Not all in it together
We’ve been known to make the odd disparaging reference to the much talked about case of a family in Dorset who were placed under surveillance by the local council to try and find out whether they’d lied on a school application form. The common consensus amongst all the useful idiots who queued up to lambast the local council was that finding out whether you were lying to get your children into a popular local school was not a proper use of council resources. (Yes, I know that the couple I’ve cited weren’t lying – there’s a certain difficulty in demanding that authorities only investigate those they know to be guilty however…)
Now, if you’re one of the parents who doesn’t get their child into their first choice school you probably have a keen interest in how school places are allocated, including the prevention of fraud in the application system. It’s also, probably the case that all taxpayers have an interest in seeing that any system for the allocation of state resources is fairly and honestly operated on the basis of the facts provided by each applicant, rather than the fictions provided by each applicant. Surveillance, apparently, is not required to separate fact from fiction in those cases.
Compare and contrast school places, an obsession of the metropolitan chattering classes, and social housing. If you’re a tenant of social housing, or a prospective tenant of social housing you don’t enjoy quite the same protection as the chattering classes do when trying to get their offspring into the right school. The key difference is the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud (Power to Require Information) Regulations. Rather than me try and explain what they say, let me allow the government’s own explanatory memorandum to do it;
Under regulation 4, the authorised officer has the power to require banks, building
societies and other providers of credit, telecommunications providers and utilities companies to provide such information as is reasonably required
for the purpose of preventing, detecting or securing evidence for the conviction of an offence under section 7(7) of the Act. When conducting social housing fraud investigations, it is important to be able to link the tenant to another address, which can provide evidence that, for example, the tenant is sub-letting the social home they have been allocated, or that they own a home that they did not declare when
applying for social housing. The organisations captured by regulation 4 hold information that can indicate that the named tenant has an account registered at another address, and in the case of banks and building societies, account statements can provide evidence of receipt of payments suggesting they are sub-letting for money,and of expenditure suggesting the tenant is making monthly mortgage payments, thereby denoting they own a property.
Words fail me. Literally. It was a national cause celebre that a local council tried to check up on a school place application by driving round to the address stated and looking to see if the applicants came out of it in the morning, but apparently it is reasonable and proportionate to give local council officials power to trawl through the bank statements and utility bills of anyone applying to rent a council house.
Dear reader, do need to join the dots for you? If you live in social housing, or want to, you are, truly, a second class citizen, with less rights than others. There is no difference morally, between lying to get a school place and lying to get a council house, but, apparently, one merits intrusive and powerful powers to require and inspect data, and the other doesn’t.
Truly, we are not all in it together.