Sharon Hodgson MP

Working hard for Washington and Sunderland West.

News Highlights

You can read Sharon's latest Sunderland Echo column below or by going to the Sunderland Echo website.

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Yesterday, I had an adjournment debate in the House of Commons which I secured on behalf of one of my constituents.

In 2017, it was estimated that one in eight children, aged between five and nineteen, had a mental disorder in England. That is around 1.25 million children and young people suffering.

My constituent is just one of those people, and their experience is no different to thousands of other children and young people up and down the country.   

Mental health services, which many of the most vulnerable in our society rely upon, is in crisis because of historic underfunding by the Conservative Government. This has led both adults and children struggling to access the treatment and support they need.

According to research from the Children’s Society, over 110,000 children were unable to access mental health support from a Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAHMS), despite being referred for support.

My constituent has faced similar problems: lost referrals, cases being closed, and lack of NHS mental health counsellors means that my constituent had to wait months to be seen and has not had another appointment for seven months.

Mental health is just as important as physical health. Yet, if an A&E stopped treating patients there would be uproar. When the same happens for mental health services, there is silence.

After years of inaction, the Prime Minister said that she wanted to make mental health a priority. But these warm words mean nothing for children and young people, like my constituent, who are currently suffering with their own mental health and unable to get access to treatment and support they need and deserve.

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, mental health trusts have less money to spend on patient care in real terms than they did in 2012.

Funding cuts mean that mental health services are buckling under the strain.

This is having an impact on recruitment and retention; something that affected my constituent’s treatment.

Research by the Labour Party found in January that the total number of mental health nurses has fallen each month this year. The Government is on track to miss its mental health workforce target by 15,000 staff.

As mental health awareness increases so too should the funding and support services provided to those suffering.

That is why a Labour Government will prevent any further raiding of mental health budgets by ring-fencing NHS mental health budgets; increase the proportion of mental health budgets spent on support for children and young people and ensure every secondary school in England is able to offer a school-based counselling service to its pupils.

Young people, like my constituent, have their whole future ahead of them. When they need support, they must have access to it and not be turned away at the door. Parity of esteem needs to be a reality not just warm words.

Sunderland Echo website

ECHO COLUMN: Mental health sufferers deserve better support

You can read Sharon's latest Sunderland Echo column below or by going to the Sunderland Echo website. Yesterday, I had an adjournment debate in the House of Commons which I...

On behalf of one of her constituents, Sharon secured an end of day Adjournment debate on Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in the North East. During her speech, Sharon raised the case of her constituent and the difficulties they have faced when accessing CAMHS.

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You can watch the debate here

You can read the debate here

You can read Sharon's speech below:

Mrs Sharon Hodgson MP (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab):

As hon. Members know, it is very difficult to secure an Adjournment debate—the last one took me over a year to obtain—so I was very pleased when this one was granted, especially as it is on such an important matter, as I will outline in some detail tonight. It is especially welcome that business has fallen early tonight, so I do not need to rush or curtail my remarks to leave time for the Minister. This is such an important matter and I know we will both have plenty of time to deal with this issue.

I would first like to thank my constituents for bringing their case to me, and for waiving their anonymity in the hope that their story can help other families and ensure that something like this does not happen again, as it could so easily have had a tragic ending. Going public like this is a very brave thing to do and I sincerely hope that their story, and today’s debate, will spark a change.

In March this year my constituent, Mr Thomas, wrote to me about his daughter Jane, and the

“deplorable treatment when attempting to access CAMHs support”.

Jane, aged 16 at the time—she is now 17—tragically lost her mother as a result of alcohol abuse. Everyone will appreciate the grief that this will have caused Jane and her family, and the lasting impact of that grief after years of watching a parent decline due to alcohol abuse. Many hon Members, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth), my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne), have spoken about their own experience of growing up with similar experiences. I pay tribute to them, and to Jane, today.

