Next meeting of the NWMHWRAG confirmed.

The next meeting of NWMHWRAG will be at 9.30am for 10am on Friday the 27th September 2019.

There is no speaker this time, so the meeting will be an information exchange.

The venue is the Community Room at Central Manchester Fire Station.

Address: Cassidy Close off Thompson Street, Manchester M4 5FP.

It’s a short walk from Piccadilly and there is a car park on Thompson Street. The Community Room has its own entrance.  Please don’t enter the Fire station by any other entrance. From Cassidy Close you take the first turning on the left. Walk towards the building and then left again.  You should now be at the back of the building.

Walk towards a set of double doors under an overhang.  The entrance to the Community Room is on the right just before you reach the double doors.

There are tea and coffee making facilities in the room, but there is a shortage of mugs, so it would be useful if attendees can bring their own mugs/travel cups.

GMWRAG can’t believe firemen don’t have enough mugs.

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GMWRAG. Bereft of originality once again.

Pretty much shorthand for “we’ve nicked this from Rightsnet but it’s important so nobody will sue – we hope!”.

The Guardian wants to hear from people who have applied for benefits online

“Public authorities are using robots, algorithms and machine learning to assess welfare and benefit claims, but the systems are often hidden inside a ‘black box’, away from public scrutiny. It matters; not least because the government’s own Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation warned earlier this year “algorithmic bias could lead to greater unfairness” in who gets what from the public purse.

We want to find out more. Have you had difficulties negotiating the computer and IT systems required to apply for welfare payments and benefits? Have you experienced puzzling outcomes, unusual delays or other mysteries? If so please tell us. We are interested to hear from people claiming Universal Credit, housing benefit and council tax benefit among other payments.”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/sep/10/tell-us-if-you-have-applied-for-welfare-and-benefit-payments-online

GMWRAG peeps. You know what to do.

Wonder if the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation would be interested in

https://www.buzzfeed.com/alexspence/boris-johnson-dominic-cummings-voter-data

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/10/no-10-request-user-data-government-website-sparks-alarm

Oh, er, hang on…

Salford GMWRAG meeting finally announced.

Hello happy GMWRAG followers. We trust you had an enjoyable Summer somewhere away from the B word; climate change; the silently creeping surveillance society and of course Harrogate and managed migration. No? Us neither.

Well, thinking about it we suppose there could be several B words right now.

Anyway, after much sitting on our hands we have found a room (in a city – one for the late 1980s music fans there) and the next GMWRAG meetings are sort of good to go. The next meetings will be hosted in Salford by Salford Welfare Rights and Debt Advice Service on Friday the 4th of October 2019 in Committee room 3 of the Civic Centre, Chorley Road, Swinton M27 5DA.

The morning meeting will be the GMWRAG GM UC Forum whilst the afternoon meeting will be yer actual bog standard cliquey GMWRAG meeting, possibly with added speaker but definitely with an opportunity to catch up on much GMWRAG business in the 12 months since we’ve hosted Neil Couling; Everyday Equalities and Brexit and Benefits.

Agendas for both meetings will be published as soon as they’re finalised. Minutes for previous meetings are already available on the Forum part of the site although there have been no formal minutes in 2019 so far because of the nature of the events we’ve hosted.

Travel to Swinton is easy nowadays, unless you own a car, in which case, no it isn’t. Parking is very limited but Swinton railway station is 10 minutes walk from the Civic Centre and well(ish) served by trains from Wigan, Southport, Salford and Manchester. It is not however a fully accessible station. There are only stairs to/from the 2 platforms.

Alternatively 36,37, 38 and various other buses stop right outside the Civic Centre or you could get a V1, V2 or 34/X34 along the East Lancs. Road to the Worsley Road stop from where it’s also only a 13 minute walk. Cyclists are also reasonably well served with storage facilities at a number of sites (to varying standards).

Swinton now sorta has “food opportunities” too. Well, one of the largest Costa Coffees outside of Manchester; an Asda café and even a Morrisons one for good measure. Some nice indie caffs are appearing and we’ll be happy to point you there on the day in the expectation that some of you won’t come back.

Anyway, more to follow as we have it and we’ll see you there.

The experience of appealing to a first tier appeal tribunal.

Our friends at Rightsnet are reporting that Alex Homer, a reporter for the BBC website in Birmingham, is hoping to speak to someone who has challenged their benefits award at First-tier tribunal. He’s hoping to find out what the experience was like for them and also to find out if there were any common causes of complaint before people reached that far in the process. GMWRAG thinks we know the answer to all those questions. Our members will and we won’t be short of claimants either. It’s unclear whether this request is confined to Birmingham.

His contact details are alex.homer@bbc.co.uk and 0121 567 6299 for those who would be happy to talk to him.

GMWRAG suggests you email as we can see him being overwhelmed by phone calls!

Belta UC scam advice from Newcastle.

This information is courtesy of our friend in the NAWRA.

Newcastle City Council has provided advice and information about the UC scam(s) going around. Please use or forward this information if useful.

As you know there’s been quite a bit of press about this. So we thought it would be important to provide simple and straightforward guidance about what it was, how to avoid it and what to do if such a scam was suspected. Hence the following (with links):

This follows discussions with DWP and Trading Standards.

Please let Clive Davis at Newcastle City Council know if you think the webpage information could be improved as they can always change it.

More on no deal from Alexandra Sinclair.

Those of you who made it to our excellent Brexit and Benefits session recently will be fully aware of Alexandra Sinclair from the Public Law Project. A GMWRAG summary of the talk can now be downloaded from here. We’re awaiting word on whether we can use the PowerPoint presentation from that day.

In the meantime, Alexandra has been in touch to send you some further material that might assist our members.

She has written a research briefing paper on EU citizens’ rights in the event of a no deal Brexit after having reviewed all the SIs in areas related to citizens’ rights.

It covers immigration, housing, social security, healthcare and education. It’s published on PLP’s website here and they plan to update it regularly until such time as the Immigration Bill becomes law. Any comments/feedback are very welcome. Please circulate to your wider networks.

There is also a blog post on Free Movement about this https://www.freemovement.org.uk/what-legal-rights-will-eu-citizens-have-after-a-no-deal-brexit/

The Final Countdown.

We do apologise. We couldn’t resist.

Anyway…

Europia is pleased to announce that in partnership with Citizens Advice Bury and Bolton they will deliver support to all E.U nationals and their family members free of cost. They state they have the capacity to deal with complex immigration cases as well. Europia is also funded by the Home Office to deliver emotional support in an E.U language for victims of hate crime. They can provide professional holistic support to European Expats with multiple vulnerabilities.

Europia and Citizens Advice are holding their official launch from 1:30pm until around 3:30pm on Thursday the 29th of August 2019 at Manchester Cathedral.

There will be a short presentation and fully explain the E U Settlement Scheme and how it will impact, on European Nationals.

www.gov.uk/settled-status-eu-citizens-families

The presentation will be followed by a question and answer session and networking opportunities.

This is a free event.

To register please email Norman Beverley at norman dot b at europia dot org dot uk and he will add you to the guest list. More directly you can also go via our friends at Eventbrite.

Research measuring the impact of applying for PIP on a claimant’s perception of their health condition.

With grateful thanks to our friends at Rightsnet.

Can you help? Catherine from the University of Bedfordshire is wanting to reach people who’ve applied or are applying for PIP.

Are you going through or about to start the PIP application process? This can be a difficult time but, if you can, please spare a few minutes to complete a short online survey.

Your answers will contribute to new independent research into the possibility that people’s perception of their condition changes as a result of going through the PIP application process. It is important as perception has demonstrable impact on levels of depression, quality of life, ability to follow treatment plans and even recovery and survival rates. If there is an effect then this needs to be highlighted and, if not, we can look for other explanations for the experiences that many PIP claimants describe.

