A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) whistleblower has described how a “mismanaged” and under-funded social security system is leaving many disability benefit claimants penniless and helpless.George* works on DWP’s employment and support allowance (ESA) helpline and has told Disability News Service (DNS) that the experience has left him shocked and frustrated at the deeply flawed system.And he also says he believes – although he does not have direct evidence of this – that DWP decision-makers do have targets for the proportion of claimants that they need to find “fit for work”, and so ineligible for ESA.A colleague in another part of DWP, who works with a decision-maker, told him that this member of staff “hates his job” because he has to “disallow people” and had been “struggling to hit his disallowance targets”.Although DNS has been unable to verify this claim, disabled activists have been warning for years that they believe DWP decision-makers, and the healthcare professionals who work for the government contractor Maximus, are set targets for the proportion of claimants they must find fit for work.But DWP has continued to deny imposing any such targets and no-one has been able to provide strong evidence that they exist.George says he believes such targets do exist, although he cannot prove it.“I think decision-makers are trying to meet targets,” he says.He believes the same reason explains why so many mandatory reconsiderations – DWP’s internal review, the first stage of the appeal process if a claimant wants to dispute a benefit eligibility decision – are unsuccessful when the success rates of appeals at tribunals are so much higher.Meanwhile, there are many concerns that he has raised for which he has does have his own direct, troubling evidence.The lack of resources – and the “antiquated” system – can leave desperate claimants waiting well over an hour on the telephone for their call to be put through to an adviser.George says: “Every day you think to yourself, ‘how can this possibly be happening?’ But it is.“It is the sheer incompetence of the system that is so worrying.”He says the problems with the IT and telephone systems used by DWP to deal with benefit claims are getting worse.“We were just talking about this in the office last week. We have noticed an increase in customers being shafted,” he says.“More customers are coming through who are more angry, more irate, more aggressive, displaying what we call ‘unacceptable customer behaviour’.”He says there is a reason for this anger and aggression.“Some of the decisions made, the way they are made, are driving people to become more and more aggressive, more and more frustrated and angry,” he says.He believes that many of the problems are caused by ingrained flaws in the system for dealing with the evidence that claimants need to send by post, such as doctors’ letters or reports from consultants.The way the system should work is that this evidence is opened at one of several huge mail handling sites and then scanned into the system.An electronic alert – a “ping” – is then sent to the relevant benefit centre to alert staff that they need to look at that piece of evidence.But George says that this system frequently breaks down, particularly at times when a large number of “pings” have been sent to a particular benefit centre in a short space of time, which means some pieces of evidence fall through the gaps and are not looked at.One such occasion saw an ESA application – submitted by a woman with terminal cancer who only had a few months to live – fall into what he calls a “black hole” for six months because the relevant benefit centre had not responded to the “ping”.And he says that certain benefit centres have a reputation for incompetence, while others appear to work smoothly and efficiently and rarely cause problems for claimants.He says he did not even know there was a benefits centre in St Helens until he was four months into his job, because he never received calls from claimants who had been dealt with by that centre and were having problems with their claims.“Whatever they do seems to work,” he says. “But I deal with complaints from other benefit centres all the time, all the time. It’s just so frustrating.”The worst, he says, is Clydebank, in Scotland. “It just needs deleting or subject to a massive overhaul in such a way that its shocking poor customer service is never seen again.”He says he was not surprised to hear of a case reported last month by DNS, in which a long-term disability living allowance claimant received a mandatory reconsideration notice – turning down her appeal – before she had even received a decision notice telling her that her claim for the new personal independence payment had been rejected.