Q&A with Jan Post

RIFT Chairperson Jan Post on RIFT Social Enterprise

What is RIFT Social Enterprise?

RSE is something of a personal project for me, rather than a conventionally profit-focused division of RIFT. Now that I’ve stepped back from my position as MD of the company, I’d been looking for ways to give a little more back to the communities that have helped RIFT to become such a success. By making it a Not For Profit organisation, I saw an opportunity to put our expertise to work helping people most in need of good advice, but least able to get it: prisoners and former offenders.

Where did the idea come from?

I decided to form RIFT Social Enterprise as a Community Interest Company after speaking to a self-employed gardener working at a friend’s property. He told me how he’d learned his trade while in HMP Highpoint, where the grounds are all kept by inmates.

When he got out, he’d decided to make a fresh start using the skills he’d developed during his term. Of course, the barriers keeping former offenders out of work can be tough to break through. He succeeded in setting up his own business, but quickly ran into trouble with HMRC. Around 75% of prisoners cite debt, accommodation and other financial issues as their key worries as they approach release. Given that only about 26.5% actually find work once they’re out, it’s easy to see why over half end up reoffending within a year.

What key issues are you hoping to address with RIFT Social Enterprise?

RIFT’s work has always been about helping real people facing real problems. Most often, that means guiding them through the mire of legislation and bureaucracy surrounding tax law. Thinking about everything we’ve built the company to accomplish and represent, it was clear we could offer something of serious value to people’s lives here. When people released from prison are genuinely looking to contribute to society, but are being prevented from doing so, we need to act to help them. It’s about offering a second, better chance – showing them that they don’t need to fall back into the destructive cycle of reoffending. As a Not For Profit, we’re in a strong position to give those people the hand up they so often need, without throwing additional obstacles in their way.

How does RIFT’s expertise apply to this kind of project?

One of the first things we realised when we started looking into this was that a lot of people end up in prison with tax refunds still owed to them. Worse still was the number who were registered as self-employed, but never realised they needed to inform HMRC that they were serving a term. As a result, those offenders were stacking up thousands of pounds in penalties while serving their time. This is exactly the kind of issue that needs RIFT’s expertise to handle.

Talking to our Personal Tax Specialist teams, it emerged that we’d helped a lot of former offenders make new lives for themselves by setting up businesses. Much of the time, they came to us already in difficulty, despite working hard to stay within the rules. In fact, many had been actively looking for help. They were asking the right questions in the wrong places, and had received well meaning but often damagingly bad advice.

Who else is RIFT going to be working with to achieve RSE’s goals?

Working in the tax sector has allowed RIFT to build up a huge network of contacts and connections. As a number of offenders we’ve seen had military backgrounds, I spoke to our friends at Royal British Legion Industries about how we could make best use of our strong ties to the MOD and ABF The Soldiers’ Charity.

We also have many contacts in the prison service, and with a range of training providers and employers. Working together, we saw an opportunity to break down the cultural, technical and practical barriers that are keeping former offenders out of sustainable employment. Working with employers in construction, offshore and other sectors, we’re looking to have a measurable effect on reoffending rates and transform people’s lives and communities.

What do you see as the key benefits of a project like this?

The core of the whole project is to generate real social value. That means monitoring the social, economic and environmental benefits involved. Knocking down the reoffending rates would be a huge boost to local services and communities as a whole. Working alongside our partners, we’ll be pushing forward new and innovative solutions to deeply embedded cultural problems. Crucially, we’re also looking to share what we’re learning and doing, to spread those benefits as widely as possible.

What will RSE be doing in practical terms?

Some of the key initiatives we’ll be putting together involve a schedule of events, seminars and mentoring programmes, as part of an ongoing commitment with prisons and training providers. We’re aiming to equip prison leavers with the skills and education they need to enter employment or establish businesses of their own. Even offenders with marketable skills still struggle to find work after release, of course. Without support, most of them will quickly run into the same pressures that push people toward crime in the first place. That’s a problem that needs to be solved in order to break the reoffending cycle – and it’s a nut that I feel RIFT is ideally suited to crack.