Late Friday afternoon 27 April 2019 Barnet UNISON were contacted to say that Barnet Council staff who had previously opted out of the Council Pension scheme had been enrolled back in.
Whilst Barnet UNISON supports and encourages members to join the Council scheme, workers do have the lawful right to opt out.
Barnet Council must obey the law and in this case this means they must auto enrol workers into the Council Pension Scheme. However, they must give notice to the worker and advise them of their right to opt out.
This did not happen.
- Members on the Audit Committee were told that Capita Payroll only found out at the last minute (Friday 26 April 2019) that an auto enrolment programme had been set up to auto enrol those workers who had previously opted out of the Council Pension scheme.
- Members on the Audit Committee were told that 170 workers were auto enrolled into the Council Pensions Scheme which meant they had pay deducted from their wages.
- Members on the Audit Committee were told that although the workers had pay deducted they had not been auto enrolled.
- If this is true, it must follow that Capita’s auto enrolment procedure failed. Auto enrolment is directed by legislation. Barnet Council must auto enrol staff every three years, unless staff sign a form to opt out. This incident has exposed another Capita system failure which needs to be addressed immediately.
- Members on the Audit Committee were told that the workers contributions which had been deducted would be paid back to the 170 workers on Friday 3 May 2019.
- Members on the Audit Committee were not told if employer contributions were paid and if so where did the money go. However, if the employer contributions were not paid, why not? Is this another system failure?
- Have Capita Payroll in Carlisle auto enrolled Barnet Council school staff?
- If not, why not, as they are the same employer?
- Why were Councillors auto enrolled by Capita as Councillors have not been eligible to join since 2014?
Barnet UNISON comment:
You really have to be in a Council meeting to believe what happens. Year after year different Capita managers roll up to give excuses and make promises that the latest service improvement plan will improve the services.
What is unbelievable is that Councillors are still accepting this serial offending.
All the while Capita are raking in the millions from Barnet Council.
We are in Year Six of a Ten Year contract and the two Capita contracts have cost £145 million pound more than they were originally contracted to be paid.
Colindale office UNISON H&S Inspection
Barnet Group to move staff and operations from Barnet House to new office site in Colindale. Move to commence June 2019.
UNISON representatives from the Barnet Group undertook a Health and Safety Inspection of the new site 12/4/19.
Housing Options Reception
Current arrangements – Barnet House
Client’s visiting Housing Options are initially held on the ground floor.
This means they can be searched away from Housing Options staff, and for security to confirm who has an appointment.
If there is an incident on the 2nd floor, clients can be held downstairs.
There is also space for client’s to wait and call Housing Options if they don’t have an appointment (as Housing Options is appointment only), although in some cases clients use phones on the second floor to contact benefit advisers etc.
UNISON notes that part of current security arrangements mean that when clients initially arrive at the building they can only gain access to the 2nd floor prior to being searched, and that the one member of reception staff on the ground floor is behind protective glass.
Current statistics on Barnet House anti-social, verbal and physical abuse incidents are too low – UNISON is concerned that there is a culture where abuse of staff is tolerated and incidents not recorded.
Proposed arrangements – Colindale
The proposed new reception has entrances straight from the street with clients queuing up and being searched in the reception area.
UNISON has been informed that there will be no barriers by the entrance, however there will be a reception desk with one or two security guards [to be confirmed], and a side room for more extensive searches.
Total security presence on the ground floor Housing Options Reception area has, as yet to be identified.
- As there is no protective barrier between clients and staff, clients could throw objects or liquids at staff without/before being searched.
- A violent client can push past security and gain access to staff without being searched.
- Customers in winter will not want to queue outside meaning they will be in the reception and potentially have access to staff without being searched.
- If there is an incident that requires security staff to deal with a violent client, there is no provision to stop other clients from entering the building.
- No way of stopping the flow of people to the entrance from outside the building whilst an incident is being managed.
- Housing Options regularly have violent clients who need to be removed from the building, there will be a safety issue in removing a disruptive client if other clients are queuing at the entrance.
- Housing Options clients include a high proportion of very vulnerable people, including children, who can be waiting the majority of the day for temporary accommodation – this will be unmanageable in the small space provided.
