Saturday, February 19, 2011

Fine and not so fine

Another day, another £100k spent by UK taxpayers on a stunt for the Taxpayers' Alliance (that's the cost of servicing each of their round-robin research Freedom of Information requests that are used to dig up costs with which they batter public authorities). This time, they are scraping the bottom of the barrel - or bin - and worrying about how many waste bins each local authority collects. Apparently, the disparity is 'shocking.' Now, while I struggle to understand why Newcastle-under-Lyme needs nine of the damn things, I'm not sure that this is a big issue on the doorstep. Still, it keeps the TPA off the streets and away from sane people.

But that isn't the point of this post.

In their bullletin email, which I am lucky enough to receive, they quote Bob Neill, the Local Government Minister, as saying
"the bin bully approach of fining residents for minor breaches of increasingly complex bin rules is not only wrong, but utterly counter-productive"

Strong words and you can understand where he is coming from - asking people to put card and paper into one and cans into another is a task that would challenge many (people forget or get a bit careless). Human error is easily understood with the busy lives that we lead.

So I am intrigued as to why this government now want to fine people £50-300 pounds for forgetting to inform them of any change of circumstances - this is a punitive fine in addition to any repayment due. If you are living on benefits, a £50 fine - quite close to one week's Jobseekers Allowance - is a hefty amount and will certainly feel like an unfair punishment. I've no problem with people repaying overpayment, but the forms are fiendishly complicated at the best of times and this just strikes me as unfair and disproportionate to the actual costs. Indeed, one might say

"the benefits bully approach of fining claimants for minor breaches of increasingly complex benefit rules is not only wrong, but utterly counter-productive"
On the flipside, should we then expect similar compensation when the DWP or HMRC get it wrong? Or is this just a way of taxing the poorest in society by another £15 million a year?

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