Christopher Meade. (Bitterly disillusioned.)
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Date Posted: 01:42:13 04/25/11 Mon
34 B Whalebone Lane South.
Inefficient, frustrating, degrading, anti enterprise, inept, ineptitude, negligent, shaming, shameful, incompetence,incompetent, oppressive, delusional, complacent, innumerate. These, and many more words of a similar hue, can, in my experience be applied to The Housing Benefit, and Council Tax Benefit Department of The London Borough of Barking and Dagenham
This may seem like a strange subject to be posting a webpage on, but if you have any experience of the bizarre, incomprehensible world of Housing and Council Tax benefit, particularly it's chaotic mismanagement in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, you will not be surprised.
I, for my sins, am a resident of the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. I have lived here for five years, and for the greater part of that time, I have had the misfortune to be unemployed. For the previous four years my situation had been the same. Since, I am in my late fifties, I was not expecting any great improvement in my situation soon. The amount of decent jobs that are available to the long term unemployed over fifties is very limited.
So I decided to take advantage of the tax credit system, and sign off to become self employed. Remember that I did not have any capital, as I had been unemployed for the better part of ten years, although not always in Barking and Dagenham. I was confident that housing benefit would continue to take care of the rent until such time as my business was showing some profit.
Accordingly at the end of July 2009 I signed off at the local Job Centre Plus, and put in my application for Tax Credits. My belief was that it would be dishonest to work full time, while claiming jobseekers allowance, as that would leave me unavailable for work.
On 26th August 2009 I officially notified the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Housing Benefit, and Council Tax Benefit Dept that I was self employed, that I had applied for tax credits, and that my business was not making any profit, as it was at the set up stage. I further advised them about a small private pension which I had of £85 per month. This written notification was hand delivered to Barking and Dagenham Housing Benefit Office at Stour Rd.
I then proceeded to set up my business. Housing, and council tax benefit continued as always. I didnt really give it another thought. I naively assumed that the benefit system was here to assist people who were trying to get off benefits. It was my desire then, as it is now, to permanently get away from dependence on state handouts, or benefit of any kind. I believed that since my actual income, after expenses, was not really any better than it had been when I was unemployed, I was entitled to a continuation in benefit, until my business started making money.
How foolish I was. I underestimated the ability of Barking and Dagenham Housing Benefit Dept to really screw up.
Nineteen months later I was still working hard to bring my business to profit. The tax credits, which had been £91 per week,(because of the over fifties element), had long been reduced to £49 per week. This meant that I would be £15 per week better off if I did not work. But I decided that I should persevere. Work gives self respect, and there were signs that the business was about to turn the corner.
All that was about to change.
The start of The Barking and Dagenham Housing Benefit chaos nightmare.
Around the middle of January 2011 I recieved a letter from The London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Housing and Council Tax Dept, advising me that my housing and council tax benefit had been suspended. They claimed to be unaware of my self employment status. This is despite the fact that they had been notified in writing in August 2009.
Since then things have become increasingly surreal in the "Daliesque" world of Barking and Dagenham Council.
I filled in a self employment form, and supplied them with nineteen months worth of bankstatements, my tax credit award letters, and a complete printout of every transaction that I had made in my business,(which is a one man internet trading enterprise involving article writing).
The printout of transactions, which has been independently verified, shows that I made £3 per month from trading.
Remember that figure. It is important.
Around the middle of February 2011, a new assessment of benefit was made. This awarded me £47 per week housing benefit, no council tax benefit, and £12 per week to be deducted from that to cover what, they say, was an overpayment from 2009. This was accompanied with a letter from Barking and Dagenham looking for a repayment of over seven thousand pounds in housing benefit.
This leaves me with a grand total of £35 per week to pay for the rent. The rent is £139 per week. So I am now obliged to find £100 per week rent, and council tax of £20 per week out of an income of £67 per week. I also have to pay £60 per month business broadband out of that.
You may ask how they managed to arrive at that assessment. I have been trying to find that out myself since.
What I did notice is that the independently verified figure of £3 per month, for my self employment income, has been inflated to £177 per week, by the apparently inumerate, and uncontactable individuals that work in the Housing Benefit, and Council Tax Benefit department at the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. It seems that the assessors plucked that figure out of the air.
Since then I have been trying to get a re assessment, and an explanation for some of the more bizarre figures used.
I have been told that I may have to wait at least another two months for that to happen. This is now April 23rd.
The rent has not been properly paid since January. My landlord is getting increasingly edgy. There is talk of my being made homeless. The longer this goes on, the more likely that will be.
When I telephone Barking and Dagenham Housing Benefit it is impossible to speak to an assessor, so no real information is available.
In conclusion may I say that this situation has arisen, precisely because I want to get off benefits, and because I did not want to be a benefit cheat, by working and claiming jobseekers allowance.
Had I been prepared to do so, or to just not really try to do anything to get off benefits, I could stay on complete housing and council tax benefit for the rest of my life.
The system is an absolute scandal, and a charter for the lazy, and the dishonest.
If you are trying, like I am, to set up a business and get off benefits, it really screws you, especially as it is operated in The London Borough of Barking and Dagenham.
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