Thursday 2 June 2016

The price of Freedom, still under negotiation: have thousands of disabled residents in Barnet lost their travel passes?

Updated several times: see below ...

The story of the cancellation of disabled residents' travel passes, here in Broken Barnet, continues to unravel, as more and more questions are asked about the shameful, spurious 'renewal process' that has wrongly deprived our borough's most vulnerable residents of a vital means of access to public transport, and caused so much distress - and financial loss.

The 'renewal' process is one that Capita asked to undertake, for a fee of £100,000, as a contract variation, that is to say one of the many extra money making schemes the council's ever hungry contractors are using to extract further profit over and beyond the core contract agreement. 

The whole business is, in short, an absolute scandal: an unnecessary procedure - the passes are valid until 2020 - and a process which would appear to have been created, or at least expanded, so as to justify an opportunity for commercial exploitation, rather than perform any valid function. 

Incidentally, as further proof of unnecessary procedures - why were pass holders made to go to the trouble - and expense - last year, of providing new photographs, in response to demands made by Capita? Anyone know? 

At the last Policy and Resources committee, Mrs Angry asked a number of questions about the scheme, including one asking for clarification of the number of residents who had lost their passes. As she reported in this post:

It had been implied in the earlier set of - painfully extracted - responses this week that 207 people had lost their passes as a result of the spurious renewal scheme. 

In fact we now learned, from the questions here, that figure related only to 2015: the current year an additional 'cohort', as they put it, of 379 residents were assessed as no linger qualifying - in all nearly 600 in total had been affected - confirmed now, at the table. 

So: nearly 600 residents. Appalling, you might think. 

But then, last week, a response to an earlier FOI request arrived in Mrs Angry's inbox, with some curious answers to further questions on this matter: 

How many Freedom Passes were issued to residents with disabilities in the year to the end of March, 2016?

In the year to the end of March 2016 the following number of Freedom Passes were issued to disabled residents:

New Applications – 540

Renewals in relation to the 2015 process – 1,993

Renewals in relation to the 2016 process – 1,021

How many residents with disabilities were sent letters regarding the renewal of these passes since January 2016?

6193, of whom 4768 were for 2015 renewals and 1425 for 2016 renewals.

How many residents have returned applications to renew passes since January 2016?

3,951 residents have returned applications or provided correspondence in relation to the renewal process.

How many residents have now been assessed as no longer qualifying for Freedom Passes, who held one in the year ending 2016?

586, of whom 207 residents have been assessed as no longer qualifying for Freedom Passes, who held one in the year ending 31 March 2016. These relate to those who were retrospectively checked as part of those passes expiring in March 2015. An additional 379 residents have also been assessed as no longer qualifying for Freedom Passes in relation to the eligibility assessment process for those expiring in March 2016.

How many Freedom Passes have been issued to residents with disabilities so far in 2016, since January, ie. broken down into renewals, and new applicants?

The total of successful new applications for Freedom Passes from residents with disabilities issued since 1 January 2016 is 137. There were 1,993 passes renewed of those expiring in March 2015, for the 2015 process. There were also 1,021 Freedom Passes that have been renewed for residents with disabilities since 1 January 2016, for the 2016 process.

Well, Mrs Angry - despite, of course, being an expert auditor - is no great mathematician at the best of times, and being indisposed, lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, unable to move, and not in the mood for tussling with the complexities of statistical analysis, asked fellow blogger Mr Reasonable to look at the figures and confirm her possibly inaccurate conclusion that an awful lot of passes had gone missing, somewhere along the line. 

He agreed that there seems to be a big missing tranche of people who were sent a letter but have not had their passes renewed or refused, and kindly arranged the figures in an easy to understand table (easy enough even for Mrs Angry) , observing that even he was struggling to understand the response, as the numbers simply didn't add up.

More than 2,000 unaccounted for?

Then yesterday it transpired that a response to an FOI by a Labour councillor - (yes, amazing, isn't it?) to London Councils, stated that the number of passes cancelled by Barnet Council amounted to a total of ... 2,008. 

Well, well. 

From 200, to 600, to 2,000: take your pick.

The more Mrs Angry thought about it, the Angrier she became: it is hard enough, at the best of times, to get any answer out of a Barnet or Crapita officer, in response to any awkward question, but here they were, playing games with figures in regard to an issue that may just seem another business transaction to them, but has had a devastating impact on the quality of life, and financial well being of  - well, now it seems maybe thousands of disabled residents.

Mrs Angry therefore wrote last night to Tory leader Richard Cornelius: 

Dear Councillor Cornelius

As you may recall, I attended the last Policy and Resources committee and asked a series of questions about the Freedom Pass scandal.

I was very surprised to find, in response to one of these questions, that the figure relating to the number of disabled residents deprived of their passes as a result of this iniquitous scheme by your contractors, was not, as I had previously been told, around the figure of 200, but in fact nearer to 600.

Today, however, we learn that in response to an FOI request to London Councils, it would appear that there have, in fact, been more than 2,000 cancelled passes, and indeed a new FOI response to me in the last few days showed a discrepancy of a similar amount, although in this case it was claimed the number related to letters to which there had allegedly been 'no reply' from residents.

If the figure is indeed around 2,000, then clearly the responses given to me, and to the committee of which you are Chair, were incorrect. This, if true, would be a very serious matter, as I am sure you would agree.