Having experienced such loss on top of what she would have seen her mum go through over the years, Jane was understandably struggling with her mental health. Mr Thomas therefore felt that Jane needed professional intervention. Having consulted Jane’s GP, Jane was referred to North Durham child and adolescent mental health services at Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys Foundation NHS Trust. This is where Mr Thomas’s frustration begins.

Jane waited weeks for a CAMHS appointment following the referral, but it was not forthcoming. Mr Thomas went back and forth with the GP to ensure that the referral had been made, and was assured that it had. He was even shown the email confirming that. He then contacted the CAMHS team directly over the phone. As you can imagine, he was surprised to hear that they had no record of any referral regarding Jane. Mr Thomas says that this

“set the pattern of misinformation and incompetence that Jane and I were to encounter.”

Mr Thomas contacted CAMHS again to enquire whether an appointment would be made for Jane, and was told that Jane would not be seen as her need had already been assessed and her case was closed. That exasperated him further, as it referred to an earlier ​episode and a case from several years earlier, not the most recent case following the death of Jane’s mother. Therefore, it did nothing to inspire confidence.

Jane finally saw a CAMHS practitioner at the end of last year and was making positive progress, but her last appointment was on 4 January 2019. It is now July, and Jane has not had another appointment on the national health service in the past seven months. The initial reason for the delay was that Jane’s counsellor had left to start her maternity leave—something that, of course, she is absolutely entitled to do—but the trust will have been well aware for some time that the counsellor’s maternity leave would need to be covered. There also should have been a period of handover so that the service could continue its work smoothly. That did not happen.

Maternity cover was found after a gap of more than two months. However, just days after starting, that person resigned their position, leaving the trust unexpectedly without any cover. I am told that that was for personal reasons. It was at that point that the trust wrote to Jane Thomas, on 8 March, apologising for the delay in her treatment and suggesting that, if she had any inquiries, she should contact the team at North End House or, if she was in crisis, she could call the CAMHS crisis team. It was then three months since her last treatment.

It was upon receiving that letter that Mr Thomas contacted me to bring all this to my attention. There was nothing in the letter to Jane—I have seen a copy of it—to suggest that she should contact the trust to arrange an appointment or alternative provision; it just said to call if she was in crisis. I therefore wrote to the trust on 18 March, asking them to examine this matter further and advise Jane and Mr Thomas.

On 29 March, I received a reply that said that the trust had

“looked at interim solutions, such as part time staff working additional hours.”

It did not say whether that was actually happening, or whether that would include an offer of support to Jane, only that they were looking at it. That was just one of the many opportunities that the trust had to take another look at Jane’s case, to see what interim solutions were in place for her and to make contact with her directly, perhaps by calling her, as they did yesterday—I will come to that in a moment. But that did not happen.

Yesterday, I spoke to Mr Levi Buckley, director of operations at the trust, in advance of this debate. We had been trying to arrange a call for some time and could not get the dates to match, but obviously that changed once I secured this debate. I was told yesterday that alternative arrangements had been put in place for the majority of patients. He told me that when Jane’s counsellor went on maternity leave in January, all those patients should have had their cases reviewed and reassigned to another counsellor or another support network. However, for whatever reason, that did not happen for Jane, although I am told that it did for all the others. Jane had obviously, and shamefully, just slipped through the net. The trust realised that, no doubt prompted by Mr Thomas, and in March, when the new counsellor started and then left after two days, they contacted Jane to apologise with the letter dated 8 March that I mentioned earlier.

There was no concerted effort at any point by the trust to re-establish contact with Jane, who for all they knew was getting no support at all with her mental health. ​There was just that one letter. Even after I contacted the trust on 18 March to begin this dialogue, they still made no further contact with Jane until yesterday, when she was called within two hours of my conversation with Mr Buckley, prior to this debate. I understand that Jane spoke to the head of the CAMHS service, who apologised and offered her transitional provision to move her into adult services, as she is 18 later this month. It is, of course, entirely up to Jane what she decides to do.

