A non-partisan journal of the left.

Nice little earner

Sat 22nd Sep 2012

This paragraph appeared in the Guardian's piece this week about the death of London gangster Charlie Richardson (pictured). Now that's how to run a Social Security appeal!

Officers gathered evidence of how individuals were brought before Richardson and his sidekick "Mad" Frankie Fraser for a mock trial before punishments were handed out.

Victims were burned with cigarettes, whipped, had teeth pulled out with pliers, nailed to the floor, given electric shocks and had toes and fingers removed. The torture was known as "taking a shirt from Charlie", because the crime boss would hand a clean shirt to his bloodied and traumatised victims after the attack.

I am kidding, of course. The tribunals stop short of actually inflicting physical torture on their victims (sorry, that should read "on appellants"), but humiliation, rudeness and a presumption of dishonesty are certainly regular occurrences. Claimants might not leave with fewer teeth or fingernails than they had when they entered the tribunal suite but they may very well be no better off financially and be feeling considerably more indignant than they were before they entered.

When it comes to dishonesty, though, it may be that the tribunals have more knowledge of the subject than one would expect. I walked up to my local suite to deliver a letter at 3.05pm recently and was surprised to see the Judge driving away from the building and no-one left inside apart from the security guard. Since the Judge and his/her wing members are paid their very generous fees on the basis that a session should last for three hours (and in the afternoon that means from 2pm to 5pm) it strikes me that knocking off early in this way while claiming the full whack is, in effect, cheating the taxpayer out of money. There is, after all, no moral difference between charging 3 hours pay for 1 hours work and fiddling one's expenses by claiming mileage payments for unmade journeys.

Now, it is possible that I have misread the situation and that the tribunal members are paid pro rata. I have put in a Freedom of Information request in order to find out so I may be able to put everyone's mind at rest, but in case they are indeed paid the full amount regardless of how long a session lasts then what we are seeing here is cheating on a huge scale, since, in my experience, at least 9 times out every 10 a tribunal session does not for last the full three hours.

If I am down to represent in an appeal at, say 2.40pm or 3.20pm and there is a cancellation earlier in the day, then I am always asked if my client and I are prepared to come in early, thereby allowing the tribunal members to leave before 5. It is not unknown for the a session to be cancelled entirely or to be over in half an hour or an hour, in which case the likelihood is that the building will be vacated a good couple of hours ahead of schedule.

If the Judge and wing members are taking their full entitlement while not putting in a full shift then that makes their frequently snobbish and arrogant behaviour even worse because it amounts to cheats accusing honest people of cheating. It is, frankly, bad enough that the Tribunals Service is so notorious for its poor administration and bizarre decisions without adding fraud into the mix as well.

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