22 Jan

#shoutoutrevolution – Phantom Art Drop

Phantom Art Drop is a beautiful project akin to the Random Acts of Kindness movement.  Rather than dropping notes and acts of kindness, Phantom goes a whole leap further and drops her/his beautiful artwork in a public place with an accompanying handwritten note attached.

The project tickles my soul, and as soon as it stops raining so damned much I am going to join in.  Part of my fear of involvement is a fear that someone will trash my hard work, either binning it or otherwise vandalising it.  It takes a brave soul and a leap of faith to transcend this.

The Phantom Artist’s concept is beautiful, spiritual and heart blossoming.

So, I asked a few questions:

Who are you?  I’m a hopeless idealist. An anonymous artist who believes that through art we can learn to care for each other more. Strengthen the bonds of community and recognize the need for kindness without the want of fanfare.

Where can I find you?  I’m found in the Caribbean. I live a life of sand, sea and sun. In a way it influences my art. The people and the island life, it’s all apart of me and who I am.

On the web:

https://www.instagram.com/phantomartdrop/

https://www.facebook.com/fantomuartdrop/

What made you come up with your unique idea?  I can’t attest to the novelty of the idea but the reason behind it stems from the need to truly make a connection with someone. To reach out and provide both solace and inspiration.

How I’ve chosen to do it simply happened as a result of my skill set. Honestly the ‘what’ and ‘how’ could have been anything so long as the ‘why’ was satisfied.

So the art and the handwritten letters were my means of doing that. And that’s really the point. For each to take what they have as a gift or talent and give that freely to another in an effort to touch their life positively.

How can I join in?  I encourage any and everyone to take up this cause for kindness. I think we live in a time where it’s desperately needed. Love has become so conditional. Favor and kindness are typically only served if reciprocated with attention and adulation.

This is why I remain anonymous. It’s not about who does it but rather; simply; that it’s done for its sake and nothing more. So to join, do a kind thing for someone for no other reason than to see them smile. Using whatever God has given you. The Phantom Art Drop project is a notion of selflessness and giving… One that I hope we all can embody in our own way.

Note- creatives try leaving a random gift out in the open for anyone to receive. I promise it’ll give you a fresh perspective on life. ?

Can you recommend and amazing art book?  Oh wow hmmm, I quite like ‘ The Story of ArtThe story of art‘ by E. H Gombrich*. It outlines how art developed alongside the people it was made for and how it helps shape and transforms civilizations. It forces one to consider just how influential and important art is or can be.

I love the style of the Phantom Artist, what do you think?

*Amazon associates link

03 Dec

Working tax credits – challenging the “commercial” test.

In early January, HMRC had requested a set of very specific information from me – accounts, receipts, that kind of thing and I had sent them exactly what they asked for.  At the end of January, I went to check my bank balance one day, expecting to see my working tax credits and…nothing.  No working tax, and no child tax credits. I rang the office, expecting for there to have been an error of some kind, only to be told that I had failed their tests and that they would be taking my child tax credits – the money meant for my son – to repay the alleged debt that I owed them.

Devastated, I asked for further information but they could only tell me that the decision-maker’s word was final.  No advice, no word of where I had gone wrong, nothing.

Back in 2015, the rules changed for self-employed people claiming working tax credits and anyone that didn’t meet the new criteria would no longer be eligible.  I thought nothing of it, after all I worked regular hours, was profitable, and my business had a future.  Someone, somewhere, had decided otherwise, and nobody could tell me why.

Ten months later, I have won my appeal against their decision in a tribunal.  It has been tough, stressful, I have used food banks and borrowed money for bills, my son has gone without clubs and classes but we have won, just in time for Christmas.

I could not have done it without some key information, which is what I am going to share with you now, for if this abrupt removal of your lifeline happens to you.  It is cruel and inhumane what they are doing to us self employed people and if you are a) in a creative business and b) universal credit is coming to your area, you are at risk.