“That’s a new one, but nothing surprises me,” he says. “I’m not in any way surprised. Working here is like being a cast member in Carry On Benefits.”Another key issue that he faces daily is when claimants ring him for help because they have not received appointment letters or ESA questionnaires and – as a result – their claim for ESA has been terminated by DWP because they failed to reply.He says that many letters setting dates for face-to-face assessments or enclosing the questionnaires – which are supposed to be sent out by Maximus – never arrive.He frequently hears from claimants who never received the initial letter, or a follow-up letter, but do receive a subsequent letter that tells them their claim has been terminated.He says: “I just find it rather odd. The frustrating thing for the customer is they need to prove they didn’t receive a letter. How can you prove that? You can’t.”Again, he cannot prove that the original letters are not being sent out by Maximus, but he says there are frequently “clusters” of cases in a particular geographical area of claimants who say their letters never arrived.George says: “It’s a reasonable assumption that there is something going quite wrong, either with Maximus or Royal Mail.”Asked if he believes this is a deliberate attempt, either by DWP or Maximus, to cut the caseload – and therefore spending on ESA – he says: “I don’t know, but it has crossed my mind, without a doubt.“It’s really strange that someone wouldn’t get a letter inviting them to attend a WCA, or their ESA50, but they do get their decision notice.“I can’t remember the last time I didn’t get my hospital appointment, birthday/Christmas cards, bank statements, etcetera.“Yet, 1000s of people a week aren’t getting the post that means their ESA benefit can function.“Any other institution would surely want to remove that doubt and devise a system that works better or that offers an increased level of contact for appointments or for filling in their ESA50 form. Why can’t the DWP?”He adds: “I’m going to keep helping people but HM Government need to give me the flexibility to do that task and remove the troublesome obstructions that harm the DWP, the customers and the staff.”George says he deals every day with cases of sick and disabled people who have been left with no money to survive on because of the flaws in the system.DWP stopped providing community care grants and crisis loans in 2013, transferring responsibility for new local welfare assistance schemes to local authorities in England and the devolved governments in Wales and Scotland.But research carried out soon after the changeover found that funding for the schemes had almost halved compared with 2010, while many councils were no longer able to provide interest-free emergency loans through their schemes, with many replacing cash grants with benefits such as food bank vouchers and pre-paid store cards.Charities working in the field have not been able this week to update DNS on the current position with the funding of local welfare assistance schemes.But George says that reduced support from these schemes, combined with the flawed system he has to deal with, means he is dealing three or four times every day with people who are left with no money as they try to resolve their situation with DWP.“With people in certain areas, you just have to say to them: ‘There isn’t anything,’” he says.He tries to help by providing details of local welfare advice agencies and support services, but he says he is often left in despair at the situations he has to deal with.George says: “I joined the DWP with a totally open mind as I’d never worked for a government department before, and up to now the people I work with are some of the most dedicated I’ve ever come across but the systems they have to work with, the rules they have to work under, and the situations they are asked to deal with, are so obscene it beggars belief.“The DWP can’t update its system, as to do so would allegedly be seen as a ‘waste of public money’, and yet it is those systems that let our customers down.”He says the continuing roll-out of universal credit “will drive more and more people into a very deep hole” because those who previously would have received ESA will now be paid monthly rather than every two weeks.“This is a cruel, inhumane and pointless exercise. We will have desperate people with medical conditions, with children, facing down the barrel of a penniless Christmas and not a single drop of help coming forward from HM Government.“What am I meant to say to those people when they ring and beg for ESA to take them back? It has happened already and as universal credit continues to roll out, it will increase.”He adds: “Text me on a random day next week and ask me for my ‘nightmare of the day’ and I bet you I can tell you something absolutely shocking. “Friday’s nightmare was that Newport service centre had just two people processing messages, so they weren’t calling customers back… messages were being sent through to them but none were being answered. “Caerphilly benefit centre had one person working on the messages from customers that are passed through people like me.“Just one, it is absolutely disgusting.”After being shown the interview with the whistleblower, a DWP spokesman said: “There’s no evidence to support these claims, which are completely unfounded.“We’re very clear that we don’t have targets to find people fit for work, and never have.“Each year we make hundreds of millions of payments to 18 million customers, the vast majority of which are paid correctly and without incident.“The reality is our dedicated employees are committed to helping people get the support they need.”He added: “The DWP has taken a positive and proactive attitude towards whistleblowing and we have mechanisms in place for our employees to report any concerns of wrongdoing without fear of reprisal.”But George said: “I’d encourage whistleblowing and would do it without an issue if I became aware of illegal activity by DWP colleagues.“But what I have talked about here is either an open secret or DWP policy so there is not much point in me making a report.“I try and help the people I deal with and that’s all I can do, really.”*Not his real name