The research is part of an Applied Psychology Masters dissertation by Catherine Haslam and has been approved by the University of Bedfordshire’s Psychology ethics board. The survey is short and doesn’t ask any personal health questions. All data is annonymised & aggregated.

Thank you in advance for your help. The survey can be accessed at:

https://bedshealthsciences.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_9uJpGzsLdeEnPpP

Right hand. Meet left hand! Wring in despair.

HMCTS have recently upped the ante as regards tribunal modernisation and in particular COR (Continuous Online Resolution). By “upped the ante” we do of course mean that they have finally started to engage with the outside world or at least broadcast to them, which is of course as “consulty” as HMCTS tend to get.

For those of you who have no idea what we’re talking about full (ish) details can be found on an excellent thread on Rightsnet. Why are we writing this now then? Very simple.

First of all a consultation has been launched on the Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill.

The Public Bill Committee welcomes views from anyone with relevant expertise and experience or a special interest in the Bill (that would be you GMWRAG members) which has three main effects –

  • it confers regulation-making powers on Ministers, subject to the affirmative procedure – appropriate ministers can designate certain types of court or tribunal proceedings as ones which may or must be conducted by electronic means, subject to the Online Procedure Rules (OPRs);
  • it establishes the Online Procedure Rule Committee (OPRC) and defines that body’s powers to make OPRs; and
  • it determines the membership rules and appointments process for the OPRC.

While the deadline for evidence is expected to be 5pm on Thursday 25 July 2019, the Committee highlights that it is no longer able to receive written evidence once it concludes its consideration of the Bill which may be earlier than that deadline.

Having started in the House of Lords, the Bill was debated and read for the second time in the House of Commons yesterday, during which Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice Paul Maynard – responding to concerns about ‘digitisation by default’ – stated that –

‘I have said at least twice in the debate already that the alternative methods must be protected at all times. People can seek telephone advice, for example. We are also piloting face-to-face advice in at least 25 areas. At any point, people can opt out of the online procedure, and the paper-based alternative will always be available. Either side in a case can opt out of an online procedure to ensure that it does not occur online.’

GMWRAG members can submit evidence via have your say on the Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill.

This brings us neatly to the second aspect of this.

The Infrastructure and Projects Authority annual report 2019 has concluded that successful delivery of the HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) Reform Programme is in doubt for the sixth year running. Yes, you really did read that correctly!

The IPA assessed 133 projects included in its GMPP programme this year, including 43 ‘transformation and service delivery projects’, providing each with a ‘Delivery Confidence Assessment’ of green (successful delivery probable) through amber (successful delivery feasible but significant issues exist) to red (successful delivery appears unachievable).

Anyone familiar with the mystery of disappearing online appeals will of course be wondering out loud at this point what realistic chance there is that any of the more complex stuff like COR is ever delivered. On the other hand disappearing online appeals could be described as a fairly efficient way of reducing the backlog which sees people in some areas waiting more than a year for a hearing date.

In relation to the HMCTS Reform Programme, the IPA gives a rating of amber/red – as it has done for the five previous years – defined as –

‘Successful delivery of the project is in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas. Urgent action is needed to address these problems and/or assess whether resolution is feasible’

NB – data from the Ministry of Justice to support the IPA report advises that –

‘The programme continues to deliver new services to users and has now launched a new service in every jurisdiction. Over 140,000 users have now used these services and the average satisfaction rate remains high, at above 80 per cent. As part of the business case refresh the programme timeline has been extended by one year and will now expect to close in 2023. Learning from the services that we have already delivered and the feedback received, including from the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office, we have decided to re-order aspects of the programme. This will allow more time to develop some of the shared systems that sit behind our next set of online services.’

Elsewhere, the IPA reports that the DWP’s People and Locations Programme has left the GMPP after successfully delivering savings from a ‘rationalised’ DWP estate (although last year’s annual report rated the Programme as amber/red), the Universal Credit Programme is rated amber (as it was last year) and GOV.UK Verify is rated red (compared to an amber rating last year).

GMWRAG rather thinks these things speak for themselves.

A reminder of things to forget.

Just a quick reminder that there is not a North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group meeting in July.

Those of you paying attention may also have noticed that news on a Salford GMWRAG in July has been conspicuously quiet. You can safely assume this isn’t happening and the most likely date for this will now be September 2019. Our meetings page has been adjusted accordingly but obviously this has the usual knock on impact and other dates have been rescheduled accordingly. Please check out our meetings page for full information.

Blatant plagiarism in the name of a good cause.

GMWRAG noted the following posted on Rightsnet. We think this is too important to miss so we’re reprinting it in full below.

CPAG is partway through releasing a series of reports entitled Computer says “No” detailing problems arising in the automated UC system.  These hard-hitting reports wouldn’t be possible without your case studies, so thank you! It’d be great to receive some up-to-date examples which may contribute to the third and final report in the series.

1. Many of you have already seen our first Computer says “No” report detailing issues with UC statements [available here: http://www.cpag.org.uk/sites/default/files/Computer says ‘no!’ Stage one – information provision_2.pdf]

2. Our second report is due to be released next week, and will set out the problems encountered by claimants in challenging UC decisions (i.e. using the MR process). So do keep an eye out for it.

3. The third report will focus on how the DWP implements decisions (other than those concerning initial calculation of entitlement).  We’re interested to hear about recent cases of:
a) DWP delay in implementing Tribunal decision in UC
b) DWP delay or mistake in paying backdated UC entitlement
c) UC statements overwritten with corrected entitlement, not reflecting actual payments made
d) UC claim start date amended and assessment periods changed from start of claim
e) Possession case adjournments/ suspended orders requiring rent arrears payments lower than standard 10-20% deductions made in UC
f) Debt Relief Orders writing off UC Advances, or other debts, being ignored
g) Failure to apply legal judgments effectively e.g. Faulty SDP gateway, High Court Johnson assessment period ruling

The above are all issues that you’ve told us about before, but recent examples would help us ascertain whether they remain unresolved and if so, add to the strength of our report.

Many thanks for any and all contributions!

Best way to submit cases is our online EWS form: https://childpovertyactiongroup.wufoo.com/forms/m1vc0zeg1sr9zgh/
or email ews@cpag.org.uk

Freshly minted new job vacancies at Greater Manchester Law Centre.

GMLC logoGreater Manchester Law Centre are looking to appoint a Director, Social Welfare Solicitor(s) and a Welfare Benefits Supervisor who share their vision for the future. An electronic version of the below can be downloaded from https://gmwrag.files.wordpress.com/2019/07/full-advert_gmlc-director-solicitor-supervisor-advert-july-20191.docx.

Solidarity not Sympathy – Law Centre Director, Solicitor(s) and Welfare Benefits Supervisor

Greater Manchester Law Centre is looking to appoint a Director, Social Welfare Solicitor(s) and Welfare Benefits Supervisor who share our vision for the future.

More and more people are experiencing benefits cuts and sanctions, homelessness and escalating racism. The hostile environment affects both claimants and migrants. The survivors of Grenfell are entitled to justice.

Yet legal aid has been cut again and again. Law firms are deterred from taking restrictive legal aid contracts. Young social welfare lawyers have few places to practise. The people most in need of legal representation are least likely to be able to find – or afford – a lawyer.

Greater Manchester Law Centre started as a protest against cuts and closures. We have been open to the public for three years, providing a welcoming face-to-face service. We’ve provided support to people to challenge benefit decisions at tribunals, legal representation for people who are homeless or facing eviction, given expert employment law advice, and through all this we have been developing a new generation of social welfare lawyers.