Having spoken to the trust, they agree that they could have done more to make contact with Jane, who obviously was easily contactable, as they spoke to her without delay yesterday. There have been many opportunities available, since March when I first contacted the trust on behalf of Mr Thomas and Jane, to make that direct contact and arrange counselling provision for Jane, but that did not happen. That means that a vulnerable young person had fallen through the gaps because of incompetence, and even when it had been brought to their attention in March, nothing was done to rectify the situation until yesterday.

It does not need me to point out that this could have been fatal, had Mr Thomas not sought and paid privately for mental health provision for Jane. I understand from my call with Mr Buckley yesterday that the situation at the trust was made more difficult because, after advertising the job twice and getting no applicants, they had had to lower the grade of the position—meaning that the person would require more supervision—in order to attract someone they could employ. This person is due to start in September—nine months after the counsellor on maternity leave left. Mr Thomas emailed me earlier today to say that the

“analogy of too many Generals and no Soldiers would suggest itself”.

I agree.

In April, when I met Mr Thomas in my constituency surgery, he was very clear that this was about incompetence and bad management within the trust that had allowed his daughter to slip through the cracks. What has most frustrated him about this ordeal is the lack of accountability for what he calls the

“appalling management of the service”.

He went on:

“This CAMHS organisation is poorly led, poorly administered and managed with incompetence.”

Can the Minister please inform the House who should be accountable for these failures?

A freedom of information request made in 2018 to the Care Quality Commission by a concerned parent inquiring into numbers of complaints made against CAMHS went unanswered, with the CQC stating that it did not have full oversight of this organisation and therefore could not provide the requested information. Who does oversee CAMHS? Who should be taking responsibility for the vacancy gap and the real problems that the trust has had in filling the vacancy, and for the impact it has had on vulnerable young people who need access to support? What advice can she give to my constituent, who just wants to help his daughter get the professional treatment she needs, when she needs it, on the NHS? Does the Minister think that trusts should not be able to mark their own homework on such cases? They must surely be held accountable when there are failures and recognise the need for change. I hope that this debate brings about some change.

Hugh Gaffney (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab):

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this debate to the Chamber, and for explaining the importance of mental health services in the north-east. In Scotland in the last five years, there has been a 50% increase in the number of suicides among 15 to 24-year-olds. We need to do something about this national crisis.

Mrs Hodgson:

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I would encourage him to apply for a debate with the same title, only with “Scotland” at the end instead of “North-East” so that he can explore that 50% increase in greater detail. If he is lucky, he might get a nice long session like me, but I know the Minister will have heard his comments.

Throughout all this incompetence it is Jane who has suffered. If this is an issue of recruitment and retention, which it seems to be, what will the Minister do to ensure that CAMHS staff are both recruited and retained nationally, and specifically in the north-east? Nationally, the number of consultant child and adolescent psychiatrists fell by 4.5% between October 2013 and October 2018, which might account for why it was so hard for the trust to recruit someone, while the Government are on track to miss their mental health workforce target by 15,000 staff. Labour research in January found that the total number of mental health nurses had fallen in every month the previous year. I should be grateful if, in her remarks, the Minister would address the issues that led to this decline in the number of mental health nurses and evaluate the impact that it is having on young people such as Jane.

If an A&E just closed its doors because of a lack of staff and stopped treating people, there would be an outcry—we would not stand for it—so why do we allow it to happen when it comes to mental health? The Prime Minister said she wanted mental health to be a priority, but the Government are nowhere near achieving that goal. Mental health awareness is one thing, but it must be matched by mental health support and treatment services, and that is where the Government are failing, especially with regard to staffing.

According to research carried out by the Children’s Society, more than 110,000 children a year are unable to access mental health support from a CAMHS service, despite being referred for support. Three out of four children with a diagnosable mental health condition do not receive the support that they need, according to similar research conducted by YoungMinds. This is therefore not a problem exclusive to the north-east—or even Scotland, as we have just heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Hugh Gaffney)—which is why the Government must take action.