- Housing Options staff deal with many victims of domestic violence who may be fleeing violent and abusive partners. At the moment the proposed seating arrangements for people waiting for temporary accommodation mean that clients would be visible from the street through the large glass walls. This could potentially put both the victim of abuse and staff and other clients in danger if the perpetrator of the abuse sees them and would be traumatic for the vulnerable client.
- If a client doesn’t have an appointment there appears to be no place where they can call Housing Options to be triaged and assessed prior to seeing a member of staff. This needs to be resolved.
- General issues of safety in such a small space given that on a busy day Housing Options staff can have up to five or six families waiting to be seen by staff at any time, as well as families waiting for temporary accommodation.
- There does not seem to be any thought been given to the ‘maximum’ number of people that can be in the Housing Options Reception area at any one time.
- The Housing Options reception will be shared with Officers from Rental Income, Neighbourhood Housing, Antisocial Behaviour Officers and Leasehold Officers as the only secure interview space for staff to meet with customers. This will lead to severe delays in clients being interviewed. Staff may be tempted or feel pressurised into interviewing clients elsewhere in an unsafe environment due to lack of resources.
- Barnet Group Health and Safety Officers have not been given the opportunity to complete a joint inspection with UNISON.
- As there will be very limited space/privacy, clients visiting the interview area may be put in the position of having to disclose personal information and details which could be overheard by other members of the public, breaching Data Protection guidelines.
- There seems to be a lack of toilet facilities for clients in the Reception area and none in the waiting area.
- Fire safety – Number of Fire Points. No fire safety documentation has been provided, as yet, in regard to the number of fire call points in each area.
- Disabled access – Unison request more details on this, particularly emergency procedures and evacuation protocols.
- UNISON is in ongoing dialogue with the Council and facilities in regard to evacuation protocol and PEEPs [see attached Appendix]
General Building Health and Safety Concerns
- No details available/provided of the building Temperature Control system.
- Toilets – at least one single gender toilet should be provided – Cubicles seem quite small for those who may need to wash upper bodies before prayer also wash hand basins are very small. Disabled toilets (public) Access? Mobility WCs should have grab aids on both sides of pan – not all users transfer from same side.
- Security arrangements for main building – can this be confirmed and Risk Assessments shared.
- Currently no provision where other Barnet Homes staff [not Housing Options] will be able to interview visitors. Lease Hold Services currently have visitors who drop off Right to Buy applications and attend RTB interviews and financial interviews. Rental Income Team, Neighbourhood Housing and Antisocial Behaviour Officers will need access to secure interview areas. Operations guidelines for these services need to be identified and fully Risk Assessed before the service is implemented.
- Main reception – the entrance doors partially obscured by stairs to 1st floor and a pillar, what security provision has been made to cover the ‘blind spot’?
- Roof garden – railings on the roof are low and easily accessible.
- Originally staff were advised that teams would have designated areas of work and on plans these were shaded in. UNISON has now been informed that all areas are hot desks. Does this mean that those who work from 10am will never get a desk?
- Cycle parking seems to be very limited – not under cover and just the metal hoop types – as the Barnet Group and the Council is encouraging staff to cycle to work more will need to be provided.
- Car parking Areas are located some distance from the main building – staff safety in walking to these areas needs to be Risk Assessed and shared.
- Car parks – need to be inspected for adequate lighting – it is unclear if any other safety measures will be put in place [such as CCTV] before the building becomes operational.
As there is no filter system for members of the public on entering the reception area clients will have to disclose personal details to security/reception and be overheard by other members of the public. The Barnet Group may be in held in breach of General Data Protection Regulations should a member of the public/client make a complaint.
Safeguarding of vulnerable clients visiting the Housing Options reception area is a priority – if victims of domestic abuse don’t feel safe to access council services and be seen by an Officer without the possibility of the perpetrator of the abuse seeing them then they won’t do it.
There is an overriding detrimental concern for Barnet Group staff Health and Safety putting the Barnet Group in legal jeopardy.
In addition, the Health and Safety of the Public could be put at risk leaving the Barnet Group open to litigation.
Staff in Housing Options have made it clear to UNISON that the proposed reception area is fundamentally unsafe.