But while we work with individuals, we have to challenge the policies which produce the hardships they and many others are facing in the first place. That is why we set out our purpose in our recently launched manifesto “Fighting Together for Free Access to Justice”. We demand the restoration of legal aid, the legal right to a safe and secure home, and an end to the scandals resulting from Windrush and Universal Credit. Working together with the rightly-acclaimed Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit, we aim to be the leading voluntary organisation in the city-region promoting both challenges to government policy and improvements to advice and representation needed to make legal aid a reality and to empower those who are most affected by the current regime.

GREATER MANCHESTER LAW CENTRE DIRECTOR

We seek someone who shares our political outlook and has the skills and commitment to take the law centre in the direction set out in the manifesto, and who will work together with others, especially “user-led” groups of people directly affected themselves, to change government policies and end the hostile environment.

This means a clear and strategic senior manager, looking outward and upward,

  • who can use the Manifesto to put forward both policy changes and service developments [the Manifesto is at www.gmlaw.org.uk]
  • who can work with others to increase our effectiveness with both the local decision-makers and the parliamentarians with whom we have already built good links, as well as with the universities, law firms, media and indeed the general public, and
  • who can ensure that there will be financial and managerial sustainability for the law centre for the long-term future.

For an informal discussion, which we would encourage, please contact John Nicholson [13-27 July only] or Denise McDowell – johnnicholson@gmlaw.org.uk or denise@gmiau.org

For an application pack, please see www.gmlaw.org.uk

Applications to johnnicholson@gmlaw.org.uk by 12.00 noon Monday 5th August 2019.

Interviews are likely to be held in the week beginning 12th August 2019 (so please say if you have any difficulties with dates in that week).

GREATER MANCHESTER LAW CENTRE SOLICITOR(S)

GMLC also seeks (at least) 1 full time equivalent Solicitor, whether through full or part time posts, to cover at least one or more of the following:

Housing,

Public Law,

Employment,

Mental Health,

Community Care,

and

Welfare Benefits.

We are looking for people committed to our manifesto and to working in a community law centre.

The manifesto is at www.gmlaw.org.uk

For an informal discussion, which we would encourage, please contact John Nicholson [13-27 July only] or Denise McDowell – johnnicholson@gmlaw.org.uk or denise@gmiau.org

For an application pack, please see www.gmlaw.org.uk

Applications to johnnicholson@gmlaw.org.uk by 12.00 noon Monday 12th August 2019.

Interviews are likely to be held in the fortnight beginning 19th August 2019 (so please say if you have any difficulties with dates in the second half of August).

GREATER MANCHESTER LAW CENTRE WELFARE BENEFITS SUPERVISOR

GMLC seeks a welfare benefits supervisor to provide a high-quality welfare benefits advice and specialist casework service to clients in Greater Manchester, and to provide supervision, mentoring and support to volunteer workers to help develop their skills and expertise in welfare benefits.

We are looking for people committed to our manifesto and to working in a community law centre. The manifesto is at gmlaw.org.uk 

For an informal discussion, which we would encourage, please contact John Nicholson [13-27 July only] or Denise McDowell – johnnicholson@gmlaw.org.uk or denise@gmiau.org

For an application pack, please see www.gmlaw.org.uk

Applications to johnnicholson@gmlaw.org.uk by 12.00 noon Monday 12th August 2019.

Interviews are likely to be held in the fortnight beginning 19th August 2019 (so please say if you have any difficulties with dates in the second half of August).

Minutes of the GMWRAG GM UC Forum finally available.

GMWRAG has taken our time getting minutes out from the first two very successful meetings of the GMWRAG GM UC Forum. This has largely been because of a need to ensure various parties are happy the minutes accurately reflect their participation and this, to be blunt, has been like herding cats. However, herding cats is not actually impossible (follow that link folks) and so here we finally are.

The minutes for both the January 2019 meeting in Oldham and the May 2019 meeting are now available for download from the GMUCF section of our site and they are of course password protected.

Regular GMWRAG users will be able to take a punt at our password but if not you can always DM us on Twitter or email to the usual address. If you don’t know the usual address then you’re possibly not a GMWRAG member or not paying attention.

The next GMWRAG meeting and GMWRAG GM UC Forum meeting was scheduled for Salford in July. That clearly isn’t going to happen so we’re now aiming for late August or early September. More news on this as we have it.

CPAG looking for test cases.

CPAG is looking for test cases. To be fair, CPAG is always looking for test cases. However…

Do you have a client who would be willing to be part of CPAG’s strategic litigation?

CPAG is looking for clients in the following circumstances:

1.    The date of claim for universal credit claimants who use the Help to Claim service operated by Citizens Advice.
CPAG is looking for a universal credit claimant who has used the Citizens Advice Help to Claim service co-located in a Job Centre and their date of claim is later than the date they requested the Help to Claim service.

2.    Benefit cap
CPAG is looking for a lone parent with a child under 5 who has been subject to the benefit cap in the past few months, hasn’t had the benefit of DHPs throughout and possibly has even had to move home because of the cap.

To refer a client living in England or Wales please complete CPAG’s referral form.

The next UK White Paper on social security (welfare benefits) comes to Greater Manchester.

It was drawn to the attention of GMWRAG a few weeks back that the Commission on Social Security (welfare benefits), led by Experts by Experience was busy touring the UK but didn’t have an event in Greater Manchester. We are very pleased to draw to your attention that there will now be a GM event supported by the UK Social Policy Association.

This will take place on Tuesday the 23rd of July 2019 between 1pm-3pm and will be hosted by Greater Manchester Poverty Action and the University of Salford (venue: University of Salford, Media City). Regrettably, GMWRAG has been unable to locate an exact address for the venue but we think it’s this and there’s some more helpful stuff here too. GMWRAG accepts no responsibility for members found wandering round Salford Quays before or after said event.

So, what is it then?

What proposals should be made in the next UK White Paper on social security (welfare benefits)?

Background

The social security/welfare benefits system is failing, with foodbanks and homelessness just two of the most visible signs of this.

But there is little agreement, even within civil society, on ways forward.

The workshops

The workshops will stimulate thinking about the future of social security/welfare benefits, and provide the opportunity for discussion and collaboration among attendees.

In particular, the workshops will input to a project called the Commission on Social Security (welfare benefits), led by Experts by Experience which is issuing a Call for Solutions.

The Commission is highly innovative in that all the Commissioners are people with experience of claiming benefits. The Commission’s aim is to produce a White Paper style document setting out a better system and building consensus. The Call for Solutions will include questions such as the following.

  • What steps can be taken to make Universal Credit better or if you think it should be scrapped, what would replace it?
  • How can people who are sick or disabled be better supported and how should the system work out who should get sickness or disability benefits?
  • Should there be a minimum income level below which no one can fall and if so, how could this be done?
  • How should benefit rates be worked out and how much should each benefit be?

Workshop participants will also be welcome to identify solutions on the whole range of issues relevant to social security/welfare benefits. For example, sanctions, Child Benefit, Local Welfare Assistance Schemes, National Insurance contributory benefits, support for housing costs and council tax, individual/household assessments and payments, how increased spending on benefits can be financed, the balance between means-testing or being contributions-based and reflecting people’s particular needs or being universal? Etc.

Workshop format

The workshops will have a participatory format including small group work and consensus building activities.

They will be structured around the Call for Solutions being made by the Commission on Social Security led by Experts by Experience but will also identify other possible activity.

Who should attend?

Anyone interested in a better social security/welfare benefits system! Whether you are an individual Expert by Experience, part of a user-led or community group, from a third sector organisation, academia or anywhere else, you will be made very welcome.

Workshop organisers

Michael Orton and Kate Summers

Any queries please email Michael.Orton@warwick.ac.uk

Additional information

The Workshops are free but places are limited and registration is essential.

