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 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
Press Release: Barnet UNISON respond to “Worse Choices for People with Disabilities”
Look at the line E6 on this chart and you may start to understand why disabled activists are going to get extremely angry. Barnet UNISON will support community activists and workers fighting to keep the standards high for people with disabilities.
The struggle and fight for disabled people has always been about “How I can keep in control of my life?”
For a number of years local authorities, including Barnet, have been trying to get people with disabilities out of residential care homes and into a variety of supported living settings. Along the way there have been a number of arguments about whether this is a cost saving exercise (it was always approved if it did save costs) and about whether the quality of support could match that in residential care homes.
Residential care homes always struggled to match their residents’ aspirations to live a “normal life” – to make the kind of choices most of us take for granted, such as when to pop out for a social visit. They now often struggle to match the aspiration of providing quality basic care.
This is the background against which Barnet and other local authorities are looking to save money again, but this time by seeing who they can “persuade” or “encourage” to move into a residential care home. Whichever way it’s looked at, this is about cutting costs and forcing people with disabilities to manage with less, which will limit their aspirations in a way which is wholly unacceptable for the rest of the population.
If there is money to keep ploughing into the pockets of Capita, to keep an extensive and expensive senior officer group running, then there has to be money available to continue offering residents of Barnet a degree of choice and control over how they are supported.
Remember – people with disabilities are any one of us. Most disabled people were not born so, they acquired their disability in later years. What would we choose for ourselves or our parents or our children? This is why we will show solidarity with those campaigning for quality services and defend those providing quality services.
“When I saw the headlines my heart sank. Comrades started contacting me on social media to get our reaction to the very scary proposal outline in the Budget Cuts report which was agreed at Barnet Council meeting on 5 March 2019. I am not surprised this attack on people with disabilities is a direct consequence of the decision of the Council to keep funding the two big Capita contracts. Barnet was contracted to pay Capita £252.2 million by this time however with all the extras they have in fact paid Capita £386.71 that is an extra £134.17 million of taxpayers money. Our branch will be doing our utmost to work with our community to ensure no one is forced into residential care it’s the least we can do. John Burgess, Barnet UNISON Branch Secretary, Barnet UNISON.
Notes to Editors
Contact details: John Burgess Barnet UNISON on or 020 8359 2088 or email: email@example.com
Concerns over Barnet Council’s social care plans
Tory council set to force disabled people into residential care to cut costs
The following email was sent to all Barnet Councillors:
I am writing to all of you on behalf of all of my members who are part of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS).
I am writing to all of you for help.
The latest debacle with the failing Pension Administration run by Capita should have been the final straw.
The failings have been well documented in Barnet Council Committee meetings over the last four years. The problems are not going away. Some do then others rear their head.
The service is out of control.
Have you not noticed a pattern?
Capita are always contrite and happy to agree to action plan after action plan.
But year on year, another damning report or comment emerges from either internal or external audit and now the risk to the Triannual Valuation of our Pension Scheme.
The Chair of the Local Pensions Board has gone on record in their Committee meeting and recently at the Pension Fund Committee on 25 March 2019 to say the Pensions Administration service is “appalling”.
Now the Actuaries have joined the ever growing numbers of concerned people who are warning Barnet Council of the serious risks of a failing Pension Administration service.
The Actuaries warned the Council three years ago.
Yet here on the eve of the deadline for the Pensions Regulator (31 March 2019) the serious critically flawed pension data issue has not gone away.
I have listened to the recent Pension Fund Committee (26 March 2019). I did appear to me that the scale of the risk was reflected in the discussions.
I note with concern a quote below from Dan Taylor, director at third-party administrator Trafalgar House.
“The more poor data you have, the bigger that assumption gets, and the further away you get from the actual known liability position, which could involve employers, sponsors paying more than they have to”
Barnet Council has recently agreed at the Budget Council meeting on 5 March 2019, a Five Year Budget cuts programme, looking to make £70 million of cuts by 2024.
I find it inconceivable that Councillors would not be concerned that as a result of serious failing Pension Administration the Council and other employers would have to contribute more money to the LGPS.
Money that should be spend on vital public services.
Barnet UNISON has over the past five years dealt with some of the following issues impacting directly on our members
- 2015 Annual Benefit Statements not sent to all by statutory deadline
- 2016 Annual Benefit Statements not sent to all by statutory deadline
- 2015 Annual Benefit Statements not all correct – CARE benefit incorrectly based on taxable pay rather than pensionable pay
- 2016 Annual Benefit Statements not all correct – CARE benefit incorrectly based on taxable pay rather than pensionable pay
- 2017 Annual Benefit Statements not all accurate – missing previous LGPS membership, more than one statement, CARE benefit based on part pensionable pay
- Barnet Pension communicated on another local authority’s letterhead showing two different e-mail addresses for communication with them
- Insufficient details provided for pension calculations to check accuracy
Yet our active members are still experiencing problems.
I am sure all Councillors will have a work or private Pension.
You will all expect that when it is your time to take your pension it should be a stress free experience.