I wrote to Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, which informed me that it did not operate a waiting list in County Durham and Darlington CAMHS. However, Jane and other young people, across the north-east and the whole country, are still waiting. It beggars belief that the trust could say that, but it is in the letter that it sent to me.

As I have said, Mr Thomas was left with no choice but to engage a private practitioner. That came at a huge cost to him and his family, but as a loving parent he felt that he had no other option. No parent should be put in that position, and not all parents have the means to step in when the services let them down so badly, as was the case for Jane.

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, mental health trusts have less money to spend on patient care in real terms than they had in 2012. Of course, lack of funding means that trusts are strained and unable to provide vital services. Is that what led to the staffing problems in this trust? Was its inability to fill the vacancies down to the salaries being offered, or was the workload that was being demanded of staff too high? Why did that new person leave after only two days? Will the Minister support Labour’s calls for the ring-fencing of NHS mental health budgets and an increase in the proportion of those budgets that is spent on support for children and young people? Increased funding will relax some of the pressure on services, and will ensure that they can be sufficiently staffed and resourced to improve patient experiences.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, Mr Thomas and Jane were very brave to allow me to share their story with the House in so much detail today. However, it should not have come to this. Jane, having mental health problems, should have been referred to CAMHS, been assessed and then been given therapy appointments as necessary to support her recovery—unbroken, with no seven-month gaps in provision. Instead, she and Mr Thomas have been back and forth and have had to fight, and even pay, for the support that she needs and to which she is entitled.

Mr Buckley, from the trust, informed me that North Durham CAMHS had seen an 18% rise in referrals over the last year. It follows that as the number of referrals rises, the funding must also increase to meet that need. The Government must increase the proportion of mental health budgets spent on support for children and young people: they must make mental health a priority, with actions and not just warm words.

While the staffing crisis and mismanagement at Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust rages on, Jane still has no access to treatment and support on the NHS, although I have been told that she received a call yesterday suggesting that the problem might be resolved shortly. I therefore ask the Minister what she will do for Jane, and young people like her, to ensure that situations like this do not occur in future.

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in the North East 10.07.19

On behalf of one of her constituents, Sharon secured an end of day Adjournment debate on Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in the North East. During her speech, Sharon...

The proposed gasification plant at Hillthorn Farm in Washington is at the next stage of the planning process. On 19th July 2019 at 4:30pm, the application will be referred to the Planning and Highways Committee at The Stadium of Light.

I share the concerns of my constituents about this plant and have applied to speak at the Committee hearing. If you are one of my constituents and would like to share your concerns with me please email me at sharon.hodgson.mp@parliament.uk

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To view the letter in full and find out how to apply to speak at the meeting, please click the image above

Update from Sunderland Council regarding the gasification plant in Washington: Committee Meeting

The proposed gasification plant at Hillthorn Farm in Washington is at the next stage of the planning process. On 19th July 2019 at 4:30pm, the application will be referred to...

Sharon Hodgson MP's report - Jun-Jul 2019 number 119

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Click on the picture above to read Sharon Hodgson MP's report - Jun-Jul 2019 number 119

News from Westminster - Jun-Jul 2019 number 119

Sharon Hodgson MP's report - Jun-Jul 2019 number 119 Click on the picture above to read Sharon Hodgson MP's report - Jun-Jul 2019 number 119 Read more

During a debate on Ending the Sale of New Petrol and Diesel Cars and Vans Sharon talked about the challenges and oppurtunities of transitioning to Electric Vehicles (EVs) and what the Government needs to do to create an environment in which consumers are able to confidently move away from Petrol and Diesel vehicles. 

You can read the debate here

You can watch Sharon's speech here

You can read Sharon's speech below: 

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)

It really is a pleasure to speak in this debate today, because it is on an issue of great importance not only to our environmental commitments, but to the continued success of the UK’s automotive industry. As people will no doubt be aware, because I bang on about it, it is also important to my constituency, which is home to Nissan’s UK car plant. Just last month, the plant became the first in the UK to build its 10 millionth vehicle—an astonishing achievement and a real testament to the efficiency of the facility and the dedication of the workers.