A small travel budget is available for people who would otherwise be unable to attend. Please contact the organisers for further information.

In 2016-17 the Social Policy Association supported a previous series of workshops on social security/welfare benefits which identified an agenda for future work. That agenda is summarised here and informs this latest initiative.

We’ll see you there (or wandering aimlessly thereabouts). You can reserve a place via Eventbrite.

MIND research on the WCA.

MIND are conducting some research into the WCA with a view to contributing to the Social Security Commission.

They are looking for volunteers who have had a WCA and who would be interested in taking part in an interview for research for MIND.

Who are they looking for?

• People who are going or have recently been through the WCA.

• Different types of mental health conditions.

• Would be open to an interview with our research team.

• They would be paid from £60 to £80 (depending on the research part they get involved with) to say thank you for their time.

If you know anyone who might be interested or have any questions, please contact them on 020 7735 8040, or email:

rosa.grossman

@revealingreality

.co.uk or

maeve.garner

@revealingreality

.co.uk

And, yes, we did break those email addresses down deliberately.

Please see the attached.

The minutes of the last NWMHWRAG meeting plus associated documents are now available for download.

Long post. Loadsa good stuff.

The minutes of the last meeting of the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group are now available for download from here and in due course (give us a minute) from their pages within the GMWRAG site.

GMWRAG was quite upset to discover that since the NWMHWRAG pages migrated to this site in 2011 not one person has noticed that the section was erroneously titled the North West Mental Health Advisers Welfare Rights Group and not the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group. WHO was not paying attention? All of you apparently!

The People’s Front of Judea are most upset. Eats, Shoots and Leaves indeed! Other documents from the meeting can be downloaded from below but also from the now correctly titled section. Anything else you’re not telling us?

GMWRAG sometimes gets asked how one joins such an exclusive club or “old boys clique” as we recently were amused to hear it described. We’re thinking of adopting the passing of a UC quiz as the entry requirement.

Suffice to say we’ll be asking the (mostly female) Principal Officers of Welfare Rights services across GM to withdraw from GMWRAG anyone heard spouting such inanities especially given that attendance at GMWRAG meeting is fairly evenly divided between the sexes but if anything skewed well away from “old boys”.

In the meantime, we have been handed some late-breaking corrections to some of the above and we detail these below, which goes to prove that there is occasionally some value in being tardy!

“On the minutes – slight correction needed to this bit

Note differences to shared accommodation rules for over 35s, under
occupancy (non dependant couples get two rooms, overnight carers not dependant on SDP)

It should say something like this –

Note differences to shared accommodation rules –

  • single over 35s – get one bedroom rate even if chosen to live in shared accommodation
  • single under 35s – exemption from shared accommodation rate not dependent on SDP (just on the disability benefit – ie PIP DL / DLA mid/high care etc)

under occupancy –

  • non dependant couples get two rooms,
  • overnight carers – stricter than HB – person needing care must be getting disability benefit –  PIP DL / DLA mid/high care etc)

Second thing –

When we were discussing the protection on death rules & no bedroom tax for 3 months,  it was asked if – when a non dependant dies – whether the non-dep deduction would still apply.

The speaker said they thought not – but since had a look to see if there are any Regs/guidance to confirm that!

Reg 37

Reg 37 image

 

 

 

 

This is what the guidance says – Guidance image 2

 

 

 

Guidance image 1

 

 

 

It does not make sense to say that a non-dep who has died should still be making their contribution to the tenant (that is the theory of non-dep deductions isn’t it? ie that the non-dep should pay something towards the cost of the roof over their head – unless exempt). There will be no non-dep income.

Also if the exemption was due to non-dep’s PIP daily living etc – that would have stopped.

So we think this is a mistake/omission.”

GMSCG updates.

Busy day for GMWRAG. GMSCG members may be wondering when we’re meeting next and how the group fits into the many other things going at present. We’re hopeful we’ll have news on this soon. In the meantime our friends at Rightsnet have brought to our attention what they rightly describe as a “great report” from PLP that “… that uses their experience in working on the ‘RF’ personal independence payment challenge to highlight key lessons about litigation as a means of addressing discrimination and disadvantage”.

As per Rightsnet we’re going to quote from it verbatim

“The research carried out by Dr Lisa Vanhala and Dr Jacqui Kinghan of UCL identifies strategic lessons for third sector organisations that use public law to challenge unfair systems and highlights the ‘pivotal role’ PLP played in coordinating with a wide network of individuals and organisations.

‘Using the law to address unfair systems’ is based on interviews with some of those most involved in the legal challenge, including PLP Deputy Legal Director Sara Lomri, and gives first-hand insights into how NGOs, funders and litigators won the judicial review brought by PLP’s client, RF.

Co-published by The Baring Foundation and Lankelly Chase, the report also looks at the post-litigation ‘legacy’ phase and raises important questions such as how the Government can be held to account to implement such rulings, and who has responsibility for communicating subsequent policy changes to those affected.”

but we’re going to insert proper links 🙂 and strongly suggest that all GMSCG and GMWRAG members download a copy now in preparation for our next meeting.

You can download a copy right now from https://publiclawproject.org.uk/uncategorized/using-the-law-to-address-unfair-systems/

Leigh Day and their Universal Credit Group Claim.

Leigh Day have now set up a web page plus FAQ & online referral form to make the whole process of signing up to their claim(s) a little more convenient. This can be found at: https://www.leighday.co.uk/Employment-discrimination/Current-cases/Universal-Credit-group-action. They have produced separate referral forms tailored for advisers and for individuals.

For their TP & AR linked claims they now have enough claimants to launch the action. They have identified potential lead claimants and will shortly be sending out client care letters to those who have been referred to them or made their own enquiries.

They are also hoping to generate some media interest in the coming weeks. They could do with much higher numbers to make this litigation really effective and that is why they have set up the website. There are 13,000 people out there who have lost out as a result of the wrongheaded implementation of natural migration.

A lot of service users might not have access to the internet so you can still refer people to them by just emailing a name and telephone number. Ryan Bradshaw (a long-standing friend of GMWRAG and GMSCG) and Niall Byrne are available by phone for any enquiries that you might have.

Feel free to circulate this amongst your contacts and colleagues.

Minutes of the first GMWRAG Greater Manchester Universal Credit Forum ALMOST available. Another new GMWRAG web site section created in anticipation.

The minutes of the 1st ever GMWRAG GM UC Forum, which took place in sunny Oldham (we’re writing this as it’s snowing in March) way back in January 2019 are now almost available for download. Apologies for the delay in getting these out to you but we’ve had technical issues getting them to the DWP for comment.

In light of the delays these issues have caused we’ve decided to go down the “publish and be damned” route and just get them out there (sort of). At present though you won’t be able to access them until DWP have confirmed there are no issues with them from their perspective.

Once they do go live (yeah, we will say) could those of you who were present at the meeting please take a look and note any suggested/required amendments? Bring them with you to the next meeting and we’ll deal with them under a hopefully brief, focused “minutes of the last meeting” item at the outset.

In order to view the minutes you will need to find them in (yet another) new GMWRAG section where they are located and password protected. We’ll leave it to you to figure out what it’s called. If you can’t (clue: it starts with “NEW”) then we despair. We just do.

As regards passwords, GMWRAG members know the score. If you don’t then just contact us and we’ll let you know (the score that is. Possibly the password too.) once it’s all live.

GMWRAG has recently discovered what happens when we momentarily and accidentally leave minutes unprotected. Apparently, we end up in Private Eye! You can read more about that here but GMWRAG wishes to issue a resolute “no comment”.

In the meantime, you’ll obviously want to know that we’re working towards a slightly amended date and timings for the next UC Forum/GMWRAG meeting.

