It was one of those things that the City Council wouldn't want to kick up a fuss about. After all, it was a bit of a controversial decision to merge the city's welfare rights department into the management of the housing benefit service back in September 2006. Employees were only told about the decision 2 or 3 days before it was implemented and were told in an email to 'keep quiet' about the issue. You can imagine people getting concerned over 'conflicts of interest' when you're supposed to get impartial and independent advice on welfare rights from people in the very same office as those authorizing the actual applications.
But thankfully someone decided she couldn't stay quiet over the issue. Sarah Roy, who worked for the council, posted an article on Rightsnet.org.uk, a website for welfare rights workers to share information and knowledge. She posted the article on Saturday 28th of July. The City Council ordered the site to remove the posting instantly or else they would 'seek an injunction in the High Court and sue for damages'. See the now empty page and an update on the case. Another publication, called 'Benefits and Rights' also received legal threats after it told readers it was to feature the issue in its next edition. After the legal threats they received by the council, they ran a 'shortened version' of the article. See newsletter. The Evening Post has featured the story twice in the last few weeks, but haven't received any legal threats as yet.
Recently Sarah wrote in an update on Rightsnet: "The take-over of our Welfare Rights Service by a benefit provider caused most team members to have real concerns about impartiality, confidentiality etc and clearly compromised our own professional integrity. As union steward, I wanted to challenge the takeover and there was subsequently a group grievance about the decision. I was interested in taking the issue to judicial review. The Union was never consulted about any of this and neither were team members. The decision had been kept from the team for a month (the time between being announced and taking effect), until it had actually taken effect and so this meant there was no opportunity for us to challenge it as a team before it had happened. Staff were told not to speak about the issue (I quote email sent to team) "If you choose to disobey the above instruction I strongly advise you to get your own advice first. If you want my opinion I would definitely say keep quiet". It was never either procedurally or legally challenged by managers (that I am aware of). I believe that this 'order of silence' from management was because the council knew its actions were underhand and would be very unpopular with claimants. The postings were made last September but it has taken this long for them to finally be able to get rid of me. The case will be going to internal appeal and ET and I did promise to keep people posted."
Sarah Roy was fired from her job over the incident. She apperently received a letter threatening her with legal action, even before she had been spoken to by one of her managers.