Guest blog by James Davies, Campaigns Officer, PCS
As the Ministry of Justice looks set to outsource yet more of its work, PCS is calling for a major rethink on a privatisation that will threaten a major cornerstone of our justice system.
Concentrix, the multi-billion dollar company recently criticised for falsely accusing thousands of people of cheating on their tax credits, looks likely to be handed a lucrative contract by the department for collecting fines and compensation set by the courts.
This privatisation is expected to be signed off by the new Justice Secretary Michael Gove in a matter of weeks, despite court staff having improved collection rates year on year over the last 5 years. Not only have they collected record amounts of fines in the face of falling resources, but they have also consistently outperformed private debt collectors in this area.
Concentrix were controversially hired in November 2014 by HM Revenue and Customs to carry out its fraud and error detection work. Since the contract began the Citizens Advice Bureau have reported a 20 per cent rise in people seeking help with tax credits problems. Staff employed by Concentrix have complained of inadequate training and told The Independent newspaper that they are under pressure to open 40 to 50 new investigations every day without having time to check whether the allegations they are making stack up.
The Single Parent Action Network have accused Concentrix of victimising parents on behalf of HMRC, stating: “The language used, the short timescale demands for information and the inability of Concentrix staff to handle phone calls in an efficient way are causing distress and anxiety to vulnerable people.”
Now it seems that the Ministry of Justice, a department hardly renowned for its outsourcing capabilities as anyone who has needed an interpreter in court will testify, will hand over the enforcement of fines and compensation set by the criminal courts in England and Wales to the US corporation.
The department is claiming that it needs private investment to improve IT services. However, HM Courts and Tribunal Service announced last year that £375 million would be available for enhanced “infrastructure” for the criminal courts including replacing the computers of the magistrates’ and crown courts. This will remove many of the barriers to effective in-house enforcement caused by the geographical configuration of the magistrates’ courts’ computers.
After hounding parents in need of tax credits, it appears Concentrix will now be unleashed on those facing financial penalties as well as victims of crime, as they are paid to enforce compensation payments for profit.
PCS, the union that represents the majority of staff working in criminal enforcement is holding a briefing for MPs on 24 June. Invite yours to come along and hear more about the issue at www.pcs.org.uk/justicenotforsale.
PCS campaigns officer