As previously identified the recording/reporting of incidents at the Barnet House Reception is poor – This cannot continue at the new site.
UNISON is given to understand that many of these issues have been raised by staff and line-managers across the whole of Housing Options, but as yet the concerns have not been addressed.
If frontline staff are essentially expected to work in a dangerous environment UNISON will be left with no alternative other than to act on members concerns, inevitably leading to a breakdown in Industrial Relations, if the identified risks are not addressed before Housing Options reception becomes operational.
- Meaningful dialogue between UNISON, management and staff in regard to Housing Options reception to resolve the issues identified and the suitability of the Colindale site.
- Security provision to be identified and established, (including lines of reporting and training) and fully Risk Assessed before the building becomes operational.
- Public access procedures identified and fully Risk Assessed.
- Anti-social behaviour policy in regard to prospective clients to be produced and a zero tolerance of abuse towards staff to be implemented.
- Risk Assessments for the reception and interview areas, including those for violent and abusive members of the public to be completed.
- A further joint UNISON Health and Safety inspection in conjunction with Barnet Group Health and Safety Officers to be arranged to assess risks to staff and the public before the building becomes operational.
- UNISON to work in conjunction with Barnet Group Health and Safety Officers to encourage staff and managers to record/report any incidents of physical and verbal abuse. UNISON and Barnet Group H&S to co-operate, investigate cases of concern and produce joint recommendations.
- Safeguarding of vulnerable clients to be acknowledged and addressed contacting the Safeguarding team at the Council about the risk to vulnerable adults, children and the victims of domestic abuse visiting the Colindale site would be recommended.
- General Data Protection Regulation issues to be acknowledged and measures put in place to minimise risk.
- UNISON suggests that Housing Options clients use the main council reception when they first arrive, enabling clients to be filtered to the Housing Options reception once it has been confirmed that they are due to be seen by an Officer. This would significantly reduce the flow of people through the main Housing Options front entrance, It would also have the bonus of freeing up space as clients could wait in the main reception for temporary accommodation and the officers from the TA team (soon to be Housing Solutions team) come straight down in the lift to the main reception area . This would be a better solution for clients as there is a Costa Coffee in the foyer for their use while waiting to be seen.
Given the unpredictable nature of Housing Options operations as the tragic incident on the 2nd floor last year demonstrated – UNISON recommends that the concerns of staff, managers and Trade Unions should be fully addressed and the suitability of the proposed Colindale site fully assessed before the Housing Options Reception Area becomes operational.
Also in Yorkshire Marsden Moor another fire
Not just in West Yorkshire but in
Wales: “Gorse fires cause havoc in UK with hills above Blaenau Ffestiniog blanketed in blaze” https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/gorse-fires-cause-havoc-uk-14448221 and
Ireland: “Fears more dry weather will cause repeat of west Donegal gorse fires” https://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/fears-more-dry-weather-will-cause-repeat-of-west-donegal-gorse-fires-1.3868181
Scotland: “Fire crews dealing with large wildfire in Moray”
All the above areas historically have lots of rain especially in the winter months. The fact that the ground is bone dry and we are only in April is another conformation that our climate is changing and the need for action now.
Barnet UNISON have submitted a query to the Pensions Regulator in regard to TBG Flex Pension Scheme :
Query: Is this employer’s pension scheme compliant with regulations?
Further to my conversation with James Marshall and as agreed I am writing to provide the relevant information for The Pensions Regulator to decide whether the Pension Scheme operated by the employer (TBG Flex Ltd.) meeting the intention of Parliament under Automatic Enrolment legislation.
TBG Flex Ltd (set up as an employment company in 2017 to avoid new staff being able to join the Local Government Pension Scheme) is a subsidiary of The Barnet Group which was set up in 2006 as separate entity to provide Housing and Care Services for the London Borough of Barnet.
Automatic enrolment commenced for staff employed by TBG Flex Ltd at the company’s inception in 2017. [Please see TBG Flex Pensions April 2019.]
All TBG Flex staff receive employee benefit (called Flex Benefit) of 5% or 10% (depending on grade) of salary are paid to staff in addition to salary. The Flex Benefit can be used by staff to top up store cards, purchase dental care insurance, dining card etc. and allows the employer TBG Flex Ltd to pay employer’s contribution in respect of staff participation in Automatic Enrolment.[Please Introduction to Flex Benefit September 2018 and TBG Flex Employees Benefit 2019.]