The tenants told the court Maldonado collected rent from them and lied about passing it onto the landlord, Thomas Aquilina. Tenants lived as many as four people to a room, amidst broken smoke detectors, leaky pipes, burnt-out or exposed electrical outlets, and infestations of mice, bedbugs and roaches. The rear bedrooms in the building were also individually rented and therefore locked doors blocked access to the fire escapes.German Maldonado being interviewed in 2009 by Mission Local reporter Stefania Rousselle on the opening of his new champagne bar on Valencia Street.Eventually, it became clear that Maldonado had failed to pass on the rent he was collecting to the landlord, despite collecting at times nearly twice the assigned rent for a single apartment, according to testimony from the tenants. Tenants also alleged that Maldonado would threaten them with physical harm or with reporting them to immigration authorities when disagreements arose. Where the money he collected actually went was unclear.“To put it charitably, Maldonado has been inconsistent,” Ulmer wrote.Finally, in 2014, Aquilina, the landlord, hired a management firm for the building and issued three-day eviction notices to all tenants. Maldonado managed to stay in place, while every other tenant was evicted. Aquilina has never explained why Maldonado remains.Though tenants sought damages for eviction without just cause, as they had been paying their rent, the judge found Maldonado not liable for this as it was Aquilina who actually issued the evictions.“Aquilina’s apartment building is now being renovated, presumably for wealthier tenants,” Ulmer commented in the interim ruling.Tenants testified at trial that they suffered depression, hair loss, insomnia, and lost appetite, and also ended up missing work hours. One was rendered homeless, and subsequently fired from her job. Another said she was rejected from 50 apartments she applied to, because the landlords saw she was involved in a legal battle with a former landlord.Mark Hooshmand, the lawyer representing the tenants, cautioned that the ruling may still be challenged.“That being said we’re hopeful that this decision becomes the final decision and then we can focus on next steps,” Hooshmand wrote. He later added, “The tentative decision which is based on the trial testimony says a lot about the current housing crisis and the current difficulties tenants are facing and how we all need to take a step back to see how we can work together to prevent people from being harmed.” Tags: displacement • housing • immigrants Share this: FacebookTwitterRedditemail,0% San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard B. Ulmer Jr. issued a tentative ruling Friday in a case brought by nine tenants against their master tenant, writing, that it was “not hyperbolic” to call the building German Maldonado ran at 3150-3154 26th Street “a death trap.”“This court trial told a tawdry tale from the seamy side of San Francisco’s hyper-inflated housing market,” the judge wrote in the tentative ruling, which may be challenged in an upcoming hearing and will not be finalized until October. The ruling awards each of the nine tenants in three units varying amounts between $67,000 and $110,000 in damages.“Despite the conditions, tenants paid as much as $800 a month for a room — they could afford nothing better in America’s most expensive rental market,” Judge Ulmer wrote.Maldonado was found liable for fraud, neglecting the building, profiteering, causing emotional distress, and causing the tenants to lose work income. 0%
“Once he was on the ground in the prone position and I could see the gun, [I kept firing],” he said. Adante Pointer, who is representing Nieto’s parents, said during opening statements on Tuesday that the 59 shots fired were excessive because officers should have recognized Nieto was not firing a pistol. There was no muzzle flash or recoil from Nieto’s weapon, Pointer said on Wednesday, and no bullets coming in the officers’ direction.“You didn’t hear any rounds making contact with glass, you couldn’t hear any rounds making contact with anything, correct?” Pointer asked Schiff during questioning. He was the first of the pair to be called to the stand by the plaintiffs.Schiff said he heard the rounds he and Sawyer were shooting and did not know that Nieto wasn’t returning fire until after the incident. “In fact, he hadn’t fired a single shot,” Pointer said.