Despite that good news, the overall picture for the automotive industry is worrying. A decline in sales of diesel vehicles, continuing uncertainty over Brexit, fears of a no-deal outcome, and the shift towards electric cars and autonomous vehicles are just some of the key factors that have led some in the sector to describe the current situation as a crisis. According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, British car production fell for the 12th month in a row in May as output dropped to 15.5%. It is now clearer than ever that we need an urgent resolution to the ongoing Brexit stalemate and one that avoids the UK crashing out without a deal, which would be disastrous for the automotive industry.

While we must recognise the challenge that the transition towards electric vehicles presents to the automotive industry, it is important to see it as a great opportunity. Climate change is rightly back on the top of the political agenda, partly due to recent protests, including last week’s successful “The Time is Now” mass lobby. The deadly heatwave that swept across Europe last week should also focus our minds on tackling this issue. According to scientists, it was at least five times, and possibly a hundred times, more likely because of climate change.

As the shadow Public Health Minister, I am hugely concerned by illegal and harmful levels of air pollution across the UK, especially here in the capital. Air pollution damages the health of millions of people and is hugely ​dangerous for children, babies, older people, and those with existing health conditions. Successfully transitioning to electric vehicles is just one way of combating the climate crisis.

Nissan has been leading the way in developing EVs and the battery technology upon which they rely. The Nissan Leaf, made in my constituency, was the best-selling EV in Europe last year. The plant in Washington is also the only volume car manufacturer making a pure battery EV and has the first UK battery plant. Disappointingly, uptake of EVs in the UK lags behind other European countries, and the Government must be held partly responsible. They have failed to create an environment in which the EV market can thrive. Grants for EVs have been cut, and investment in the charging infrastructure has been insufficient, as we have heard from several hon. Members.

Perhaps most importantly of all, the Government continue to hold an unambitious phase-out date for new petrol and diesel models of 2040. By comparison, Norway’s target is for all vehicles sold to be low emission by 2025, the Netherlands and Sweden are aiming for 2030, and Scotland’s target is 2032. Although opinions vary on what the target should be, many in the industry have told me that the sector could absolutely cope with our target being brought forward to, say, 2035. The Committee on Climate Change recently called for the sale of new petrol and diesel cars to be banned by 2030, so does the Minister agree with the CCC?

If companies such as Nissan are to build on their successes by producing and selling EVs, the right conditions must be in place for consumers to feel comfortable about making that transition. Two of the key barriers to consumer uptake are concerns around sufficient charging infrastructure and the high price of purchasing an EV compared with a petrol or diesel vehicle. Last year, the Government cut the grant for EVs from £4,500 to £3,500, which Labour strongly opposed. We simply cannot expect people, many of whom were encouraged to buy diesel cars not that long ago, to be able to afford new EVs when they can cost up to £10,000 more than a petrol or diesel vehicle. Even if they cost less to run over time, that initial outlay is the barrier.

As for charging infrastructure, Sunderland is well served, as is the north-east as a whole, as the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) pointed out. I attended the launch of our new Fastned charging station in Sunderland just last month, for example. As she said, the current market-led approach could lead to an unequal and inefficient distribution of charging points, and if the Government expect consumers to make the change to electric, they need to set out a national strategic infrastructure plan for charging points and further support individuals with home charging.

Although it is welcome that, as of 1 July, all electric car charge points installed via the official homecharge scheme must now have smart features, that means that chargers installed outside of the scheme will not have to be smart. In order for the electricity grid to ever be able to cope with this new future of high levels of EV charging, the systems in place need to be as efficient and smart as possible, not only in homes, but in workplaces and public locations.

The SMMT published figures today showing that the UK car market is in decline for the fourth consecutive month and that alternatively fuelled vehicle demand fell ​for the first time in 26 months. It is clear that the EV market in the UK can thrive with the right conditions in place, and the Government should be ensuring that the transition away from petrol and diesel vehicles is seen as an opportunity by all.