To avoid all of this, to exempt yourself from the profitability and commerciality test: 

  • Register as a limited company.  As  company director you will be an employee not a self employed person so the new punitive rules no longer apply.  Be aware though: as a company director, your name and address will be available to the public.  This is a risky move for some people.  Do your research. Be safe.

Prior to your tax credits being stopped:

  • If they ask you for a set of information, receipts etc., know that you are being assessed.
  • Send what they ask for, plus: a business plan for the financial year in question, future financial forecasts for the year in question, flyers, business cards and a comprehensive explanation of your business.  They need to be reassured that you have four weeks’ work in the future to do.
  • Send photocopies only, because I hear they lose a LOT of information that is sent to them.
  • Send it all by special delivery, so that they cannot deny receiving it.  This will all cost quite a bit of money, but trust me, it is worth it.  Losing your documents is a common occurrence.

I can’t guarantee this will, help, but that is the kind of thing they look for.

If you wake up one morning and have no cash, if they have stopped your money:

  • Ring and ask for a “mandatory reconsideration”.  You need to send them anything that you think might add to your case.  Tell them you can’t feed your kids and they need to start paying you your child tax credits back.
  • Citizens Advice can help at this stage.
  • IMPORTANT (because this takes a long time to come) put in a Freedom of Information Request asap. This is VITAL, they will not tell you the exact reason that your claim has been terminated, you will have to scour the information here and find out for yourself.  Within it is a score sheet. This will tell you more.  You won’t get this in time for your Mandatory Reconsideration, but you will do in time for your appeal.

If they turn down your Mandatory Reconsideration:

  • Citizen’s advice cannot help you here, they are not qualified enough.  If you are lucky and live in the right place, see if you can find a Law Centre.  If like me you don’t have the right postcode to get “free” help, you have two options: pay for a solicitor, or, do it yourself.  As I had no cash for a solicitor, I took the latter.
  • Begin your appeal straight away.  Revenue Benefits has loads of information about how to do this.
  • TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE. You have a tiny window of time to appeal in and chances are any letters they send you will be dated several weeks before you receive them, so you have to work fast.  Don’t worry, you will have plenty of time to prepare your case – between three months to a year before your case is heard in the Tribunal court.
  • Use this time to go through your FOI with a fine tooth comb to find out how they have marked you down on their score sheet and find evidence to disprove their (what are likely to be) assumptions.
  • Back this up with evidence that you’ve been working hard in the meantime.
  • Keep a time-sheet, make sure your accounts are kept up to date etc, because when they call you to court, you’ll have maybe two weeks notice.
  • Make a formal complaint.  For me, this confirmed what I had discovered via the FOI, that they had marked me down for information that they hadn’t actually asked for! if you’d like an email address, ask me.
  • Check case law.
  • Try to find someone to go with you.  This availability varies drastically area to area, so you’ll have to do your own research here.
  • Don’t give up.

 

29 Jul

That time Mummy nearly got arrested

It was a nice sunny day.  We had met with some friends to play at Riversley Park in Nuneaton, a place that I had taken my son to when he was just a toddler, for the first time, and had always had a great time at.  I take my dog with me most places that I go and prior to the 1st July 2017, dogs were allowed in the sandy play area of this park.  I was standing under a tree supervising my son to the edge of the play area.  My beautiful well-behaved dog was on a lead and resting peacefully.  I had just had to intervene in some over zealous play where kids were getting hurt and wanted to stay nearby to stop it happening again.

All of a sudden, an unpleasant young man with some kind of clippy thing on his collars marched up to me and said he was from the council. He told me I was committing a criminal offence being in the park with my dog. I replied I wasn’t aware of this, I’ve been going to the park since my son was very young and people always take their dogs in there. I asked him to show me the sign. He did, but it was a small sign, low down and wrapped around a post near an entrance that I had not used (evidenced by my fitness tracker).  The sign was unclear, and I told him so. I wear varifocal glasses and even if I had used that entrance, the sign was low down and in my fuzzy area of vision.