“Unless you count firing a taser a shot,” Schiff replied.Pointer asked whether Schiff saw the taser emit any prongs or confetti, as he said they do when fired. No, Schiff replied, he did not see anything come out of the stun gun. He continued to fire because he recognized the red laser sight coming from Nieto’s weapon as “a tactical aid for picking up sights” that would have allowed Nieto better accuracy, Schiff testified.Joining the “rookie and the vet” — as Pointer called Schiff and Sawyer — in court on Wednesday were the other two officers who killed Nieto, Roger Morse and Nathan Chew. Sitting on the right-hand side of the court, the four chatted and occasionally laughed with their counsel during breaks — more jocular than the plaintiffs and their counsel a few feet away.Pointer and his two-man team were largely silent, ruffling papers and jotting down notes between testimony. They seldom spoke to their clients — Nieto’s parents, Refugio and Elvira — who sat unsmiling in the first row while receiving live translation via headpieces.But Pointer was more animated on the stand, where he frequently gesticulated while asking for the story of Nieto’s shooting from the two officers who testified Wednesday.Schiff and Sawyer responded to Bernal Heights Park that day two years ago after receiving a dispatch call about an armed Latino man wearing a red jacket. Both discussed the possibility that the red jacket might mean he was a gang member, but Sawyer said they didn’t “assume” so.After arriving at the park, Schiff drove their patrol car up a paved road onto Bernal Hill and stopped some 30 yards from Nieto, who he testified was walking towards them down the hill “purposefully” from around a bend.“When you stopped the car…yourself and Sergeant Sawyer immediately opened the car doors and got out with your firearms drawn?” asked Pointer.“Yes, I pulled out my firearm as soon as possible,” Schiff replied.“No one had called out to this person before you got out of your car?” Pointer asked, referring to the car’s megaphone. Schiff said it wasn’t used — nor were the squad car’s lights or sirens deployed — because it would have revealed the officers’ location. He testified, however, that the officers did shout for Nieto to show his hands, which were at his side.“To the best of my recollection, I was only able to yell ‘Show me your hands, show me your hands,’” Schiff said. “I’m not sure I was able to finish it the second time.”Schiff testified that Nieto responded “‘No, show me your hands,’” which he took to mean Nieto had heard him.At that point, Schiff testified, Nieto’s hands went to his hip and then came up to chest level in a “fighting stance” that indicated Nieto was going to shoot. The entire exchange lasted a second and a half, Schiff said in later testimony. Both Schiff and Sawyer reacted by emptying their clips, Pointer said, firing 13 bullets, reloading their magazines, and firing part of another clip each. Schiff fired 23 shots total and Sawyer 20, according to Pointer, who specified that the semi-automatic weapons required a trigger pull for every shot.“Every one of those squeezes of the trigger, you actually have to be justified in pulling the trigger?” Pointer asked.“Absolutely,” Schiff said. “I’m responsible for every single round.”Rebecca Bers, a deputy city attorney and one of Schiff’s lawyers, began her own questioning by asking the officer about his motivations for being on the force and about his family. Schiff’s father is a police officer, he testified, a fact that Pointer remarked upon after Bers’s brief questioning.“Given your father’s a member of the police department…wouldn’t you be embarrassed if you killed a person with no justification?” Pointer asked.“Absolutely,” Schiff replied.“Doesn’t that give you a justification for concocting a story?” Pointer asked.“Absolutely not,” Schiff answered.Pointer then began questioning Lieutenant Sawyer — promoted from sergeant since the shooting — whose examination revealed little new information but did reveal differences in testimony between the two officers.In what seemed a different description of Nieto walking towards the pair, Sawyer testified that Nieto was eating from a bag of chips while coming down the hill. That appeared to contradict Schiff, who said Nieto’s hands were at his sides.Sawyer continued, “He throws the bag of chips down and says ‘You show me your hands.’ He pulls up the right side of his jacket, pulls out a gun, and points it at us.” That description was slightly different than Schiff’s, who did not mention a bag of chips and said Nieto brought both hands up to his chest to aim the gun.Sawyer then repeated Schiff’s testimony: The pair opened fire, Nieto hit the ground in a prone position while still grasping his gun, and both officers continued firing.“I don’t recall at what point he hit the ground,” he said. “As long as the weapon was pointing at me, I kept firing.”Margaret Baumgartner, a deputy city attorney also representing the officers, got Sawyer to expand on that response. Sawyer told her that Nieto did not “stop [or] pause” after the verbal warnings and did not “wince or drop the gun” after the first few shots.“There was no reaction [from Nieto], no visible reaction at all,” Sawyer said. “Initially I thought it was possible he could’ve had a bulletproof vest.”Baumgartner asked whether that changed Sawyer’s approach.