Financial companies are preying on released prisoners – legal advocate

America- Prepaid cards bad. Cheques good-

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is under pressure to protect a kind of debit card consumer it currently ignores: just-released prisoners. A debit card program that they have “no choice” but to use is charging them exorbitant fees.

Eighteen senators, led by Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) wrote a letter to the CFRB demanding protections for ex-prisoners who are given a debit card upon release with their prison wages or family gifts on them. Checks or cash are out of the question, forcing the formerly jailed to deal with for-profit companies that they had never agreed to do business with.

“The letter by the 18 senators was actually preceded by comments we submitted to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau along with 68 other organizations that are concerned about these issues, and that was back in March,” Alex Friedmann, managing editor of Prison Legal News, told RT.

“[The jails] claim as a matter of convenience that they don’t have to deal with the check writing. They don’t have to provide [prisoners] with cash upon their release and by contracting with these companies, it doesn’t cost the corrections agency anything,” Friedmann said.

Friedmann explained that the corrections facilities don’t pay for the debit card program. Rather, the financial companies, which include JPay, Rapid Financial Security, Keefe Group, and Numi Financial, simply make money by charging fees to the card holders. He said 630,000 people get out of jail every year. JP Morgan is the sole contractor for such programs for federal prisons.

“These companies compete not by offering the best product to the people who use them, but by offering the biggest commission to [the agencies] that sign the contracts,” American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney Carl Takei said in an interview with Al Jazeera.

“The big issue here is the prisoners have no choice,” Friedmann told RT, continuing “In no other context that we can think of does that exist.”

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#banking, #banks, #debt, #debts

Taxman hounds the vulnerable for debts they don’t owe as nearly nine out of ten people who take their case to arbitration win

Thousands of vulnerable people are being pursued for tax debts they shouldn’t have to pay and are having legitimate complaints fobbed off by the taxman, Money Mail can reveal.

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A bombshell independent report by the influential Adjudicator’s Office accuses HM Revenue & Customs of mistreating elderly and vulnerable taxpayers and failing to take account of their circumstances.

It found that nearly nine out of ten people who take their case to arbitration win.

Often these disputes have dragged on for months as the taxpayer struggles to get their problem taken seriously.

n a damning assessment, the report by the Adjudicator – who acts as a referee looking into complaints against HMRC – accuses officials of having a ‘limited appetite for reflection and learning from their interaction from customers’.

Over the 12 months to March 31, the Adjudicator received more than 11,600 enquiries from the public about rotten treatment at the hands of HMRC, the Insolvency Service and the Valuation Office Agency – though the taxman generated the overwhelming majority of these.

For the Adjudicator to intervene in a case, the taxpayer has to have hit a dead-end with HMRC.

In total, the Adjudicator resolved 1,808 complaints about HMRC – of these, 1,543, or a staggering 85 per cent, were settled in the consumer’s favour.

Robin Williamson, director of the charity Low Incomes Tax Reform Group, says: ‘Those who’ve persevered to take their case to the Adjudicator have already been through the mill, refused to give up and kept on at HMRC with their complaint.

‘Far too many will have given up or not even known they can take their complaint beyond tax officials to a watchdog. They’ll just have written off the money.’

In total, the taxman was ordered to pay out £244,000 for poor complaint handling and triggering worry and stress. Overall, its errors led to £2.9million of tax it claimed was owed being written off.

In her report, Adjudicator Judy Clements says: ‘I’m critical of the number of complaints where HMRC staff failed to consider the circumstances of their vulnerable customers – especially where [they] had the opportunity to exercise discretion.’

She also highlighted a number of particularly worrying cases where HMRC had failed to act fairly. In one example, Ms A, who suffered from severe dyslexia, had asked for documents to be sent in a larger print size.

This took a while to create, so she ended up receiving a letter on February 10 relating to a self-assessment tax return, which requested she pay her bill by January 31.

She phoned HMRC to say the letter was too late and no payslip to settle her debt to the Revenue was enclosed.

Her payment deadline was extended, but the payslip arrived too late for her to meet the new deadline, so she ended up being hit with interest and penalties.

The Adjudicator was critical of the Revenue for its lack of understanding of Ms A’s personal circumstances.

In another case, Mr B complained because HMRC had failed to update his tax code – as a result, he underpaid tax. He filed a request to have this debt written off using a legal waiver called Extra Statutory Concession A19.

HMRC turned this down, but the Adjudicator ruled that Mr B’s debt should be written off. This is just the latest evidence of faltering customer service at HMRC.

In September, a report from Citizens Advice found thousands of people were waiting an average of 47 minutes to get their calls answered. The National Audit Office also recently criticised HMRC for answering too few calls inside five minutes.