Debate on a Motion on Ending the Sale of New Petrol and Diesel Cars and Vans - 04.07.19

During a debate on Ending the Sale of New Petrol and Diesel Cars and Vans Sharon talked about the challenges and oppurtunities of transitioning to Electric Vehicles (EVs) and what the...

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Sharon Hodgson, Member of Parliament for Washington and Sunderland West, has welcomed Government proposals to prevent future injustices within the leasehold market, but is calling for more action to help current owners of leasehold properties.

In a recent letter to Housing Minister Heather Wheeler, Sharon outlined the problems and injustices felt by constituents of Washington and Sunderland West regarding leasehold properties.

The Housing Secretary, James Brokenshire MP, last week announced plans to abolish the selling of new build houses as leasehold and reduce ground rents for new leases to zero.

However, properties built before these proposals are put into legislation will still be sold as leasehold.

Despite welcoming the proposals as a step in the right direction to prevent future injustices, Sharon is concerned that the proposals overlook existing leaseholders.

Sharon said:

“I welcome the commitments from the Government to protect future homebuyers, and I believe that this is the start of the end for this outdated and unfair market. However, they do nothing to help those already subject to the injustices of the exploitative leasehold market, who feel ripped off, trapped, or like their home is not their own.

“There is a real threat that this will further leave leaseholders behind in the property market, with their properties becoming even more unattractive to buyers.

“The Government’s evident lethargy in committing to solutions for the leasehold market means that millions already living in leasehold properties continue to feel insecure, so I would urge the Government to go further than the steps outlined, and commit to immediate measures to right these existing wrongs.”

ENDS

Sharon calls for more action on leasehold injustices

Sharon Hodgson, Member of Parliament for Washington and Sunderland West, has welcomed Government proposals to prevent future injustices within the leasehold market, but is calling for more action to help...

Today, Sharon submitted a letter to Heather Wheeler MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, to pass on evidence received from constituents who are owners of leasehold properties as part of a constituency-wide consultation.

Leasehold_letter.pngYou can read Sharon's letter by clicking the picture above

In November 2018, Sharon launched a consultation in the constituency and received 58 detailed responses highlighting the frustrations and problems that residents of Washington and Sunderland West have experienced.

It is estimated that 19% of sales in 2017 in Washington and Sunderland West involved leasehold property.

The letter provides and outline of numerous injustices surrounding the leasehold market that constituents detailed:

  • Lack of consumer knowledge about leaseholds and lack of information provided by estate agents and solicitors on the implications of buying leasehold properties;
  • A lack of transparency from the freeholder on the use of service charges;
  • Constituents feeling stuck, being left without the option or financially unable to purchase the lease, at the point of sale or later when wanting to move homes, or extend the lease so that they can sell;
  • Leases being sold on by the freeholder to third party companies without giving any notice given to the leaseholder

Sharon said:

"I’m grateful to my constituents who got in touch with me about their experiences and concerns about leasehold properties.

“From the responses that I have received it is clear that more steps should be taken towards preventing further injustices with leasehold properties, and that the Government should commit to immediate measures to right these wrongs.

“I look forward to the Government’s response to this letter, and will share this with my constituents who have written to me about leasehold too.”

ENDS

Sharon writes to Minister about leaseholds in Washington and Sunderland West

Today, Sharon submitted a letter to Heather Wheeler MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, to pass on evidence received from constituents... Read more

You can read Sharon's latest Echo column below or on the Sunderland Echo website.

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The Free TV Licence for over-75s was something the Labour Government in 2000 proudly introduced as a package of social welfare policies for the elderly.

But it was a Conservative Government who, in 2015, callously outsourced this treasured benefit to the BBC, as part of a “Hobson’s Choice” Charter renewal.

The 2017 Conservative Party manifesto itself committed to protecting “all pensioner benefits including… TV licences for the duration of this Parliament” Which would take us to 2022, not 2020 when these changes will come into effect.

So, whilst a Conservative Party manifesto has been broken without any consideration, it is the elderly and most vulnerable in our society who will suffer.

