I have created this thread to allow anyone to publish the responses they receive to their Jersey FOI requests. If the responses are that newsworthy, they might end up being quoted by official media outlets. In effect, from now on, ordinary members of the public who ask the questions that need
to be asked could well end up writing a future front page headline in the JEP. It really is up to all of us individually to use the power of the FOI to create our own political agenda. If you feel, as I do, that our States Members consistently fail to ask the questions that need to be asked, then now's your chance to embarrass them and show that you're actually more worthy of the job than they are. I have a feeling that in the long term, FOI might have the indirect benefit of making some of Jersey's backbench States Members ask more relevant questions, or better worded questions that hit the target more effectively, or questions that are more capable of causing controversy or are of such politically sensitive nature that previously they would just not have been asked at all. States Members may react this way if they come to fear that by not asking such questions, a troublesome member of the public will take up the mantle on their behalf by asking them anyway in the form of FOI requests and then publishing the replies online. This could leave some States Members who try to promote themselves as fiercely anti-Establishment looking a bit vulnerable come re-election time, as the voters re-assess whether they are actually that effective after all. Obviously if the people of Jersey choose to waste this great opportunity then this will not happen. Let's just hope that this thread really helps to give the previously voiceless majority in our community the chance to influence the political agenda of the elite...
And now without further ado, I hereby publish the first successful response that I received earlier today. The request was made to the Social Security Department. Is this the very first response received under the new Jersey FOI Law to be published? Let me know if you are aware of any other responses that have already been published elsewhere.
Headline:Only 1 out of 122 Breach 3 sanctions issued to unemployed jobseekers by the end of 2014 was overturned after a reconsideration. A further 15 were overturned before reaching the reconsideration stage
Link to this disclosure as published on the States of Jersey website (added by me on 19th March 2015):http://www.gov.je/Government/Pages/StatesReports.aspx?ReportID=1193
FOI Reference No: 202-03-50084
Date of Request: 12 January 2015
Date of Response: 30 January 2015Request:
1) The number of 'Breach 3' notices issued to jobseekers DURING THE CALENDAR YEAR 2014 under Regulation 5B(4) of the Income Support (Jersey) Regulations 2007?
2) The total number of 'Breach 3' notices issued to jobseekers since Regulation 5B (4) of the Income Support (Jersey) Regulations 2007 came into force on 15 October 2013 up to the end of the calendar year 2014 (i.e. the number of notices issued for the calendar year 2014 asked for in 1) above in addition to the number of notices issued between 15 October 2013 and 31 December 2013)?
3) Of the above total number quoted in 2), the number of these 'Breach 3' notices that were subsequently reversed/withdrawn by the Department after being issued but before reaching an independent appeal tribunal.States of Jersey Response:
Between 01/01/2014 and 31/12/2014, 117 ‘Breach 3’ notices were issued.
2) Between 15/10/2013 and 31/12/2014, 122 ‘Breach 3’ notices were issued.
3) Of the 122 ‘Breach 3’ notices issued between 15/10/2013 and 31/12/2014, 16 of them have been reversed. Of these, 1 was removed following a reconsideration, while the other 15 were removed by the initial determining officer after new evidence was presented, without reaching reconsideration stage.My comments on the above response:
Only about 13% of the 122 third breach of a warning ('Breach 3') sanctions that were issued to jobseekers by Social Security Determining Officers between the 15th October 2013 (the coming in to force of the tougher sanctions regime) and the end of 2014 were subsequently reversed. The fact that only one out of the 16 decisions to reverse the issuing of the Breach 3 came through the department's internal reconsideration process only seems to strengthen the view (voiced by Deputy Geoff Southern in the States last Tuesday) that reconsideration is merely a "tick box exercise"
, despite the strong rebuttal of Social Security Minister Deputy Susie Pinel.
This response does not reveal the actual number of Breach 3 sanction decisions where a reconsideration was requested by the jobseeker, or the number of reconsiderations that the Department actually carried out, or the number of reconsideration requests that were turned down for being lodged outside the very short 7-day deadline (imposed by Le Gresley using his ministerial powers without informing the States beforehand that he intended to cut the reconsideration deadline from 21 days to 7 days). This is because I didn't ask for this information in this particular request. Instead these have been separately asked for in subsequent requests for which I am still awaiting a response.
Statistics relating to Breach 3 sanctions are very important because of the hugely disproportionate impact
that they can have, not only on the lives of the jobseekers who are issued with one, but also on the lives of all other individuals (including children) who live in the same household as the jobseeker, because their
benefits are immediately stopped too. The States were told by then Minister, Francis Le Gresley MBE, when he proposed these amendments that the Breach 3 breach period was 6 weeks
and the law does actually state this as the period during which a claimant has no entitlement to any income support. Frankly this is bad enough, because a total disentitlement to all means-tested benefits for 6 weeks is more than long enough for the household to be facing eviction because of rent arrears, starvation or possibly long-term debt problems where previously no such problems may have existed.
However, States Members did not bother to consider the possibility that the stoppage of benefit could continue well beyond those 6 weeks and failed to subject his proposals to rigorous analysis or scrutiny. Le Gresley did not
reveal that the disallowance period, ostensibly 6 weeks, has the capability to continue to remain in force for an apparently indefinite
duration after the initial 6 week breach period has ended, at the total discretion of Department functionaries, without any guarantee of periodic review and without any way of the claimant being able to challenge the continuation of the benefit ban through means of an appeal. Not only does the disallowance stop 100% of the claimant's weekly income support entitlement (including vital housing subsidy for tenants), but it also prevents any hardship payments from being paid to the claimant in the form of 'Special Payments' In these last two respects, the Jersey system is far tougher than the already tough UK DWP equivalent, which has itself caused widespread hardship, starvation and even death. The imposition of a UK sanction does not
affect the payment of a jobseeker's housing benefit, which is paid separately by local authorities, nor does it bar the jobseeker from applying for hardship payments. The fact that the Jersey Breach 3 does
stop these things must therefore be subject to urgent investigation to see what level of hardship the recipients of the Breach 3 have endured and are enduring. The States Assembly has a vested interest in keeping quiet about the affects of the Breach 3 because most of its members voted for it. In that case it now falls on the shoulders of members of the public to begin making the relevant enquiries themselves through the FOI request system.