THANK YOU - CAMPAIGN SUCCESS
Firstly, can we thank you for your support this week regarding the your opposition to the closure of our website and unannounced visits. We understand you have had a response to your e-mail from Manchester City Council. There are a number of things we disagree with in their e-mail. For instance, there was no removal of any material last October and it is the first we have heard of such claim. Furthermore, the letter made no reference to the fact that both officers and members right up until last Friday were sticking to their view that 'verification visits' should be unannounced in all, but a few, cases.
However, in their e-mail contain an important line: 'The position is that in most cases the Verification Framework visits will be notified'. We have sought further clarification on this sentence and asked whether or not 'notified' is used intentionally or is a typing error. We are very pleased to confirm that 'notified' was indeed the intended word.
Therefore, Manchester City Council have finally reversed its long and entrenched position and have decided to pre-notify 'verification visits'. Although we will still need some clarification on what they mean by 'most cases' we do see this as a significant breakthrough which we welcome whole heartedly.
Without the very tiring campaigning of the last twelve months, this reversal would never have happened. Moreover, the events of the last week strongly influenced the councils' decision to pre-notify visits. The response to our appeal to write protest letters was overwhelming.
We cannot thank you enough for taking the time to write your letter. Your efforts this week have helped close a particular dark chapter in Manchester City Council's history. It has been a good week overall for the mentally ill in Manchester. Yesterday, the House of Lords rejected Manchester City Council's appeal in which they sought legal support for their rather inhuman attempt to charge mentally ill patients for after-care.
Thousands of vulnerable people will not get the opportunity to thank you in person for your part this week in helping them avoid the tyranny of an unannounced visit, so can we take this opportunity in 'Justice' to thank you on their behalf.
From: "Susan Orrell" [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: 26 July 2002 13:44
Subject: Council Policy
AOL WEBSITE COMPLAINT
The Council has received a number of complaints regarding the removal of a website. It has been alleged that the Council requested that the website be closed down.
The history of the matter is that the Council contacted AOL in October 2001 informing them that a website, members.aol.com/mcrcouncil, contained potentially defamatory statements about Council officers and members. The Council asked AOL to review the website and if in agreement advise what steps it would take to remove this material. AOL responded by removing the potentially defamatory material.
In June 2002, it was brought to the Council's attention that the potentially defamatory material had been reinstated on the website. The Council contacted AOL informing them of this and repeating the request that AOL advise the Council what steps it would take to remove this material.
AOL in a statement dated 19 July 2002 notified the Council:-
We have taken the appropriate action against our member, and the site has been removed. For reasons of privacy we are unable to reveal details on individual actions taken, but options available to us include written warnings, account suspension and complete termination of service.
AOL's decision to close websites is a matter between AOL and it's customers governed by the contractual arrangements between them. The Council's complaint was against material that constitutes a potential breach of the law and the Council reserves its right to take appropriate action in relation to such potential breaches.
At no time did the Council request that the website be closed down that was a decision taken by AOL. It is hoped that this information allays concerns that the Council sought to indiscriminately censor material which did not fall foul of the law.
Un-notified visits complaint
The above website relates to a campaign to "stop unannounced visits to the mentally ill in Manchester". The Council has also received in connection with the AOL website complaint a number of complaints about concerns that it makes immoral visits to the mentally ill.
The Council follows government guidelines in conducting un-notified residency visits as outlined in the DWP Verification Framework guidance manual. The Council has not adopted the Verification Framework in its entirety, but has adopted a number of the checks contained within it.
Following a complaint made in relation to an un-notified visit that took place in December 2000, the Council confirmed to the complainant that had it been aware of the individual's particular circumstances prior to this initial visit an appointment would have been arranged. The second visit was notified, as will any subsequent visits.
The Verification Framework guidance applicable when this visit took place stated:-
Where possible all initial visits specified in the Framework should be un-notified. However it is recognised that in some individual cases it may be appropriate for the visiting officer to make an appointment. In previewing a case before a visit, an officer should use their judgment and may notify the claimant of the visit if it is reasonable to do so. For example, where the claimant is very old and/or infirm, is resident in a women's refuge, is mentally ill, or relies upon an appointee.