“Once I realized there was no reaction, I picked up my sights and aimed for the head,” Sawyer said. “It was only once we weren’t having any success at all that I changed it and aimed for the head.”The Medical Examiner’s report shows Nieto was shot twice in the head. He suffered 14 or 15 gunshot wounds from at least 10 bullets, the report states, and was also shot in the chest, arms, legs, shoulders, hands, and back.Sawyer ended the day saying that only when Nieto’s “head went down and body went limp” did he know the threat was over. He never second-guessed Nieto’s intentions, Sawyer said.“I had no doubt,” he testified. “I had no doubt that he was trying to shoot us.”On Thursday, Sawyer will finish his testimony. The other two officers — Morse and Chew — are also scheduled to appear, along with expert witnesses. The trial could last until next Friday, when the jury of eight will have to decide on a verdict.A criminal trial against the officers was dismissed last February by the city attorney, so the jury’s verdict will not render criminal charges against the officers. Instead, the jury will decide whether to award an as-yet unspecified amount of financial damages to the Nieto family. 0% Tags: alex nieto Share this: FacebookTwitterRedditemail,0% See Mission Local’s full coverage of the Alex Nieto shooting here.An officer the plaintiffs called a “rookie” took the stand in a federal district courtroom on Wednesday to say that he shot at 28-year-old Alex Nieto on the afternoon of March 21, 2014, “because I was afraid for my life, the lives of Sergeant Sawyer and other officers.”“As soon as I could I tried to fire,” Richard Schiff told the jury gathered before Judge Nathanael Cousins. Schiff had been on the force just two and a half months the day of the shooting, he testified, and was being evaluated in the field by Sergeant Jason Stewart, another one of the four officers who shot and killed Nieto.Schiff and Stewart said they shot at Nieto because he was armed with a stun gun that looked like a pistol. Even after the first volley of shots brought Nieto to the ground, he was still a threat because “his head was still up, the gun was still pointing, he was in a position which still represents a serious threat,” Schiff testified.
0% Tags: crime • District Attorney Share this: FacebookTwitterRedditemail,0% Car break-ins in San Francisco have reached epidemic proportions, and city employees aren’t immune.Now it’s the Office of the District Attorney’s turn. Thankfully, it wasn’t a gun stolen from a car this time. But the item lost to a burglar or burglars is tied to San Francisco homicides. An alert sent to San Francisco police officers this week noted that a stolen work laptop left overnight in a DA employee’s car contained “sensitive information related to SFDA homicide cases.” Any officer who comes across the computer is advised to “contact an SIT or DOC immediately.” (That’s the Station Investigations Team or Department Operations Center, incidentally).The computer was stolen earlier last week; Mission Local is not printing the address or exact date of the incident, so as not to inadvertently alert the laptop’s thief of its contents. DA spokesman Max Szabo said that his office was in the process of drafting policy regarding the stowing of work laptops in cars prior to the theft. He declined to discuss much of the sensitive information for obvious reasons, but added that DA work computers are password protected. The SFPD and DA, incidentally, aren’t the only city departments to fall victim to San Francisco’s wave of car break-ins. In 2015, one of the nine drones purchased by the Recreation and Park Department was purloined from an employee’s car.More notorious, however, have been the bevy of guns filched from the parked cars of law enforcement officers in this and nearby cities. Most infamously, the gun used to shoot Kate Steinle on Pier 14 was stolen from the car of a Bureau of Land Management employee; of late, a San Francisco police officer’s gun, taken from his private car, was used in a Mission District killing and a San Francisco Sheriff’s Deputy was dismissed after a firearm was nicked from his rental vehicle.
SAINTS have named their 19-man squad for Friday’s First Utility Super League Round 17 fixture with Salford Red Devils.Mark Percival returns to the roster with Jack Ashworth dropping out.Keiron Cunningham will select his 17 from:2. Tommy Makinson, 3. Jordan Turner, 4. Josh Jones, 5. Adam Swift, 6. Travis Burns, 8. Mose Masoe, 9. James Roby, 10. Kyle Amor, 12. Jon Wilkin, 13. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 14. Alex Walmsley, 15. Mark Flanagan, 17. Mark Percival, 18. Luke Thompson, 19. Greg Richards, 25. Andre Savelio, 29. Olly Davies, 30. Matty Fleming, 34. Shannon McDonnell.Iestyn Harris will choose his Salford side from:2. Ben Jones-Bishop, 4. Junior Sau, 5. Greg Johnson, 6. Rangi Chase, 8. Adrian Morley, 11. Harrison Hansen, 12. Weller Hauraki, 14. Theo Fages, 15. Darrell Griffin, 16. Scott Taylor, 17. Jordan Walne, 18. Mason Caton-Brown, 19. Niall Evalds, 22. Jay Walton, 24. Liam Hood, 25. George Griffin, 26. Carl Forster, 31. Cory Paterson, 36. Josh Wood.The game kicks off at 8pm and the referee is Ben Thaler.Ticket details for the game can be found here.