I would ask you, therefore as a matter of urgency, to explain why there is such a contradiction in the numbers offered by your officers, and the response from London Councils, and to establish why, if the London Councils' figure is correct, officers have given incorrect information to me, both in regard to the FOI response, and at the Policy and Resources Committee meeting.

Yours sincerely,

Mrs Angry

A reply arrived this morning: 

I understand the question asked was not the same



Well: what on earth does that mean? Does the Tory Leader know? Or care? 

Yet again we see that the Tory councillors' ability to maintain any effective control of the administration of their own council services has been rendered utterly impotent. 

They have no idea what Capita is up to - and appear to be happy simply to sit back, let them do whatever they want, handing over barrow loads of residents' hard earned cash to them, whenever they spot another opportunity for extra earnings, and extra profit - at our expense, financially - and in all sorts of other ways too.

Mrs Angry has replied, and will publish any response:

Dear Cllr Cornelius,

Thank you for your reply, but I really am confused by this response.

At the meeting, in response to my question (number 4) it was agreed that in total nearly 600 disabled residents been assessed as 'no longer qualifying for Freedom Passes': to be precise, that was 207 in 2015, and then 379 on the next 'cohort' - a total of 586.

If 2,000 passes were cancelled, that might suggest that some 1,414 passes were also withdrawn, but without formal assessment of qualification. Was that the case?

For the sake of clarification, please ask your officers to confirm that more than 2,000 passes were cancelled, rather than the lower figure of 586, and to explain the discrepancy. 

I am sure that I do not have to explain to you the significance of establishing the correct figure. 

Many disabled residents have wrongly lost their vital travel passes, and this is causing enormous distress and hardship for them, as well as financial loss. One young man who is in contact with me, who has autism, has lost more than £300, and there are many others in the same circumstances, but not all realise what has happened, or that they are entitled to compensation. Barnet has a responsibility now properly to identify and contact these residents, and I fail to see how that will be achieved if your own officers cannot - or will not - admit the true extent of impact of this shameful process.

Yours sincerely,

Mrs Angry


a further response from Cllr Cornelius - and a further reply from Mrs Angry -

dear Ms Musgrove,

the difference is accounted for by relocation, death,damaged passes etc etc


Dear Cllr Cornelius

If you have been told that more than 2,000 passes, in a relatively short period of time, have been cancelled due to relocation, death, damage etc, then frankly this seems quite unbelievable, measured against the other statements, and I would hope that you will now ask for a breakdown of the figures - and hard evidence of this assertion. 

Mrs Angry

Updated again: after checking her own correspondence, prompted by a reminder from someone who was at the P&R meeting, Mrs Angry spotted the slight flaw in this latest excuse from Barnet officers, and has passed on the information to the Tory Leader:

Dear Cllr Cornelius,

I have checked my own information and now verified that on May 13th, an officer named Sam Pandya, responding on behalf of both Davina Fiore and Jamie Blake, gave me the following figures:

"Of the 230 passes that have been removed, 207 of these will receive a new temporary pass. The remaining 23 passes will not be reinstated because the pass holder has either moved out of the borough or no longer need their pass."

This was of course before officers admitted the figures given to me only covered one year. At P&R, as I am sure you will recall, the full number of pass removals for both years was alleged to be 586. 

Scaling up the number of passes not renewed, as you claim, due to relocation or needs that no longer apply, would mean around only ten percent of previous passes held would be cancelled on those grounds, so about 200 passes in total, of 2,000.

I think, therefore, unless you believe that the remaining 1,200 missing passes are due to a statistically unlikely, not to say deeply unfortunate, level of mortality amongst the disabled residents of this borough, and a positive frenzy of wilful damage of bus passes by previous holders - possibly in despair at the bewildering and totally unnecessary process to which Capita is subjecting them - the excuse you have been given by your officers is ... simply a load of 'tosh'.

I look forward to your response.

Mrs Angry

Response - and now Mrs Angry is beginning to despair:

There will be a breakdown of the figure but it does also include re-issues.  At first sight The figure does look surprising. London Councils have been asked for this info. I don't think they use Capita.  the figure for total numbers of disabled passes has not varied that much over the years, which is re-assuring.  I have also asked for other boroughs figures too.


That is just preposterous, of course:

Cllr Cornelius:

Please - you were Chair of the meeting at which, in response to my first question, Mr Blake agreed that in the last year the number of passes had HALVED.

That is a massive variation. 

It also represents a potentially catastrophic impact on the well being of many of the borough's most vulnerable residents. I can't believe you would knowingly tolerate any policy or council process that had such a devastating effect, so I really hope you will stop swallowing all this guff from your own officers, and remind them they are accountable to residents - in theory, at least - through you, and what is supposed to be the process of scrutiny with which you are entrusted.

Mrs Angry


Mr Reasonable said...

Let's see the evidence but if 25% of passes were cancelled due to the reasons given then why did they all happen in one year once Capita took over. I would have expected to see a consistent pattern over preceding years especially for things like lost or damaged passes. The fact that Cornelius implies they were different questions also shows that you now need to be a lawyer to frame any question to Barnet otherwise you don't get a straight answer. It calls into question the veracity of any statement they make.

Mrs Angry said...

I don't expect to see any evidence, John. The same questions, put to different people, produce wildly varying responses. The figures they provide make no sense. Why is that, I wonder? I think we know, don't we?

What a shambles.