If there was ever a compact between the government and the people, it has long since rotted away. The latest example of this is the news that the government and police are rushing to investigate an alleged fraud by the services provider, Serco, concerning irregularities in records kept for its £285m prisoner escorting contract.
The investigation focusses on the allegation that Serco overcharged the government a sum in the ‘low tens of millions’ of pounds. As well as the probability of criminal prosecutions, the company faces being barred from tendering for other government contracts. The punishment, if Serco are found to have engaged in fraud, will be swift and sure. As well as column acres of media coverage, we can be certain the matter will surface in the House of Commons as MPs rush to criticise and condemn both outsourcing per se and the company’s actions and greivous offence against the ‘public’.
Here we see the government pressing the full force of the state into action to punish any offences committed against it.
Now let us compare this laser-like focus of the state on punishing fraud amounting to perhaps £20-30m with the state’s focus on a much larger and more widespread criminal enterprise made up of fraud, harrassment and threatening behaviour, amounting to many hundreds of millions of pounds – possibly over £1bn – committed in the last year alone against many of the more than 1.8 million members of the public who had unpaid charges put into the hands of bailiffs… the wilful overcharging and illegal application of fees by local authorities through liability orders and the illegal charges, false accounting and criminal behaviour of bailiffs.
This week another example of the many instances of this racketeering has managed to sneak its way into local news coverage in Wales, where a Caerphilly resident owed unpaid council tax just £180, yet despite receiving no warning letters was faced with bailiffs, acting as an agent of and on behalf of Caerphilly County Borough Council, at her door demanding payment. Not only that, but the bailiff fraudulently added a further £200 charge to the debt for their services. The amount set down in law that bailiffs can charge is £24.50 for their first visit and £18.00 for a second and final visit. They can only charge for two visits. Attempting to charge hundreds of pounds in the way they do is blatantly illegal.
The bailiff is reported to have returned to visit the resident last week and told her that if she did not pay £75 he would come back and change the locks on her house. This is not only a clear example of harrassment, it is also an attempt to extract money with menaces as bailiffs do not have the power to change the locks on a residential property over an unpaid debt, and asserting such a course of action is a clear offence. A fraud is being perpetrated against this resident, a mother of four with limited means. She is just one in over a million.
As is standard practice in such cases, which all too infrequently get press attention in this way, a Caerphilly Council spokesman said:
We are unable to comment on individual cases, but the council makes every effort to assist residents who are in arrears before taking further action.
You will note that despite Caerphilly being wholly responsible for the behaviour and actions of their agents and representatives, the council has not addressed the illegality of the bailiff’s effort to charge fees above the legal amount or taken any steps to address the harrassment and intimidation by the bailiffs they engaged.
The police’s readiness to investigate and take action against Serco, which is alleged to have committed crime through fraudulent overcharging for services and charging for services not undertaken, contrasts dramatically with the refusal of the police to investigate and take action against bailiffs who are alleged to have committed crime through fraudulent overcharging for services and charging for services not undertaken.
The double standard is clear. The people of this country are being denied the protection of the law when the state and its agents break the law to suit their own interests, yet when the state feels it has been wronged its full arsenal is brought to bear on the alleged offender, be that a rich company being greedy or hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of ordinary people who struggle to pay the ever increasing sums demanded by government to service its activities.
And new methods of gouging money from the public are being developed all the time. A report in the Telegraph explains how over 1 million drivers in the last year have had traffic enforcement charges (mainly parking infringments) put into the hands of bailiffs, with the AA observing that even when mistakes are made, councils seem to readily wash their hands of drivers trapped in a cycle of threats from debt collectors and bailiffs:
The bailiff process is virtually unstoppable, even for the innocent and getting someone to listen is virtually impossible.
The fact that bailiffs are now swanning around like bounty hunters in vehicles with ANPR cameras to find vehicles with outstanding warrants is sinister.
The story also includes a reference to evidence given earlier this year by the London Motorists’ Action Group to the Transport Select Committee that bailiffs “frequently and fraudulently demand fees which are far in excess of the permitted statutory level.”
Barrie Segal, who runs the AppealNow website also said for the Telegraph piece that, “It’s a bit like the wild west, but there are no good guys out there to look after motorist”. And this is the point, the double standard reinforced, the police – the supposed good guys – are refusing to do their sworn duty turning a blind eye to fraud committed on behalf of the state, while always going after anyone who is alleged to have committed fraud against the state.
How is this not a war being waged on the people of this country by those who are supposed to serve us?