We were scheduled for Stockport in Spring (sorry, we just liked the alliteration – we meant April) but we’re now looking at a mid May date. The draft minutes also suggested that the UC Forum would run 1pm to 4pm but we’ve had to amend that immediately in order to accommodate our speakers at the GMWRAG meeting on the same day.

So, at present the intent is that the UC forum will be a.m. and will be followed by a packed p.m. meeting with 2 speakers looking at various aspects of Brexit and Benefits. We’ll give you something more concrete on this as soon as it’s been finalised but we’re hoping for the 17th of May 2019. If the weather persists we shall of course rebadge it as “Brrrrexit and Benefits”.

Please note that we can’t guarantee that the future order of these meetings will be the same. We suspect it will change depending on the availability of speakers for the GMWRAG meeting. We are busy finding out whose hands to slap for suggesting the UC Forum would always be p.m.

Finally, we have had several queries asking about the accessibility/access group which was suggested at the 1st meeting. There is clearly much enthusiasm for this and much anxiety about perceived delays. DWP are doing a lot of work behind the scenes to make this happen (most notably to make it as accessible as it can be) so please bear with us. As soon as we’re able to announce anything, we will.

Greater Manchester Welfare Reform Dashboard. A chance for you to comment upon and shape the data.

Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) collate data on a quarterly basis with a view to monitoring the rollout of Universal Credit and other welfare reforms. The main intent of collating this data is to inform the priorities of the GM UC and Welfare Reform Group and its focus on skills and employment opportunities.

However, as the intro. also notes it is also a “resource available to partners in GM”. GMWRAG takes the view that this data is extremely useful in informing on the work we’re all doing and the data tables alone are worth the price of admission. So, we’re pleased to bring the last quarterly report to your attention for the first time.

You can download a pdf copy of the report from here and we’re confident you’ll find much that is useful within about your own a. Of equal importance though is the fact that GMCA would like your feedback. They are looking to add additional datasets to the Dashboard all the time and, whilst they have some ideas on that, they would welcome the views of GMWRAG members on

  • the data as it stands;
  • whether any GMWRAG members could contribute further data or datasets and,
  • any suggestions on further information which could be added.

If you’d like to feedback, and GMWRAG urges you to all consider doing so, then please contact Hannah.scriven@greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk

GM Law Centre Legal Advocacy Support Group

GM Law Centre’s Pro Bono LASP (Legal Advocacy Support Project), modelled on the work done at Avon and Bristol Law Centre LASP, have advised GMWRAG that they “… have capacity to take on failed WCA, ESA and UC appeals” as they have a new intake of student caseworkers from MMU Law School proactively looking to prepare and represent alongside University of Manchester colleagues.

They can take on appeal bundles issues 3-4 months ago, which leaves time to prepare. The team have recently been nominated for the Manchester Legal Awards Pro Bono/Community Initiative Award.

Claimants can get an appointment by calling GMLC reception on 0161 769 2244 between 9:30am and 3pm, Monday to Friday except for Bank Holidays (we presume) of which there are some soon. Alternatively you can email reception.

Advisers should note that GM Law Centre serves the whole of Greater Manchester and thus you are being offered a service which can help you manage your own capacity issues in a world of contracting advice services and advice deserts.

Salford City Mayor welcomes ‘national heroes’.

Sa;fprd City Mayor tweetA significant number of GMWRAG members enjoyed a fantastic day out in Greater Manchester on Friday the 1st of March 2019 at the 1st ever Salford NAWRA meeting hosted by Salford Welfare Rights and Debt Advice Service. at Swinton Civic Centre.

GMWRAG is hoping to provide a fuller report in due course but in the meantime we’d urge you to check out the great article about the forceful and passionate opening message from City Mayor Paul Dennett.

GMWRAG was unable to live stream any part of the event but we were pleased to see that social media was alive with great comments and uninspiring photography (we’re excepting the photo to our left and referring to the ones below). We’ve been assured that better images are on the way but then we’ve also been assured austerity is at an end!

Presentations from Everyday Equality are now available for download.

Alan Turing banner at LGBT Foundation in ManchesterGMWRAG is very pleased to say that all of our speakers at the recent Everyday Equality Act have now provided us with their presentations from the event for download. We also have a bonus presentation from Ryan Bradshaw of Leigh Day which was not available on the day.

Please note:

  • there are no minutes available for the January 2019 meeting. There were 14 speakers and the presentations below represent all the content available from the event bar images posted by @GMWRAGTweets and other attendees.
  • a number of presentations have been subsequently updated or revised by speakers. The versions on this site represent the most up to date versions.
  • all presentations are detailed below in this post but will be permanently available on our “Presentations and notes from GMWRAG meetings” page.
  • The minutes which would ordinarily be on our “Minutes” page link to the above page.
  • Some of the presentations have similar titles. Please be assured that all presentations are distinct. No content is repeated.

Jo Chimes, whose magnificent work was pretty much solely responsible for making the whole day happen, has also kindly added her own summary of the take away messages from the event and we’ve added that as well..

Leigh Day looking for examples of claimants adversely affected by the UC Minimum Income Floor to support a JR case.

Tessa Gregory’s team at Leigh Day represent an individual who is self-employed and finds themselves in significant financial hardship due to the application of the Minimum Income Floor (MIF) since they first had to claim Universal Credit. They have brought a claim against the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions challenging the lawfulness of the application of the MIF on the basis that it discriminates against self-employed individuals and is irrational.

They have now reached the stage of the judicial review in which they need to collate and prepare supportive evidence. It would be helpful for the court to be provided with other examples which show the broad and varied range of situations in which individuals are caught by the UC provisions, as well as the different ways in which the application of the MIF has affected peoples’ lives.

If any of your clients are self-employed, have been moved on to UC and have had the MIF recently applied, make the NMW across the year, but experience significant fluctuations in income on a monthly basis, they would be grateful if you could provide a short summary of their situation which sets out how they came to be on UC and how the MIF is affecting them. You may also wish to inform them of this ongoing challenge of the MIF which may be of interest to them. They are happy to consider any queries in relation to this challenge that any of your clients may have.

Please do not hesitate to contact them at universalcreditqueries@leighday.co.uk if you require any further information or if your clients have any questions in relation to the ongoing challenge.

An update on the GMWRAG archives.

GMWRAG has been quietly digitally archiving our past for around 7 of the 10 years existence of this site. As our history is long and convoluted there is no single archive location so this may not be immediately obvious to site viewers as much of the material can be found buried in sub-menus in related sections. We long ago decided that, for example, NWMHWRAG archives could be buried/located in their section of the site and so on. Most of our archive is inevitably minutes but you will also find plenty to entertain you in our training and presentations links associated with those minutes.

The GMWRAG archive is about to grow considerably as we have obtained 4 boxes worth of material stretching back to the late 1980s. For the first time we have much more than minutes and agendas and we’ll be posting these up over a period of many months rather than weeks.

However, this is a long process and there is no single location where you will immediately notice the growth. This site is maintained on goodwill and obviously there are limits to the amount of scanning, uploading and writing which can be done in the working week and (yes) outside of working hours. However, watch this space as the depth and breadth of the site content will grow during 2019 like never before.

In the meantime, if you have any documents (paper or digital) which you would like to donate to the GMWRAG digital archive please Contact GMWRAG and we’ll happily (within reason) take them off your hands and add them to the list of things to be digitally archived.

It would however help us immensely if you could check out the site first and weed out any duplicates before handing over your documents. Thank you.

Tracking FOI requests from or on behalf of GMWRAG.

Research panel links.GMWRAG previously advised members of our WhatDoTheyKnow account back in August 2018 with an entertaining exchange with the DWP which ultimately resulted in the presence of Neil Couling at our October 2018 meeting in Trafford.

