The exceptionally hard to get scheme, part 3

(… continued from The exceptionally hard to get scheme, part 2, posted on 9 Dec 2014).

I will begin this final part of this short blog series by repeating the evidence “slide” that was displayed in support of the evidence given to the HS2 Select Committee by Ms Sandy Trickett (see footnote), who works in the Bedworth constituency office of Dan Byles MP (North Warwickshire and Bedworth) and has extensive experience of the workings of the HS2 Exceptional Hardship Scheme (EHS).

(Source: HS2 Action Alliance evidence to HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee)

(Source: HS2 Action Alliance evidence to HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee)

The final two points on Ms Trickett’s list under the heading “Experience”, both of which refer to the way that the administrators of the EHS scheme deal with applicants, were effectively treated as aspects of the same issue in the evidence that she gave to the Select Committee. Based upon her experience of individual cases, she decried the lack of “a moral code within HS2 as to how they deal with individual cases”, and accused the organisation of showing a lack of flexibility and compassion and failing to appreciate the situation of applicants.

Ms Trickett identified the “standard” letters sent out by the EHS secretariat as being insensitive and inappropriate in some cases and gave an example of a letter sent to the terminally-ill person that she had referred to earlier in her evidence (see part 2 of this blog series). She complained that the secretariat exercised “no flexibility in trying to couch letters relating to individuals”; she characterised it as “the standard letter is what you get”.

As a further example of the secretariat’s lack of tact and understanding in their dealings with individuals, Ms Trickett told the Members of the Committee about “a guy who has to travel six hours a day to Hampshire”. She continued:

“He was refused EHS because he hadn’t proved that it was an emotional problem for him and his wife, even though he had shown that his marriage was under such stress that their marriage was going to break down. They said to him they wanted to know his financial situation. They wanted him to diarise every mile, every petrol receipt, even though he was in sales so he would be doing driving during the day. And then he said, ‘Basically you’re means testing me.’ They said, ‘Yes, we are going to means test you. And further, if we can prove that you can afford it then we don’t need to buy your property.’”

Summarising, Ms Trickett described getting accepted for the EHS as “really hard, really, really hard”. She continued:

“Four and a half years, it’s been an uphill struggle to get people on it. When you do get on it, if you don’t agree with the valuation, although you can go back and challenge the valuation, very little changes, there’s no complaints procedure. The only final thing you can do is, if you don’t complain to HS2 then you have to go through the DfT and finally you can go on to the ombudsman, but there is no complaints procedure. There should be an independent person to deal with that complaint who can look at it and look at it in the round to that individual person, rather than ticking the boxes.”

As someone who has helped an applicant through this procedure, including making a complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, and all to no avail, I identify completely with Ms Trickett’s call for an independent arbiter for complaints – in my blog Seen to be done? (posted 10 Jan 2013) I described the absence of an appeal mechanism as “a glaring example of the disregard for the principles of natural justice”.

I think that a phrase on the evidence slide sums up very well what Ms Trickett had to tell the Committee:

“EHS as operated exploits vulnerable people.”

Ms Trickett’s testimony appeared to cause a certain degree of consternation in the HS2 Ltd camp. If you look at 12:09 hrs in the video you will see an ad hoc conference in progress involving promoter’s lead counsel, Tim Mould QC. The normally unflappable and assured Mr Mould looks, I think, somewhat nonplussed, and felt obliged to tell the Chairman of the Select Committee that he considered that it was part of his job “to try and ensure that this Committee is reassured by the performance of the promoter on the project”. If that was the case, then I think that, after what Ms Trickett had said about the EHS, he had his work cut out on that particular topic.

Mr Mould said all that he really could say; he offered to follow up the cases that Ms Trickett had cited, if she would write to him with the details. Even this did not get him off the hook; Ms Trickett had her response ready:

“We did actually ask to meet with the HS2 EHS team at the behest of the Secretary of State, specifically about the valuations. HS2 refused to give me any of the valuation reports on the things. So if Mr Mould would like to make sure that happens, then I would like to put a report that would maybe benefit everybody.”

I make that game, set and match to the lady.

A few days after Sandy Trickett had appeared in Committee Room 5 – in the afternoon session on Tuesday 25th November to be precise – Joe Rukin found himself before the Select Committee speaking for Stop HS2. What he had to say was very much in tune with Sandy Trickett’s testimony. He described the EHS as “a failure” and jokingly told the Members of the Committee that it was referred to by Stop HS2 members as “the exceptionally hard to get scheme”, a quip which I have eagerly seized on in my search for a title for this blog series. Thanks Joe.

Footnote: Sandy Trickett’s evidence starts at paragraph 344 in the transcript and at about 11.55am in the video.

Important Note: The document from which the quotes reproduced in this blog are taken is an uncorrected transcript of evidence, which is not yet an approved formal record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.

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