He was demanding my name and address to issue me with a fine.  I asked what law I had broken and what the fine was, both questions that he did not know the answer to.   I refused to give my name to a stranger and asked to see his ID with his name on it. He refused and eventually showed me it, with his name and the company he worked for covered up. By this time I felt there was something not right so I started videoing him.

I continued to refuse to give my details to a stranger. He claimed to be from Nuneaton and Bedworth Council but was not in a uniform and he would not show me ID. Council employees are obliged to do both.

So he called for a colleague. I explained my situation as a vulnerable adult and continued to refuse to give them my name. The second guy showed me an exercise book from the council which he claimed was his ID and read me what he claimed to be a street caution and told me he would call the police. I said fine, I will give my name to a uniformed officer but not to a stranger with no ID who was going to keep my details very unsafely in a notebook. I waited for half an hour, the police didn’t turn up, it was dinner time and I needed to get my son home so we just left.  The older man followed me back to the car and my son photographed him in the car park as we drove away.

Watch the video. I have edited out members of the public and my son.

The older man claims that most people in the park are probably vulnerable adults – in which case he should not be approaching any of them. Guidelines are that they should not give fines to vulnerable adults.  He openly laughs when I tell him I am a victim of domestic abuse and stalking.

He lied about how they did not carry ID – I had already seen the first mans ID, although key details were concealed. 

Nuneaton and Bedworth council have very clear guidelines to how their staff must treat customers. See the “style of service” section here.

I was so traumatised by this event that I spoke to my safety team the next day.  They were extremely concerned and told me that I absolutely had done the right thing by videoing and refusing to give my personal protected details to a  stranger.  They called the council on my behalf and the council were unaware of the dog exclusion order in the park.  They also stated that the men were NOT employed by the council  as they had claimed and that council employees always wore uniforms and carried ID.  They advised me to call the police.

By this time, given my history, I was extremely distressed.  The police investigated for me and came back to me with a crime number.

These men are employed by a firm called NSL.  They have no more right than you or me to approach people and demand their personal sensitive details.  They have no right to detain anyone and the caution that they read is a scare tactic.  They are low paid jumped up parking attendants trained in intimidation tactics.

You are NOT obliged to give your personal details to anyone.  A quick google search reveals that they are NOT allowed to use the DVLA database to look up your details unless you are littering, dog fouling or flyposting.

My son and I have taken days to recover from this alarming incident and I am posting it here to educate you, and to let people of Nuneaton a) be aware of the new dog exclusion zone and b) about the scare tactics that NSL ON BEHALF OF NUNEATON AND BEDWORTH COUNCIL are employing.

I have friends in Nuneaton, NONE of whom were aware that dogs no longer are allowed in the sandy area.  The friend I met up with goes there daily with her children and says that people bring their pets in there all the time.  The local newspapers have not informed residents of the exclusion.

Bully number two told me that the information is available “on the website”.  It is not.  The website provide a PDF form which must be downloaded to find out that the exclusion order was put in place from the 1st July 2017.  I would not have been able to find this out if a) I didn’t have the internet at home, b) be computer literate and c) know how  to open PDF files.  Many people do not have this privilege.

Do you check the website of the park you visit prior to every visit? No, I didn’t think so. The front page of the council’s website says NOTHING about it, nor any parks information.

Are you happy that un-uniformed men WITH NO ID are patrolling a children’s play area? Is this not a child protection issue?

If you are outraged by this incident, please share this.  You can contact Nuneaton and Bedworth Council here, or on twitter or on facebook.

I am calling on Nuneaton and Bedworth Council to:

  • To install clear and noticeable signs in areas where dogs are newly excluded.
  • The private companies employed to give the fines out need to be uniformed and carry ID, which they are willing to show.
  • That personal data is collected and stored in a secure encrypted manner. Data protection does not protect victims of domestic violence, where personal details are known to the perpetrators.
  • That employees of Nuneaton and Bedworth Council and anyone contracted to work for them  are mandated to treat members of the public in the style of service that is promised to us within the document “Customer service and complaints policy” here.
  • That a first warning be given before any fines are levied.