The changes to the free TV licence for over-75s, which will see only those receiving Pension Credit acquiring a free TV licence, means that approximately 3,150 households in Washington and Sunderland West will now miss out on a free TV licence.

Many of my constituents have contacted me about this issue, and I share their concerns about the impact this could have on those affected by these changes.

Age UK estimate that for over a million of the oldest people in our country, television is their main form of company. Further analysis shows that scrapping the free TV licence could push 50,000 pensioners below the poverty line.

I am therefore concerned about the isolation and loneliness this could cause, as well as the financial implications on some of the oldest and most vulnerable in our community.

The blame for this lies squarely at the feet of this Conservative Government. Public broadcasters should not be responsible for social policy.

I contributed to the BBC’s consultation on the free TV licence back in February, spoke in a recent debate on the proposed changes and hosted the National Pensioners Convention’s parliamentary lobby in March protesting the changes.

Since the consultation began, I have argued that the Government should take back responsibility for funding the free TV licence for over-75s.

Lets not forget, amongst all the noise around Brexit and the leadership contest to be the next Prime Minister, the Government can change all of this and I will continue to urge them to do so.

In the meantime, any constituents who are concerned about the impact these changes will have on them, their friends or family, please ensure that you are claiming all the benefits that you are entitled to, particularly Pension Credit. Visit www.entitledto.co.uk to check this out.

Sunderland Echo website

ECHO COLUMN: Threat to TV licence could lead to loneliness

You can read Sharon's latest Echo column below or on the Sunderland Echo website. The Free TV Licence for over-75s was something the Labour Government in 2000 proudly introduced as...

During a debate on a Statutory Instrument - Consumer Rights Act 2015 (Enforcement) (Amendment) Order 2019 - Sharon called for further funding for enforcement agencies with a particular focus on the secondary ticket market.

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You can read the debate here

You can watch Sharon's speech here

You can read Sharon's speech below:

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West):

I am going to speak about something slightly different, which is what I think should be in the statutory instrument. As Members probably know—if they do not, it is probably because I have not banged on about it enough—I chair the all-party parliamentary group on ticket abuse, in which capacity I wish to speak today. I feel strongly that with this SI the Government have missed a great opportunity to address some concerns that have been expressed to me over the years.

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 refers explicitly to secondary ticketing. Despite that important legislation, fans continue to be ripped off by secondary ticket touts ​who sell tickets for huge profits to genuine fans. Some touts do this regardless of whether the ticket actually exists, and without any regard for existing legislation. This leaves people out of pocket, frustrated, disappointed and unable to attend an event that they have saved for and looked forward to. The 2015 Act exists to protect consumers, which is what we are discussing, but it is failing to do so because of insufficient enforcement. Without sufficient enforcement, it becomes a moot Act, if there can be such a thing. That is why I wish to make the case today for more funding for our enforcement agencies, as I believe that enforcement is a significant aspect of the 2015 Act that is missing from this SI. I hope the Government will consider rectifying that.

National trading standards

“delivers national and regional consumer protection enforcement…Its purpose is to protect consumers and safeguard legitimate businesses by tackling serious national and regional consumer protection issues and organised criminality and by providing a ‘safety net’ to limit unsafe consumer goods entering the UK”.

To perform this huge task, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy provides national trading standards and Trading Standards Scotland with just £14 million. With that small amount of funding, trading standards is expected to protect consumers from scams and cyber-crime and to protect UK borders and public safety. Does the Minister agree that £14 million per year for this huge responsibility, which requires investigation, prevention, safeguarding and enforcement, is really not enough to fulfil the task to any acceptable level, and that it must—I know it does—leave NTS officers continually frustrated and overworked? Has the Minister made any assessment of how much funding NTS needs to fulfil its role to the highest standard?

