had a “harmful effect on the green belt” and, if disputed, an appeal could eventually end up with Michael Gove, the communities secretary. The company was also denied planning permission for five luxury treehouses that were built on a neighbouring site and could have to tear them down. The hotel was paid £16,325 in February when it hosted Rishi Sunak and Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president, for the signing of the Windsor Framework for Northern Ireland.

The luxury venue on the edge of Windsor Great Park was used the same week for an away day for Conservative MPs paid for by the party.

Cops endemic of sick picture taking revealed 

Police officers have shared dozens of unauthorised photos of dead bodies and crime scenes on messaging services such as WhatsApp in recent years, a new investigation revealed. In the first analysis of its kind, it found a catalogue of misconduct cases in which disturbing images were sent to cops’ friends, family and colleagues. They include a Derbyshire Constabulary officer who received several images of a body and showed them to other colleagues in a parade room.

In another case last year, a Leicestershire PC took a photo of a detainee “who had soiled himself”. The officer was not sacked, with the force simply encouraging him to “learn from reflection”. And in Essex, a police officer shared images of a vulnerable child under police protection with their girlfriend.

Again, the PC responsible avoided action because he resigned before misconduct meetings took place. In total, there have been at least 45 cases since 2015 where police officers were accused of taking unauthorised photos of bodies, crime scenes, victims of crime and detainees.

Things they say

‘Hashtag GSD’ — or ‘get shit done’

Spin doctor Mark Fullbrook, told his team that Liz Truss was to have a ‘seven-year premiership’ with the slogan

“I still struggle to process how a woman so brilliant, so ruthless, so determined could have got it all so wrong’

A Truss ally reflects on how the 44 days Truss was actually prime minister went

‘We want a semi insurrection,  but in a helpful way’

A Tory MP explains the latest faction in the parliamentary party is rebellious—but not too much

‘Officers should not be wearing or waving badges or flags that undermine their oath of impartiality’

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has launched an inquiry into whether the cops are too  woke

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