We’d like to remind GMWRAG members that this account is available for any of you to make benefits related FOI requests either on behalf of GMWRAG or anonymously under the umbrella of GMWRAG.

If you have particular requests please Contact GMWRAG and we can agree appropriate wording. In the meantime you can easily view those requests which have been made by using the quick link below.

A permanent link to this list can be found in the links panel to the right of every page on the site under Research. See the ridiculously blurry panel to the left if you’re not sure what we’re talking about.

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/user/gmwrag#foi_requests

New job advert on GMWRAG.

GMWRAG is pleased to announce our second job advert of 2019. As ever this is replicated on our permanent Job Vacancies page.

Welfare Rights Officer

Business & Corporate Services

Administration

Oldham council logoOldham Council

Corporate and Commercial Services

Welfare Rights Service

Welfare Rights Officer

Ref: G6/OL-24749

Contract Type: Permanent (and 1 post for 12 month maternity cover)

Salary: £25,463 – £29,909. (pro rata for part time post)

Hours: 1 x FTE 36.40 per week (permanent)

1 X PTE  ( 0.5 fte Wed pm, Thursday and Friday)

1 x FTE (36.40 per week to cover maternity leave for 12 months)

Based: Level 13, Civic Centre, West Street, Oldham, OL1 1UT

Closing date: 22nd February 2019

Shortlisting & Interview Dates: To be confirmed.

Role overview

To contribute to the provision of a comprehensive high quality Welfare Rights Service advising residents about entitlement to welfare benefits supporting residents to challenge benefit decisions and providing representation at Appeal Tribunals.

Key responsibilities

  • Interpreting legislation and case law, providing specialist technical information and advice on welfare benefits to residents, partners, internal and external organisations.
  • Mediate and negotiate with appropriate agencies on a resident’s behalf, submitting mandatory reconsiderations and appeals to relevant bodies and represent clients at Tribunal Hearings, where appropriate.
  • Progress complex casework, gathering evidence as needed and keeping residents updated
  • Support the delivery of an effective duty service, and outreach provision
  • Contribute to the planning and delivery of Health & Wellbeing campaigns and Financial take up initiatives through the development of innovative approaches

 Key Requirements

To succeed in this role you will need as a minimum:

  • Proven experience and expertise in Welfare Benefit advice work
  • Excellent organisational skills, to ensure completion of necessary tasks to meet deadlines
  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills, with an ability to deal with issues in a tactful and sensitive manner

The post is subject to a standard disclosure from the DBS.

Oldham Right to Work in the UK.doc

Job Description & Person Spec.doc

About Us

For more information about the Oldham Council, please visit:  https://www.greater.jobs/content/4559/working-for-oldham

For details of how we use your data please see our privacy notice: https://www.oldham.gov.uk/downloads/file/4967/employment_privacy_notice_-_oldham_council_10

First job advert of 2019 thanks to Age UK in Trafford.

Trafford Age UK logoInformation and Advice Manager

Salary: £14,319 (£23,866 pro rata 21 hours) + pension

21 hrs per week to be worked flexibly to suit operational needs

We need an experienced and enthusiastic benefits adviser to work in our Information and Advice service. The post holder must be able to complete benefit application forms and to provide general benefits advice and support.

Closing date: 4th February 2019

Interview Date: 8th February 2019

To apply go to our website www.ageuktrafford.org.uk and click on the vacancy section on the front page. Return your completed pack by email to: admin@ageuktrafford.org.uk or post: The Sharples Building, 1-3 Church Road, Urmston, Manchester M41 9EH.

Registered Charity No: 1109047

Company Ltd by guarantee no: 5384301

The details of this post can also be found in a information and advice manager advert jan 2019 and on our Job Vacancies page.

Her Mightily Confused Tribunals Service. What could possibly be going wrong?

Which address?Here’s a quick follow up from our post announcing the redacted minutes of the first Manchester Tribunal User Group in 18 months. GMWRAG is relieved but utterly bewildered to discover our observation that HMCTS have not sent out minutes to anyone not in attendance may not be accurate. One of our member organisations has now received no less than three copies of said redacted minutes.

So, instead of receiving 7 pages they have received 21. Our member has only ever signed up using individual names and yet all 3 addresses are no longer addressed to those individuals. The 1st and 3rd of the 3 addresses above haven’t existed for 3.5 years. The 2nd is the same address but apparently in Manchester. GMWRAG probably doesn’t need to tell our members the perils of suggesting that any part of Salford is either “in Manchester”; “just Manchester” or “Manchester really”.

More to the point, staff at said service (long located within the Civic Centre in Salford) to the best of our knowledge continue to represent appellants and receive correctly addressed papers from Liverpool on a daily basis.

HMCTS and liaison. What could possibly be going wrong?!

GMWRAG would be very interested to know whether any other members have had similar issues. No TUG minutes at all or an excess? Please let us know.

The minutes of the Manchester Tribunal User Group are now available.

GMWRAG is old enough to remember when Tribunal User Groups (TUG) were held four times a year. We have long been of the view that holding a Manchester TUG once a year is largely tokenistic and speaks to an organisation largely disinterested in genuine engagement with its “customer base” or whatever it wants to call tribunal users this year. At a point when HMCTS is closing venues; relocating regional centres and tentatively entering the virtual world about 25 years after the rest of the world we can’t bring ourselves to express much surprise then that it has been 18 months since the last Manchester TUG.

Nor will we express much surprise that HMCTS once again demonstrates itself incapable of competent organisation having listed this one for “hearing” during half term and then not sending out the minutes to those organisations which it invited but who were, quite understandably, unable to attend for rather obvious practical reasons. Next, HMCTS will be claiming there’s no need for a TUG because few people attend. Well… we can’t imagine why that would be!

A quick GMWRAG review of Manchester TUG minutes shows that pretty much nothing has changed in the best part of 30 years. End to end administration remains poor and delays remain unacceptable. The same issues occur repeatedly.

We are therefore almost delighted to present for your delectation a set of 2018 minutes in which HMCTS have presented us with something new. Plus an accompanying document in which HMCTS have presented us with something about “reform”.

Manchester TUG GMWRAG Minutes 2018.

Another “reform” document.

The “something new”? GMWRAG has never seen a set of TUG minutes in which the basic performance statistics with which we have been provided for the past 30 plus years is accompanied by the following statement:

“This information does not form part of the Official Statistics and is restricted and should not be shared more widely than the attendees at this meeting.”

This leaves GMWRAG members in the extraordinary position that not only are TUGs now 18 months apart (and every TUG meeting for the past 30 years has contained a question from an attendee about the continued failure to hold meetings with the required frequency) but if you can’t make it then you don’t even get to see the contents of the meeting nor the basic performance statistics which enable you to for example advise clients of how long it might take for their appeal to be listed!

GMWRAG is extremely grateful for the member who provided these minutes. We can say we have redacted the relevant “performance” statistics with the utmost reluctance and feel grubby for having done so. We can see no reason for their redaction and will be writing to HMCTS to query the approach. We look forward to the likely GDPR related explanation. We wonder if this will be as credible as the recent attempt to explain away problems with introducing implicit consent to Universal Credit as also being because of GDPR!

In the meantime we have been amusing ourselves with the interwebs many apposite acronyms for GDPR. We’re quite taken with “Generally Dreadful Permanently Rubbish”. Why that one stuck? Who knows.

And yes, it’s not you, the Christmas snow on the GMWRAG web site should now be back in business.

A record (legal) high.

That moment when you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

GMWRAG has inevitably suffered along with our members over the past few years of austerity as we’ve seen member organisations and well-respected individual members find themselves on the wrong end of significant cuts and areas of Greater Manchester and indeed the North West of England become advice deserts. During the past 5 years we have worked hard to maintain the usefulness of our site and group but it has been a battle. The number of views tell their own story. Back in 2013 we hit a peak of 12,261 views over the whole year but this dropped dramatically a year later to 11,346 and we have done well to keep numbers over 9,000 in the intervening years.