The 2015 Act makes it clear that sellers must provide seat, row and block numbers, as well as the unique ticket ID number, if the event organisers insist on it, yet there are still examples of secondary ticketing sites that do not supply this information. Touts are therefore still able to operate illegally and rip off genuine fans without any serious implications. The legislation exists—we are talking about it—but despite a long-running Competition and Markets Authority investigation, enforcement is still lacking. That means it is up to organisers, venues and promoters to monitor secondary ticket touts, cancel tickets when necessary, and respond to disappointed fans who are denied access with invalid tickets. Such expectations are unreasonable for organisers, venues and promoters. At a recent meeting of the all-party group, an event organiser said:

“We don’t want to be the enforcers, but if agencies aren’t there then we have to step in.”

Does the Minister agree that this is not an acceptable expectation for organisers, venues and promoters?

As the House knows, I have been working on this issue for a long time now, and I am convinced that ticket touts will continue to operate outside the law until there is a sustainably funded agency to ensure that the existing legislation—this legislation—is enforced. That is why the SI is deficient. Recently, we saw two English teams fly to Madrid for the champions league final. I have to admit that I am not a fan of either team—I do not know whether you are, Madam Deputy Speaker—but many fans flew over, too, paying out for their flights, transfers and accommodation, on top of as much as £5,000 per ticket, going up in some cases to £10,000 per ticket, only ​to be told, just hours before the game, that the tickets they had purchased from secondary ticket sites did not exist and were cancelled. I can only imagine the sheer disappointment, anger and frustration that those fans went through, even though the 2015 Act should have made it impossible for that to happen. Unfortunately, this is not a rare occurrence: it is something I hear about all too often from the excellent campaign groups Victim of Viagogo and the FanFair Alliance.

If the Government want to protect consumers—which is what we are here to do—they must invest in our enforcement agencies to ensure that the existing legislation is totally adhered to. I know that what I have talked about is slightly outwith the scope of the SI, and I am so grateful for the House’s indulgence and to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to talk about the funding of national trading standards, but I hope the Minister has heard what I have had to say, even though I have sneaked it in as I have done, and will look into the issue as soon as possible.

 

Consumer Protection 11.06.19

During a debate on a Statutory Instrument - Consumer Rights Act 2015 (Enforcement) (Amendment) Order 2019 - Sharon called for further funding for enforcement agencies with a particular focus on the...

Responding to Managing Director of Viagogo, Cris Miller's claims that Viagogo will comply with current legislation 'as soon as possible', Sharon Hodgson MP said:

"Viagogo should have complied with UK legislation, the Consumer Rights Act, when it was enacted four years ago. Instead, they have ripped off thousands of genuine fans over the years and taken little responsibility for their actions.

"While Viagogo’s competitors agreed undertakings to follow the law in April 2018, Viagogo resisted change and were eventually served with a court order in November 2018. They were duty bound to comply fully with this order by Mid-January, almost five months ago. This begs the question what 'as soon as possible' means to Cris Miller of Viagogo?

“Four years ago, the Consumer Rights Act was enacted in order to protect consumers. Viagogo have therefore had four years to comply with the law. Why did Viagogo not comply immediately, when other secondary ticket sites did?

"Viagogo is not a new businesses, as Miller states, but is in fact thirteen years old. Regardless, that should not grant a business that lies to and manipulates consumers into spending huge amounts of money for tickets, that may not be valid or may not even exist, immunity from the law.

"I don’t agree that Viagogo are being asked to do 'more than their competitors' and if they feel they are perhaps it’s because they are the worst site in the secondary ticket industry and refused to comply with the CMA's original enforcement action.

"The Minister and the Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee have warned consumers: do not buy from Viagogo. As Chair of the APPG on Ticket Abuse, I echo this warning and will not stop until all resale sites are compliant with UK legislation."

ENDS

Notes to editor

  • The relevant article can be found here
  • Sharon is the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ticket Abuse.

Sharon responds to Viagogo's claim that they will comply with the law 'as soon as possible'

Responding to Managing Director of Viagogo, Cris Miller's claims that Viagogo will comply with current legislation 'as soon as possible', Sharon Hodgson MP said: "Viagogo should have complied with UK...

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