A company hired by London councils to issue fines has denied instructing staff to target ethnic minorities because they are less likely to appeal.
A former employee of Kingdom LA told an employment tribunal hearing today that he was sacked for whistleblowing about the policy.
Gary Forrester was fired by the company, previously used by Waltham Forest Council, for gross misconduct in October 2020 after allegedly making a joke about a colleague’s sexuality in a staff WhatsApp group.
But he claims it was actually because he raised concerns about a policy of targeting ethnic minorities with low-level fines for littering and dropping cigarette butts because they were more likely to pay up.
He also claims the company “double-billed” two councils by sending its Barnet enforcement team to Waltham Forest in an attempt to “boost figures” just as the council was about to renew or end its contract.
Giving evidence by video link to the East London Employment Tribunal, solutions services director John Roberts said the allegations do not “stack up” as issuing a fine where there is “no penalty” would mean there is “nothing to pay”.
He added: “I’ve never instructed any staff member to pick or choose on what they do, we run a transparent system that customers can review.
“Our staff are paid a living wage and we take a percentage of any paid [fine]. The process has to be run fairly and transparently.
“If there’s no penalty there’s no business so we end up with a high wage and [the fined person has] nothing to pay, so the ethnic minority statement does not work as we would have no money to pay staff.”
He also denied employees are given daily targets of fines to issue, but added “there was an expectation to go out and do the job at hand”.
According to Kingdom’s management, Forrester was fired for gross misconduct after a joke about a team member being gay was found in a staff WhatsApp group.
Forrester claims he should have been protected as a whistleblower and that he was unfairly dismissed.
He appeared at the tribunal represented by his partner, former Kingdom employee Klaudia Green, who said they were both “simply ordinary people” who wanted their day of justice.
She added: “Mr Forrester’s perception was that he must act on orders and instruct his team to issue fines to ethnic minorities.
“Mr Roberts’s behaviour created an intimidating, hostile and degrading environment for the claimant, he believed if he did not comply he would lose his job during the pandemic.”
In a witness statement, Forrester wrote: “For about two weeks from 21st September 2020, six of my staff and I were asked by John Roberts to go to Waltham Forest Council daily whilst being paid by Barnet Council in order to ‘boost’ ticket issuing.
“This was alleged to be because the Waltham Forest team were underperforming, John Roberts told me they needed to get 400 more FPNs by the end of the month.”
Roberts was worried Kingdom would lose their contract with Waltham Forest if they did not issue enough fines within nine days, he added.
The former enforcement officer claimed that his Barnet team were receiving “dozens and dozens” of emails from ethnic minorities, single mothers and disabled people facing fines for rubbish that the council had failed to collect.
The Kingdom manager claimed he didn’t know Forrester was whistleblowing and said he dealt with all concerns raised by employees “in the same process”.
Judge Benjimin Burgher will deliver his ruling on the claims at a future date, with a remedy hearing fixed for March 18 if the claim is successful.