Total of 40 minutes and more on hold to the DWP’s Universal Credit Debt Management line

From Kate Belgrave’s blog:

Keeping a record of these things:

Yesterday morning, I made two calls to the DWP’s Debt Management “helpline” – the 0345 850 0293 number that people who receive benefits, including Universal Credit, must use to sort out problems with debt money that the DWP deducts from people’s Universal Credit payments.

I had to call twice yesterday (I didn’t have all the information that DWP Debt Management required the first time around. Unfortunately, I had to make the first call to find that out). I was on hold for more than 20 minutes both times to that 0345 850 0293 DWP Debt Management helpline, as you can see in the image below. I also called the line on Friday and was on hold for more than ten minutes, before I had to hang up to deal with something else.

As far as I can tell, this number has a charge. (I have a phone contract which covers those charges – that’s why I make calls for people who don’t). I hope this is one of the numbers that David Gauke has decided will be free soon. All helplines lines should have been free in the first place (I’d ask the DWP’s press office where things are at on all of these lines, but their answer to all my questions these days is to submit an FOI. So I have).

People who ring the DWP Debt Management helpline only ring that number because they have a debt problem and are in serious financial hardship. They can least afford extra charges for phone calls:

read more here: http://www.katebelgrave.com/2017/10/total-of-40-minutes-and-more-on-hold-to-the-dwps-universal-credit-debt-management-line/

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Magistrate suspended after trying to pay asylum seeker’s court charge resigns over treatment

A senior Leicestershire magistrate was suspended and investigated by one of the country’s highest judicial bodies after he tried to pay a defendant’s fine in court.

Nigel Allcoat, 65, of Burbage, who has since resigned, tried to pay towards the £180 criminal courts charge levied on a penniless asylum seeker who appeared before him at Leicester Magistrates three weeks ago.

Since April, dozens of magistrates across the country have resigned in protest at the court charges, which came into effect in April, after being introduced by the previous justice secretary, Chris Grayling. The charges were brought in as a means of ensuring convicted adult offenders paid towards the cost of running the criminal justice system.

Mr Allcoat, a world class musician, said: “What happened in my court three weeks ago in the Magistrates’ Court in Pocklingtons Walk was utterly appalling. It concerned an asylum seeker in his 20s who was ordered in June to pay this charge of £180. He was before me as a fine defaulter. As an asylum seeker his papers and situation is still being considered by our country and the immigration officials. He has a top-up card of £35 a week to purchase necessities in designated stores.”

He added: ” When he first appeared in court in June before another bench, a friend who runs a Leicester food stall, who occasionally fed him, paid a £60 victim surcharge on behalf of the asylum seeker. This was a generous and human act and should be applauded.

“However, before me as a fine defaulter, he was going to be further criminalized for non-payment of the court charge. If he was found with, or earned money, he would also break the law and thus jeopardise his status as an asylum seeker. I was appalled that he should be in such a Catch 22 situation, as which ever way he went he would break the law.”

He added: “As a magistrate, my main aim was to stop re-offending. Therefore, I took money from my pocket in court to pay some of the £180 in a pure humanitarian act to stop him being brought back to court as a fine defaulter again.

“This act brought me suspension and a full enquiry by the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Committee and I have not sat since that day. Now that my resignation has a long last been accepted I can now speak openly.”

He added: “To be taken to task in such a way for what I considered a humanitarian act beggars belief.

Crippling court costs force poverty-stricken people to ‘plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit’

Poverty-stricken people are being encouraged to plead guilty to crimes they did not commit out of fear they will face crippling costs imposed by new financial penalties, leading lawyers, magistrates and campaigners have warned.

Legal experts have called for an urgent review of the criminal courts charge, which has been compared to “18th-century” forms of justice after being implemented earlier this year.

The new levy was introduced by the former Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, to make criminals pay for the upkeep of the courts. Because the charge can be up to 10 times higher if someone is found guilty after pleading innocence, critics say it is undermining the justice system by encouraging impoverished defendants to plead guilty even if they have done nothing wrong.

The charge is not means-tested or adjusted according to the seriousness of the crime. In the magistrates’ court it is fixed at £150 if someone pleads guilty, but it can rise to £1,000 if they are found guilty. Campaigners also say it has created an extra hardship for those whose crimes are motivated by poverty – and makes the punishment for small crimes disproportionate.

Many of those affected are homeless or unemployed, with no hope of paying. Recently subjected to the charge were a man who stole three bottles of baby milk, a woman who pinched a £2.39 bottle of shampoo and a homeless man who took a 99p can of Red Bull.

The Independent has learnt of a case this week where a man from Portsmouth was made to pay the £150 charge – as well as a £250 fine and a £25 victim surcharge – after pleading guilty to stealing a £1 bag of chocolate buttons from WHSmith. The charge was levied just a month after his application for bankruptcy was accepted.

The new policy was introduced on 13 April but since the charge can only be imposed on those whose crimes were committed after that date, the courts are only just beginning to see the full effect. At least 30 magistrates – many of them among  the most experienced – have already stepped down from the bench over the changes and many more are predicted to resign as further cases come through.

read the rest of this article here: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/crippling-court-costs-force-povertystricken-people-to-plead-guilty-to-crimes-they-didnt-commit-10466451.html

Abandoned for the sake of 42p: Desert Rat hero, 99, fought off Rommel… only to be left helpless on the floor for two days after council cut his intercom

* Harold Lee, 99, fell over in Derby and was unable to get up or call for help
* He used to have a free intercom but it was taken away a few weeks ago
* Former Desert Rat was discovered only when his grandson came to visit

A war veteran aged 99 lay helplessly in pain on the floor of his sheltered accommodation for two and a half days after a free intercom service that could have alerted staff was cut to save just 42 pence a day.

Former Desert Rat Harold Lee feared he would die alone after he fell face down and was unable to get up or call for help.

A pendant alarm the great-grandfather was carrying landed out of reach when  he collapsed.And his intercom – through which he had been getting a call every morning from a manager to check he was OK – had been disconnected weeks earlier after he refused to pay a new 42p daily charge imposed in council funding cuts. The widower, who lost his wife Mabel two years ago, was saved only when his grandson Jaa, 24, came to visit him and found him on the floor.

Mr Lee’s son Jules, 63, said the family felt ‘extremely let down and disappointed’ at the way the Second World War hero has been treated.

‘It could have been fatal had he not been found,’ he said. ‘This is a man who made this country what it is by going to war so you would think he’d be worth 42p a day.’

Mr Lee, who has four grandchildren and two great grandchildren, maintained yesterday that he would not pay the new charge because it had been ‘thrust upon him’ and had not been part of his agreement when he moved in.

By Paul Bently in the ‘Daily Mail’ 27th August 2013. Read more here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2402212/Desert-Rat-hero-Harold-Lee-99-left-helpless-floor-2-days-council-cut-intercom.html