Whilst austerity is still being foisted on many of our members with the inevitable consequences on both them and their clients it does seem as though things have stabilised to some extent and there’s some small belated recognition that advice saves more money than it will ever consume. Good to read therefore about proposals to build more law centres and to see some services which have struggled in recent years holding steady.

Over here at GMWRAG HQ we’ve been pleased to note that our numbers are back on the rise and significantly so. Our views for this year already significantly exceed those for each of the past 3 years and are currently the 3rd highest in our history and rising. Additionally we have just exceeded 1,000 view per month for 4 times in a row for the 1st time in our history.

In part this is clearly a reflection of the sheer volume we have been posting but it’s also clear that it’s also a measure of the fact many of you are still out there and thriving and the concern about those issues about which we have posted e.g. Universal Credit.

We’d also like to thank many of you for being “social” and sharing our many ramblings across social meejah. You’ve shared our posts 8,180 times over the past 9 years including Facebook 1,434 times. Interestingly you’ve shared our stuff 1,326 times on Reddit (no, us neither) and on Twitter a mere 928 times.

Amusingly our most shared post was one on something which did not come to pass (the transfer of AA to local authority funding). Perhaps depressingly the single most viewed thing on our site (after the home page) is our copy of the ESA 3 change of circumstances form.

Some people do actually think there is a GMWRAG HQ! We think we could get them PIP!

The rapid demise of local authority welfare assistance schemes, Universal Credit and complex need plans.

GMPA have produced an excellent report – “local welfare assistance schemes: the urgent need for a new approach” – weirdly enough talking about the urgent need for a new approach to local welfare assistance. Information wasn’t obtained in the case of 19 local authorities but nevertheless key findings include

Key findings include:

  • 22 local authorities don’t operate local welfare assistance schemes. GMPA estimates that this means 7.75 million people are living in areas where crisis support isn’t available.
  • A further 29 schemes are under threat, with local authorities having cut the budget for their schemes by two-thirds over the last three years or operating schemes on budgets of less than £100,000 a year.
  • The number of awards made through Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans was over 1.3 million in 2010/11 and over 700k in 2012/13 (the final year of the national scheme). This compares to a little over 161k successful applications for support through local welfare assistance schemes in 2017/18. This represents a fall in support of 88% between 2010/11 and 2017/18.
  • In Greater Manchester, spending on crisis support in 2017/18 was £3.8 million. This is over £15 million lower than spending under Crisis Loan and Community Care Grant provision in 2010/11. The number of successful applications for support through local schemes in Greater Manchester was 10,077 in 2017/18 compared to 123,220 Community Care Grants and Crisis Loan awards made in 2010/11.

The context for this decimation needs to be that, where an area has Universal Credit full service, complex needs plans may be referencing local welfare assistance which no longer exists. We don’t need to add anything to that do we! Well, there’s this we suppose.

“A useful step forward but we need to keep walking.”

GMWRAG is an intermittent fan boy of the work being posted on the Inequalities blog. Unless you have been living under a rock you may also be aware of the announcement of a new poverty measure this week. It would appear DWP have been living under a very shaded rock as a quick glance at their web site suggests nothing is going on with poverty at all but the employment rate is at a “near record high“. We suspect this translates roughly as “a bit better than it was”. Anyway…

Ben Baumberg-Geiger of the Inequalities blog has written an interesting article about the steps forward in the new poverty measure and the deficiencies. You can read the full article here. GMWRAG also recommends the thought provoking “The need for right-wing research” from the same author.

What Do They Know?

GMWRAG is pleased to announce that we now have an account with the excellent “WhatDoTheyKnow?” web site. We’re easy enough to find. Just do a search for the word “GMWRAG” and up we’ll pop along with our very first question to a public authority. You will be shocked to learn this is the DWP.

We’re sure most GMWRAG members know exactly what “WhatDoTheyKnow?” does but in case you don’t we’ll save ourselves some time by directing you to their FAQ page.

If any GMWRAG members wish to use the account to ask a welfare rights related question of a public authority whilst remaining anonymous please Contact GMWRAG and we’ll be happy to help. Please note this is not a service we will make available to advisers outside our geographical area nor anyone whose identity we cannot verify.

Our first request relates to a recent tweet from Neil Couling CBE, the Director General of the Universal Credit Programme. You can read all about it at “WhatDoTheyKnow?” but also by following @GMWRAGTweets and @NeilCouling.

GMWRAG will let you know the outcome of the request as soon as we have it.

“… supportive eye rolling”.

GMWRAG is having an enjoyable “long post” period and our recent UC post was given considerable traction by social media so we’re not going to apologise for the length of this one.

Once again we offer thanks to our friends at Righstnet but before reading this it’s worth understanding what a UN Special Rapporteur actually is else the significance of the person and the action may not register.

The title Special Rapporteur is given to individuals working on behalf of the UN within the scope of “special procedure” mechanisms who have a specific country or thematic mandate from the United Nations Human Rights Council. The term “rapporteur” is a French-derived word for an investigator who reports to a deliberative body.

The mandate from the UN has been to “examine, monitor, advise, and publicly report” on human rights problems through “activities undertaken by special procedures, including responding to individual complaints, psychological operations and manipulation via the controlled media and academia, conducting studies, providing advice on technical cooperation at the country level, and engaging in general promotional activities.”

Yes, you read that right. “… human rights problems… individual complaints, psychological operations and manipulations”. Worth bearing that in mind the day after the Public Accounts Committee heard the following surreal statements regarding Universal Credit.

“Q96 – Luke Graham MP: why do you think that food bank footfall is increasing in areas where we have full-service Universal Credit?

Peter Schofield: I don’t know. It is a really good question …”

“Q132 – Peter Schofield: …. just because you can’t measure something, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

Gareth Snell MP: Like hardship?”

“Q146 – Shabana Mahmood MP: Mr Schofield and Mr Couling, just thinking about the demeanour with which you are giving evidence today, has it ever occurred to you that a little humility and a willingness to listen might go a long way towards rebuilding some trust in this process?

Chair: Mr Schofield.

Peter Schofield: No, look, well, I—

Chair: No. Thank you. That was very cat out of the bag.”

“Q160 – Chair: Perhaps you can help us out by saying which of the stakeholders and organisations are only raising issues because they don’t approve of the policy. Which of the organisations that we heard from earlier, or that you have heard from, are doing this because they don’t agree with Government policy and actually want to undermine it? Do you want to name them? It would help us to know which ones are doing that.

Peter Schofield: No, I don’t particularly want to name them here …”

“Q225 – Chair: What worries you about that? We have covered some of that today, but what genuinely worries you about what could go wrong there? A lot could go wrong. Every individual is different.

Neil Couling: I worry about the perception of Universal Credit. I am on record saying I am worried about how some of the debate is carrying on and what that is doing to claimants, making them quite fearful. There are a large number of people who will gain from this move over to Universal Credit, getting higher entitlements, but all of the media noise about it is making people quite fearful and I am worried about that…”

“Neil Couling: Yes, and I think we have good policy here, but that may be because I am the one who gave this advice.

Chair: I record for the record the eye-rolling of the permanent secretary.

Peter Schofield: It was a supportive eye-rolling. You will see that on the video afterwards.”

Anyways…

The United Nations Special Rapporteur, Professor Philip Alston (and you can read more about him here), is seeking evidence relating to poverty and human rights ahead of his UK visit in November 2018. Particular areas of interest include austerity and the implementation of Universal Credit.

