BBC apologises to Benefits and Work . . . finally
It’s been a very long battle, but after many months of dogged pursuit by Benefits and Work’s barrister and director Holiday Whitehead, and the eventual involvement of Ofcom, we have finally won an apology from the BBC over a radio broadcast about us last year.
Regular readers will remember that in July last year the Mail on Sunday published a story accusing us of “selling cynical tips on how to squeeze the most disability benefit from the Government –for £95 a time” and suggesting that the site was for “scroungers”.
In September of last year, after the involvement of the Press Complaints Commission we received a letter of apology from the Mail on Sunday. (Mail on Sunday editor apologises to Benefits and Work)
In October of last year we also received an apology from Tory MP Philip Davies (Tory MP apologises to Benefits and Work) who had been quoted in the Mail on Sunday article as saying that:
‘As far as I’m concerned people setting up websites like these should be prosecuted for aiding and abetting benefit fraud.
'Genuine cases don’t need to employ a service like this. It’s for fiddlers.’
On the same day that the Mail on Sunday ran its story, Radio Two’s Michael Ball’s Sunday Brunch programme covered it in its review of the Sunday papers. Benefits and Work considered that Eve Pollard’s comments about us on the programme went even further than the Mail on Sunday’s when she alleged that:
“www.benefitsandwork.co.uk tell you how to fiddle your way to getting a disability allowance.”
We duly asked for an apology.
However, the initial treatment by the BBC of our complaint was so appalling - including lost correspondence, failure to follow their own procedures and misinformation from BBC staff - that in August of last year the Divisional Advisor wrote to us apologising for the way the complaint had been handled and undertaking to provide additional training to one staff member involved.
Unfortunately an apology about the actual broadcast was still not forthcoming. Despairing of the high-handed treatment we felt we were receiving from BBC staff, who seemed to consider that they had complete freedom to repeat accusations about us without making any attempt to verify or add responsible journalistic caveats to their reporting, we turned to Ofcom.
Following Ofcom’s intervention we have now received an unreserved letter of apology from the BBC, which under the terms of the agreement, we are not allowed to publish.
It’s worth noting that whilst all this was going on we were approached for help and advice by three BBC TV and radio programmes seeking pro-claimant information and content - a service we provide for free.
For us here at Benefits and Work, it was shocking to discover the level of complacency and, in our view, sheer arrogance which exists at the BBC when dealing with complaints by ordinary people rather than complaints by media personalities or politicians.
The fact that the Mail on Sunday behaved more reasonably in dealing with our complaint than did the BBC says a great deal about the way that a taxpayer funded institution can grow to consider itself so much more important than the people it serves.
We look forward to the day when the licence fee is finally abolished and the BBC is forced to raise its standards to the point where they match that of a tabloid newspaper.