The visit in December 2000 was one of many undertaken as part of a non-residency exercise to detect fraud following recommendations issued to the Council by the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate in their report of June 2000 that it should increase its number of targeted residency visits to high risk groups and cited single adults between the ages 25 to 49 as an example. The residents visited were a random selection from this target group in the Manchester area. The visit followed Verification Framework guidance. Of the 8,792 un-notified visits made by the benefits audit team between 1 April 2000 and 31 March 2001 this was the only complaint of this nature received.
In exercising its discretion as to whether a visit should be notified the Council relies upon prior knowledge of an individual's needs which may not always be available. The Council will where notified of a particular individual's needs ensure that such information is shared sensitively between relevant department's in so far as it is able to having regard to confidentiality and data protection issues.
The Council has a duty to balance an individual's rights against it's obligations under benefit fraud legislation and Benefit Fraud Inspectorate recommendations.
The Verification Framework adopted in April 2002 states:-
In most cases Verification Framework visits will be notified. There will be exceptions to this and local authorities should continue to carry out un-notified visits where the individual circumstances of the case suggest that the element of surprise may be useful, for example, in order to detect fraud ... Different local authorities will wish to carry out un-notified visits in different circumstances, depending on their own risk analysis and local knowledge.
The position is that in most cases the Verification Framework visits will be notified. Where it is known that a claimant has particular needs the Council will arrange a notified visit unless there are very strong reasons not to.
As a direct result of the complaint received in December 2000 the Council has changed its working practices and has amended the letter left by their officers where a claimant is not in asking them to contact the Council to include a statement that the claimant should confirm whether they would like a friend or supporter to be present at the rescheduled visit. The implication that the Council should seek information about the state of health of all applicants at the time a benefit claim is made, merely for the purpose of targeting un-notified visits is considered an unjustified intrusion into an individual's privacy and, since this would be open to abuse, is likely to compromise the Council's ability to effectively detect and prevent benefit fraud.
The Council constantly seeks to revise and improve its strategies for dealing with benefit fraud and for increased sensitivity in dealing with claimants particular needs and vulnerabilities.
PLEASE Help - Disability website banned!
PLEASE PLEASE HELP
Manchester City Council have had our disability website pulled.
We have been engaged in a campaign to stop unannounced visits to the mentally ill in Manchester for nearly two years. Last year, after council stubbornness, we were forced to launch a website to disseminate publicity about the immoral visits - a practice NOT recommended by the government itself. Indeed, government best-practice guidance in the form of the Verification Framework (VF) explicitly states that local authorities should pre-notify home visits. Manchester City Council is one of the few local authorities that REFUSE to sign the VF.
Please support us by complaining to Manchester City Council directly. We believe it is the city solicitor, Susan Orrell who initiated the demand to AOL (the host server) to close down the site, which they subsequently did. Please write a complaint e-mail to her at:
Susan Orrell [ email@example.com ]
Please also cc it to:
Council Leader Leese [ firstname.lastname@example.org ]
Council Deputy Leader Pagel [ email@example.com ]
(Lead Member on Disability Issues)
Chief Executive Howard Bernstein [ firstname.lastname@example.org ]
Corporate Director Richard Paver [ email@example.com ]
John Rosenbloom [ firstname.lastname@example.org ]
(Housing Benefit 'Audit' Teamleader)
Also, please cc it to AOL [ UKBillA@aol.com ] so that they are made aware that dropping sites that in no way breaches the law is scandalously and tantamount to political censorship and contravenes free speech, civil liberties and human rights.
And, if you do not mind, cc to our campaign [ email@example.com ] so that we know what response and impact we have collectively had.
Please note that we have been able to temporarily host the website on another server but how long will it be before they come for us there as well? The new address is [ http://www.leftdirect.co.uk/mcrcouncil ]
Please also forward this information to anyone and everyone you think will be interested.
Thanks you very much for taking the time to read this, and your anticipated support.