Earlier this year, the Revenue was forced to admit its behaviour ‘was not good enough’. Its own figures revealed how only 72 per cent of calls were answered in the 2014-15 tax year — below its 80 per cent target.

And Money Mail has frequently highlighted the fiasco faced by pensioners who try to claim the new Married Couple’s Allowance.

Read more: http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-3302419/How-taxman-hounds-vulnerable-debts-don-t-owe.html#ixzz3qXGMzE1E

#bedroom-tax, #debt, #tax, #tax-credit, #tax-credits, #taxing

Nurses turning to food banks and seeking debt advice due to NHS cuts

Nurses are increasingly turning to food banks and pay day lenders after years of public sector pay freezes, a union has warned.

Undervalued nurses are forced to seek advice about debts, bankruptcy and homelessness, according to new figures from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).11745635_10204603452022427_4507785575538908987_n

More than 1,200 nurses called the union’s member support helpline between January and July, needing advice on welfare, ill-health, disability and other issues.

This included 231 asking for help with debts and bankruptcy.

The figures come as Janet Davies, the union’s new general secretary and chief executive, told the Guardian of anecdotal evidence that nurses are increasingly turning to food banks and payday lenders.

She said years of public sector pay restraint was leaving nurses feeling undervalued and could push some to leave the profession.

The union’s counseling service has also seen a rise in the number of nurses needing help with stress.

Problems filling rotas is also leading to an even greater reliance on expensive agency staff.

Ms Davies said: “These huge agency bills, nurses going to food banks – this is not a great place to be.”

She said more nurses were choosing agency or bank nursing because they could earn more money.

And she said a further pressure on pay was the increasing prevalence of “downbanding”, where a senior nursing post is re-evaluated and downgraded.

Read more here:http://streetskitchen.co.uk/?p=2855

#cut, #cuts, #debt, #foodbank, #nhs-2, #welfare-cuts

DWP apology to mentally-ill Leicester man after abandoned attempt to recover disputed 2006 debt

The Department of Work and Pensions has apologised to a mentally-ill Leicester man after pursuing him for loans he insists he never took.

PICTURE ANDY BAKER

Geoffrey Thomas has been involved in a six month battle with officials over a disputed crisis loans totalling £400 they say he took out in 2005 and 2006 to buy furniture

The 46-year-old from Aylestone received a letter in January telling him £8.43 a week would be deducted from his benefits.

Mr Thomas, who suffers from anxiety, depression and personality disorder, says a mistake has been made and believes he has been mixed up with someone else.

However a payment was taken from his benefits before Leicester South MP Jon Ashworth intervened and the money was returned to Mr Thomas while the matter was resolved.

Mr Thomas asked for documents to be produced proving he took the loans and the DWP consequently abandoned attempts to get back £280 of the disputed sum.

It has now written to him to saying it will not seek repayment of the remaining £120, apologising and inviting him to seek compensation.

Mr Thomas said: “I am pleased they have backed down but they are still saying I owe it and I really don’t.

“If I owe anything I pay it back. At Christmas I was overpaid in benefits and I returned that but these crisis loans, I never took them.

“It hasn’t helped my mental health I am a bit fragile and this has made me much more worried. I’ve lost a lot of sleep over that last few months because I knew what was happening wasn’t right.

“I dug my heels because they made a mistake but if this can happen to me it could happen to others. I’m worried that other people might just accept they owe money whey they don’t and end up paying back money they do not owe.”

Mr Thomas said he would be seeking compensation.

Mr Ashworth said: “”It was clear from the beginning that there were concerns over the recovery of the three Social Fund Loans.

“Given the limited income Geoffrey has I was pleased that I was able to get the deductions from his benefit suspended while the DWP were looking at the loans.

“At first the DWP were insisting on recovering payment but then abandoned collection for payment of two of them and decided not to pursue recovery of the third.”

“Although there are still questions as to whether one of the loans was ever made, it is clear that the DWP was not in a position to legally seek recovery.

“It is worrying that such errors may also been made for other people who have repaid loans that they insist they did not have. Slashing the budgets of government departments clearly impacts on the ability of the department, like the DWP, to ensure its record keeping is accurate.”

Mr Thomas was also helped by his ward councillor Nigel Porter who said: “Geoffrey says he didn’t have the loans but in any case these alleged loans are almost a decade old and I thought loans older than six years are statute barred anyway.

“Why did they wait ten years? It just seems unfair.

“It worries me that other vulnerable people are finding themselves in Geoffrey’s situation.”


The above article is from leicestermercury.co.uk. Find the original here.


#cock-up, #debt, #dwp, #mistake