I have to say that is not the experience in Barnet.
The ongoing issues mean that until our members have had their Pension checked by UNISON and it is paid correctly into their bank the stress levels for those retiring are extraordinary high.
Contrary to some comments I have heard councillors make at Committee, we simply did not have these problems with the in-house Pension Administration Team. It is a matter of fact not opinion.
I know many believe that Barnet Council will not end this contract because it would be seen as a major climb down and an admission that the One Barnet Programme has failed.
That is possibly true. However I know there are still quite a few Councillors who were deeply involved in the One Barnet programme. Whilst I and my union disagreed with Barnet Council on One Barnet I do not believe that those voting for One Barnet would have envisaged this happening to the Pension Administration service.
But is has happened.
No amount of action plans will restore the service to the level of excellence it was operating before it was privatised in 2013.
Finally, I am not allowed to address most of the Committees but if I did I would ask Barnet Council “Why are you defending the indefensible?”. Barnet Council needs to instruct senior officers to terminate the Capita contract for Pension Administration and begin the process of bringing the service back in-house before there is further damage to the service and the reputation of the Council.
- Ongoing data problems spark valuation concerns at Barnet http://www.pensions-expert.com/DB-Derisking/Ongoing-data-problems-spark-valuation-concerns-at-Barnet
- Barnet in TPR breach as Capita misses payments http://www.pensions-expert.com/DB-Derisking/Barnet-in-TPR-breach-as-Capita-misses-payments
- Barnet grapples with data difficulties http://www.pensions-expert.com/DB-Derisking/Barnet-grapples-with-data-difficulties
- Regulator fines Barnet over pension failings https://www.ftadviser.com/pensions/2017/07/27/regulator-fines-barnet-over-pension-failings/
0208 359 2088
On Tuesday 26 March 2019, members of the Pension Fund Committee will discuss the latest debacle about the Pensions data.
I have sat in numerous Barnet Council meetings over the past few years reading and listening to senior officers and councillors discussing the failing Pension Administration Service currently provided by Capita out of their Darlington office.
“5.1.1 Employers will pay £48 million of contributions into the pension scheme in 2018/19. Changes in contribution rates can have a significant cashflow implication for employers and will impact on the Council’s ability to spend in other areas.”
5.2.1 There are no immediate financial implications from the report. However, higher deficits (particularly if sustained) may translate into higher contributions from the ouncil and other employers. Engaging with the Scheme Actuary in advance of the 2019 triennial valuation will enable the Committee to identify ways to stabilise future contribution rates.”
What are the risks?
- The Triannual valuation of the Pension Fund is being placed at risk due to ongoing systemic Pension data errors.
- The Employer may have to increase their contributions which will mean there is less money to spend on services.
- This could lead to some services reducing or stopping altogether.
- Could lead to redundancies
- Less money to invest and resulting in the Pension pot reducing.
There have been warnings
The Pension Regulator (TPR) has intervened twice here in Barnet
First in In 2017:
TPR issues first fine to a public service pension scheme
“The Pensions Regulator (TPR) has fined a public service pension scheme £1,000 for failing to submit basic information required by law…………
TPR issued a scheme return notice to Barnet Council on 9 July 2016, requesting the scheme return be submitted by 12 August. The return was not received and, further communications from TPR not replied to, so the matter was referred to TPR’s Determinations Panel on 24 February 2017.”
Then in 2018
Barnet in TPR breach as Capita misses payments
“The failure to produce 447 statements constitutes a breach of law and a report is being prepared for the Pensions Regulator that will identify the relevant non-compliant employers,” the minutes read.”
Three strikes and you are out.
“5.5.1 The accuracy of the valuation relies on the accuracy of the data provided to the actuaries. Any errors in the provision of the data could have a significant impact on the required contribution rates, particularly for the smaller scheduled and admitted bodies.”
Last week Barnet Council published Pension Fund Committee reports for the meeting on 26 March 2019.
The shocking news was that the critical errors had not been addressed and now the Triannual Valuation of our Pension Fund is now at risk.
In the Data Quality report it states:
“1.3 The quality of membership data is central to the valuation process. Should the quality of data not be to the standard required by Hymans Robertson then there could be delays to the valuation process. Also, inaccurate member data held could result in erroneous benefit statements being issued.
1.4 The results show a significant number of ‘critical errors’ that the administrator will be required to address before actuarial calculations can begin.”
What is worrying is the pattern of behaviour. The issue of data quality is not new. It was raised two years ago.
Now, on the brink of the valuation there are still a “significant number of critical errors’”
The Pension Scheme is one of the most important Terms and Conditions for Barnet Council staff yet since the outsourcing of the service it has been beset with issues.
Barnet UNISON believes that the repeated failures of the Pension Administration service which now threatens in-house services must be brought back in-house along with Payroll in order to restore confidence and assurance both for members of the scheme and employers.
Barnet Council are currently reviewing both Capita contracts.
The Pension Administration service is in Phase Four which is 18 months away.
The service can’t wait that long it needs to come back in-house now.