Effect of Automatic Enrolment under Flex Benefit
For staff choosing to join the TBG Flex pension scheme have to sacrifice their Flex Benefit because the employer TBG Flex Ltd pays the employers contribution from the Flex Benefit “earned” by staff. This policy of meeting the employer’s pension contribution from Flex Benefit incentivises staff not to join the pension scheme in the first place and incentivises those staff in the pension scheme to leave.
The staff in the pension scheme under Automatic Enrolment enjoy lower Flex Benefit compared to their colleagues on the same salary grade who decide to opt out of Automatic Enrolment.
I am concerned that this employer’s Auto Enrolment Pension Scheme is not meeting the intention of Parliament in that employer pays employer’s statutory contribution from the Flex Benefit accrued to these staff. Further it incentivises staff not to join the pension scheme in the first place and incentivises those staff in the pension scheme to leave. Finally, staff in the pension scheme are discriminated as these staff participating in Automatic Enrolment enjoy lower Flex Benefit compared to their colleagues on the same salary grade who decide to opt out of Automatic Enrolment.
The query has been acknowledge awaiting further investigation.
TBG Flex members with issues or complaints about the Flex Benefits reward system please write to email@example.com
Barnet UNISON have been informed that ISS nationally are changing their Payroll process.
This change impacts on all ISS workers not just here in Barnet.
We raised immediate concerns about the hardship this would place on low paid workers.
We were told that loans are being offered with a repayment plan spread of four equal payments.
Barnet UNISON have asked that the option for repayments to be spread over a longer period of time.
Barnet UNISON have sought confirmation that staff are not paying any interest on the loan.
If you work for ISS Catering service in Barnet Council and need advice and or support please contact the Barnet UNISON office on 0208 359 2088 or email contactus@barnetunison,.org.uk
Barnet UNISON has just been informed that the Fremantle Trust is to enter into TUPE consultations to hand over the running of its care homes: Meadowside, Apthorp Lodge and Dellfield Court to Your Choice Barnet.
We welcome this transfer as a positive step in the right direction. Your Choice Barnet is 100% owned by the Council which places the running of the homes under greater local accountability. We will do all we can to continue to represent our members who have consistently done their best to deliver support to vulnerable residents, often under difficult circumstances.
We believe there are now real opportunities to address the concerns of staff and residents in a positive and constructive way and look forward to working with Your Choice Barnet to achieve this.
The transfer of staff and services is planned to take place at the beginning of July 2019.
Barnet UNISON has already approached Your Choice Barnet in preparation for formal TUPE transfer meetings which will be looking to take place shortly.
Any members who have any questions please contact the Barnet UNISON branch on 0208 359 2088 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
An extra £100 a week on rents for new build council homes and re-let council homes being transferred to Open Door Homes (ODH) – the Council’s housing development company.
The plan will mean council tenants in new and re-let homes owned by ODH will have to pay £209 a week for a 2-bedroom home compared with £109 a week currently charged for a council home.
Exploiting the most vulnerable in our community – people in need of Housing may no longer be able to afford this – a disgrace – The Barnet Group is an experiment that needs to be brought back in house and do what they are supposed to do – PROVIDE COUNCIL HOUSING!!!!
In the Labour Group’s submission to the draft Housing Strategy consultation, Labour’s Lead on Housing – Cllr Paul Edwards said: “Barnet Homes (Open Door) is a social landlord and should be providing social rent homes at rates in line with the Mayor’s plan. So, the rent should be no more than 50% of market rates, which is a more socially just rent to ask for than 65% and is in line with the Mayor’s plan.
“The high 65% social rent is the main reason Barnet Council were not able to secure more grant from the GLA – why would the Mayor invest in building new social rent homes that are not going to be affordable to those on low incomes?”
Cllr Edwards also criticised the lack of ambition to deliver more affordable homes across all development, and called for the affordable homes target to be increased from 40% of all new homes to 50%. The Conservatives voted against this as well.
1. The Council’s new Housing Strategy can be found here (Agenda Item 8):