Professor Alston’s visit – which will take place between the 6th and 16th of November 2018 – will focus on the interlinkages between poverty and the realisation of human rights in the UK.

Calling for written submissions by Friday the 14th of September 2018, Professor Alston highlights a number of themes to focus on, including austerity and universal credit, and he asks –

  • have austerity measures implemented by the government taken adequate account of the impact on vulnerable groups and reflected efforts to minimize negative effects for those groups and individuals?
  • what have the effects of austerity been on poverty (and inequality) levels in the UK in the last decade?
  • have the human rights of individuals experiencing poverty been affected by austerity measures?
  • how have local governments been affected by austerity measures in the last decades by, for example, administration of the welfare system?
  • what alternatives to austerity might have been considered by governments in the last decade that might have had a more positive impact on poverty (and inequality) levels in the United Kingdom?
  • what has the impact of universal credit been on poverty and the lives of the poor in the UK until now, particularly considering specific groups, including for example children, persons with disabilities, women and other groups which may be more vulnerable on the basis of their identity and circumstances?
  • what has been the impact of universal credit being a ‘digital-only benefit’ on the ability of potential claimants to apply for this benefit?
  • what has the impact been of various forms of ‘welfare conditionality’ in the context of universal credit in terms of incentivising work?
  • to what extent has the introduction of universal credit reduced the incidence of fraud and error in the welfare system?

For more information see Visit by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from 6 to 16 November 2018 from the UN website. You could also perhaps tweet him @Alston_UNSR.

The Equality and Diversity Forum launch “Practical Equality Rights in Welfare Benefits” handbook.

Equality and Diversity Forum have now launched their ground-breaking online handbook, Practical Equality Rights in Welfare Benefits Advice, to help everyone providing advice or information on welfare benefits to use equality rights to solve everyday discrimination problems. The handbook is part of the Everyday Equality project, funded by the EHRC.

What is the Practical Equality Rights in Welfare Benefits Advice handbook?

For welfare benefits advisers and information providers working in community groups and advice organisations, the handbook has tips and tools about identifying discrimination. For advisers we have case studies, checklist and tools to help you use the Equality Act to solve your client’s everyday problems in a practical way.

For advice managers, the handbook has a new guide about managing and improving the delivery of discrimination advice.

The handbook also includes a new guide to demonstrating the equality impact of welfare benefits advice, using the Equality and Human Rights Commission Measurement Framework, an A-Z of Equality Rights, a directory of equality resources, FAQs, four downloadable posters, and a downloadable ‘quick guide’.

What’s next?

They are developing a short set of materials to help advice agencies to use the new online handbook and to raise awareness with their advisers. If you are interested in piloting or using these materials please let us know: jo.chimes@edf.org.uk

They are hoping to run a small event later in the year, in Manchester. If you are interested in taking part or attending, please let them know: jo.chimes@edf.org.uk

They would be pleased to hear from you with questions, suggestions and feedback on the handbook. Please contact them at info@edf.org.uk.

View our online handbook or download our quick guide (pdf).

To stay in touch with their work, and for updates to the handbook:

DLA and PIP caselaw for visual impairment.

At the June 2017 Stockport meeting GMWRAG members had a rare opportunity to look directly at issues around hearing and sight impairment in relation to DLA for children and PIP.

Presentations have previously been circulated from both speakers and made available via a post here on the 4th of July 2017. However, for reasons which escape, but which are most likely wholesale incompetence, the presentations have not been made available on a permanent basis in our “presentations and notes” page. Indeed, we had managed to turn the menu item for this off in our Meetings section. Good to see no-one noticed 🙂

Anyway, a number of requests have been made for the case law pack for people with a sight impairment, improvised for the session, to be made properly available. Additionally a number of GMWRAG members have contributed new decisions to be added so, we have been able to produce an updated edition. Nowt special but it’s as good a place as any to start. You can download it from here and find it permanently here, which is a different “here” if you see what we mean. We have also added the NDCS new line on PIP and safety document to the same place.

In other news we appear to have posted up the minutes of the Oldham meeting and then completely forgotten to add them to the minutes section of the web site. Fixed it now.

New Universal Credit freephone numbers part 2.

Further to our recent post on UC freephone numbers we  have noted that our colleague Barbara Knight from Derby has posted online at the following additional numbers.

Universal Credit housing line

0800 328 3844

Welsh line

0800 328 1744

Payment services

0800 328 0128

At the same time GMWRAG feels it important to bring to your attention the details of Christmas closures for these lines as reported in a somewhat sensationalist manner by the media. We’ll just give you the Grauniad version and leave it at that.

New Universal Credit freephone numbers.

Following the announcement by David Gauke that call charges for calls to Universal Credit would be scrapped it appears that the new freephone numbers have been published on Twitter. You can find the actual tweet at https://twitter.com/rightsnet/status/935754885794058240. Rightsnet think these could be free from today. They are as follows:

Universal Credit Live Service

Telephone: 0800 328 9344

Textphone: 0800 328 1344

Universal Credit Full Service

Telephone: 0800 328 5644

Textphone: 0800 328 1344

All numbers are available Monday to Friday between 8am and 6pm so it looks like little account has been taken of those people on UC and in employment. The very people who will mostly only be able to ring at lunch times or on their way home. Ah yes, employment. The thing UC was meant to incentivise!

Calls to these numbers have been free on all providers since 2015. However, GMWRAG has already noted that the textphone number for live and full service is the same. The potential for confusion for when dealing with hearing impaired clients should be obvious, but apparently not. Granted the tweet does says that “If you don’t have a Universal Credit online account and contact us by phone you are using Universal Credit live service… If you have a Universal Credit online account and contact us via your online journal you are using Universal Credit full service.”

QUICK UPDATE:

GMWRAG is highly amused that “building a welfare system that is fit for the modern world”  doesn’t seem to include spending money on having phone numbers which automatically re-direct so, yes, you guessed it… anyone unaware of the new freephone numbers will of course ring the old numbers and will have to listen to a message telling them to ring the new numbers. Will the original phone call still cost? No answer as yet but we think we can guess.

Universal Credit

Never let it be said that GMWRAG doesn’t have a sense of humour.

GMWRAG would like to present for your delectation two fantastic videos on Universal Credit and one on giving away your data verifying your identity. The first one is especially fascinating. We have at least learnt that DWP have now managed to design a form which can be saved as it goes along. Bravo! How many years? It even gives you a “To Do” list. This apparently includes creating a LinkedIn profile!
You will be especially fascinated to read all about how your identity is verified by giving your data to a private company. The explanation given for this is that your data will be safer because it’s not all held in one place. This is a well known nonsense argument. You can even choose which company with security vulnerabilities provider you give your data to so they can verify you are who you say you are. give it away. Experian anyone? As recently as last year we were reading headlines like “Experian hack exposes 15 million people’s personal information”

Then again, a quick look at the other providers is hardly reassuring. Digidentity have history on this front. Verizon? Ooh, look!

LinkedIn itself has hardly been a paragon of virtue on the data retention front. Losing the data of 164 million users is quite impressive. Of course, no need to worry, most users will be coralled into using the exemplary security of Universal JobMatch. Oh, wait… Could a theme be emerging here?

Scared yet. The above-named and others are the same companies who have your data for the purposes of viewing or sharing your drivers licence information; pretty much most key interactions with HMRC and… well, plenty more you can learn about below!

We could go on. Unfortunately this is but one aspect of UC which is disturbing. Delays in payment. Persistent wholly incorrect advice on who can and can’t claim. A lack of incentives to work. Plenty more where all this came from but in the meantime settle down and view this wonderfully smooth, professional video on how simple and straightforward it is.

We’re not sure what this third video adds beyond the staggering assertion that anyone involved with the digital service is “lucky”. Fill your boots as “they” say!!!