The family surname and the title of the barony is pronounced "EYE-liff".
Robert Iliffe - 3rd Baron Iliffe - Lord Iliffe - timesonline.co.uk
The family’s activities include growing Christmas trees on its 9,000-acre estate in Berkshire. Yattendon Investment Trust, which includes Channel TV and 38 local newspapers, made £20.3m profit on £117m sales in 2007. Its net assets were £273m. Iliffe, 64, and his family also own property. Robert Iliffe - 3rd Baron Iliffe - Lord Iliffe
Office block - Robert Iliffe - 3rd Baron Iliffe - Lord Iliffe
Mismanagement of a vulnerable elderly woman's finances has led to a rebuke for the Whitehall body that was meant to act as her guardian. David Hencke reports
* The Guardian, Wednesday 9 February 2005
The mishandling of the finances of some of the most vulnerable people in Britain by one of Whitehall's more obscure organisations, the Public Guardianship Office, has been highlighted by a recent Parliamentary Ombudsman report.
The organisation - about to be re named Public Guardian when the new mental capacity bill going through parliament becomes law - is responsible for looking after some 2,500 vulnerable people who have no family to act as personal receiver, and who rely on the good offices of civil servants and government ministers to make sure they are properly protected.
The unpublished report - the contents of which were revealed by the Guardian last month - is embarrassing for the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, and senior civil servants. It describes an organisation afflicted by poor staff training and high employee turnover which made serious mistakes in the management of its clients' money. It also demonstrated, the report found, an arrogant attitude towards those whose interests it served.
It suggests that ministers have not exactly covered themselves in glory in their duty to keep an eye on the workings of the organisation. The failures of the office mean taxpayers are having to foot the bill to compensate 97 people to the tune of £100,000 in total for poor investments and lost cash.
The failings emerged after Lord Iliffe, a press baron who owns a group of provincial newspapers, took the case of his cousin, Elizabeth Laurence, to Robert Key, the Conservative MP for Salisbury. He in turn pressed Ann Abraham, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, to investigate.
Laurence, 77, was typical of many of the office's clients. She cannot read or write. She is looked after by a carer at her home in Wiltshire. But she is not poor. She has more than £500,000 inheritance from her mother, held in a Coutts bank account.
So when Iliffe became her next of kin, six years ago, he did not expect to be informed that she was short of money and might have to claim benefit.
For the next three years, the hereditary peer was involved in a long battle with officialdom to sort out her finances. Copies of her files were sent to Lord Irvine, the former Lord Chancellor, and Iliffe corresponded with his successor, Lord Falconer, and contacted Lord Filkin when he was responsible for the office. Meetings were held with Lord Home, the chairman of Coutts, to check her finances. Lord Kingsland, the shadow Lord Chancellor, also raised the issue in parliament.
But despite his high level contacts, progress was painfully slow. Staff turnover at the guardianship office made matters worse. While ministers claimed the service was satisfactory, staff often never replied to letters and took months to sort anything out.
Four years after first finding out Laurence was short of cash, Iliffe received an audit into her affairs which disclosed that they had been mismanaged since 1991. There were no records of a cheque for nearly £11,000 paid into her account. There was confusion over the payment of another £6,731. Some 19 payments had been removed from her account totalling £1,425 and paid to someone else. The guardianship office refused to pay her back until they had recovered it.
Laurence's carer had to subsidise her from her own resources and found the guardianship office reluctant to reimburse her. The office sent the carer a letter questioning why Laurence was having a second holiday within four weeks. They also made it difficult for her to claim the TV rental, birthday and other money she had spent to subsidise Laurence's holidays.
Abraham severely criticises the PGO. Her report - which will not be published, although the findings may be extracted in her annual report - says staff were "lackadaisical in their approach" and when complaints mounted up, wrote internal memos which were "staggering in their arrogance".
"Those events clearly demonstrate PGO's failure realistically to assess Miss Laurence's needs in the light of the resources available to her and ... to think what additional benefits might be of assistance to her."
The agency has admitted that its "arrogance and insensitivity was unforgivable". It has promised that "never again, where money has been wrongfully removed from a person's account, will that person be confronted with the need to wait for others to pay it back."
Iliffe is unhappy. He is calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the running of the office and says Lord Falconer should resign because of his failure to monitor what has gone on.
In a letter to Key, he said: "In truth it is the former lord chancellor, Lord Irvine, who should take the major share [of blame] for this disgraceful state of affairs.
"Lord Falconer has not changed my view that he and his predecessor have no interest in protecting the most vulnerable in our society ... Lord Irvine may have been skilled at wallpapering over the cracks but he and Lord Falconer should not be allowed to hide behind the officials to whom they have given inadequate resources. Lord Irvine was responsible for the appointment of three chief executives of the PGO since it was set up in 2001 and Lord Falconer has done nothing to change things.
"I know that ministerial responsibility has now all but gone out of the window. However, this episode should lead to a parliamentary inquiry into the activities of Lord Irvine whilst in office and to the resignation of Lord Falconer."
The Public Guardianship Office says the running of its affairs is changing. It is employing more outside solicitors to take over cases and says it will make sure it is run more efficiently.
The problem, say critics, is that it has said the same things before - in 1994 when it was then known as the Public Trust Office. Its promises then followed a highly critical National Audit Office report into its affairs.
Perhaps the most damning observation came from the Tory MP who took up the Laurence case. Key said: "If this can happen to the wealthy relative of a substantial peer of the realm, consider the impact of such incompetence on those least able to help themselves." Robert Iliffe - 3rd Baron Iliffe - Lord Iliffe