Full details of the January 2019 GMWRAG Everyday Equalities event are now available.

We’re going to keep this as simple as we can.

The full details of the next GMWRAG meeting are now available and they are pretty much as per our September 2018 post. This is a unique opportunity for GMWRAG members so book quickly to avoid disappointment.

There are three additional pieces of information you need to know:

  • A buffet lunch will be provided courtesy of our friends at the EHRC. However, anyone coming to the meeting will need to let us know their dietary requirement else there may be nothing available to meet your needs.
  • This is a ticket only event. Tickets are only available from Eventbrite at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/everyday-equality-challenging-discrimination-in-the-welfare-benefits-system-tickets-50261737209. Anyone attending without a ticket won’t be getting past reception at the venue (unless you’re a speaker at the event :))
  • Registration is for 1 person only. There are no group bookings. If you want to attend then you need to register personally.
  • NWMHWRAG members. The lucky 20 of you who have already reserved a place will need to bring your confirmation email with you else you also won’t get past reception.

The full agenda for the day can be viewed when you register for a place. It can also be downloaded from here. The minutes of the last meeting can be downloaded from https://gmwrag.wordpress.com/our-meetings/minutes-of-previous-meetings but there is currently no intention to go through normal GMWRAG business at this event.

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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.

Minutes of the last NWMHWRAG meeting are now available for download.

The minutes of the last (November 2018) meeting of the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group (NWMHWRAG) are now available for download from here.

The minutes are all available in posts like this but the minutes page itself hasn’t been updated since July 2018. GMWRAG apologises for their being a bit of a lag getting these up on the NWMHWRAG pages but we’ll be fixing this asap.

In the meantime NWMHWRAG members should watch their Inbox for news about the next GMWRAG meeting. We’re hoping to have full details with you before the end of the week.

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.

Initial details of the first meeting of the GMWRAG Greater Manchester Universal Credit Forum.

Somewhat pre-empting the issuing of the minutes of the last meeting GMWRAG is pleased to be able to confirm that the first GMWRAG led Greater Manchester Universal Credit Forum (we’re open to negotiations on the name) has been scheduled to take place  between 12:30pm and 5pm on Friday the 25th of January 2019 in the Crompton Suite at Oldham Council, Civic Centre, West Street, Oldham OL1 1NL.

For SatNav use OL1 1NL as the post code. The Metrolink stop is King Street (2-3 mins walk) away.

The intention is that a a minimum of 3 DWP partnership managers will be at each meeting along with a similar number of work coach team leaders and (hopefully) the Preston Service Centre manager (but longer term staff on the front line at the SC).

The agenda for the first meeting will broadly be around

  • introductions and sorting how the group should administer itself; who it should report to etc.
  • limited capability for work and complex needs.
  • deductions from UC.

As agreed at the meeting, this post is going out her in order to generate GM interest beyond those who attended the October GMWRAG meeting and a number of people who attended that meeting will also be invited through various routes.

Our target audience here is advisers whose welfare rights work is in the GM area and we’re looking for people with a long term interest in participating in the forum to drive consistency of approach across the Greater Manchester area. One off attendees will always be welcome but the focus is initially on establishing a core group who will be able to attend quarterly meetings.

Initially if you could email gmwrag at hotmail dot co dot uk and let us know of your interest we’ll liaise with Oldham.

Please note that it was agreed that after January 2019 (when we already have a full day GMWRAG meeting scheduled for the week before the first UC forum) whoever hosts GMWRAG will be hosting a half day UC forum meeting and a half day GMWRAG meeting.

If you’re not sure when you’re hosting GMWRAG then full details can be found on our meetings page. How this works with Oldham being scheduled to host GMWRAG in June 2019 we have yet to figure out but rest assured we’re working on it.

Tidying up October. The housekeeping email and a short notice invite from PLP.

GMWRAG would like to thank all those involved in the organisation of the recent meeting in Trafford which can officially be designated the best attended in our history. On that basis we’d also like to thank those who attended and participated for the whole day. The minutes of the meeting have already been received and, as anyone who attended could imagine, there is a lot of detail to take in. GMWRAG is conscious that we may have missed some questions to Neil Couling and some answers so before publication of the final minutes we’re asking members to send in any notes you took on the day. So this doesn’t run on for too long please email us at GMWRAG at Hotmail dot co dot UK no later than Friday the 9th of November 2018.

Preparations for the January 2019 meeting in Tameside/central Manchester are at an advanced stage and we’ll publicise those as soon as we can. Rumours that Esther McVey will be in attendance can (largely) be discounted. We’re saving her for Stockport 🙂

In the meantime, could any GMWRAG members who attended the recent Manchester Tribunal User Group meeting please email any notes taken as regards who attended from HMCTS and details of any questions and answers.

This leads us on neatly to a short notice but really important invitation from the Public Law Project.

Previous GMWRAG speaker (and the first person to be streamed live from a GMWRAG meeting) Matthew Ahluwalia would like to invite a GMWRAG member to a presentation, debate and discussion on online courts and tribunals and HMCTS’ digitalisation programme. PLP is organising the event.

PLP will provide some reading material in advance and make a presentation to start the discussion. They will then invite questions, comments and concerns inviting those present to share their views, and discuss their own work that may involve or be affected by the digitalisation programme.

If there are particular issues about online courts and the reform programme you would like discussed, please let them know and we will try to allocate some time on the agenda.

Time, date and location: 2.30pm to 4.30pm, Friday 9th November, at Herbert Smith Freehills, Exchange House, Primrose Street, London EC2A 2EG.

This event will be free of charge. Please note however that there is the offer of just the one place for one GMWRAG member.

Please could you RSVP by 2nd November so that we can confirm numbers with the venue. In order to keep this manageable we suggest you email GMWRAG or DM us via @GMWRAGTweets and we’ll pass on the details of the first contact we have to Matt.

CPAG looking for more test cases.

CPAG is considering a challenge to the lower standard allowance within universal credit which is provided to parents aged under 25 as compared with those aged 25 and over.

Under the legacy benefit system, although there was a lower personal allowance for under 25 year olds, that did not apply to any claimant who was a parent (except lone parents aged under 18).

If you have a client who is

  • a universal credit claimant is a parent aged under 25 and
  • is living in England or Wales and
  • is subject to the lower standard allowance (whether single or in a couple and whether working or not) and
  • wants to challenge the lower rate of benefit they are receiving, please complete CPAG’s test case referral form.

Updated statement from Greater Manchester Law Centre.

Exactly one year ago, we released our statement on the Universal Credit rollout. We were approached by a local Job Centre, who asked if we could provide facilities and support for Universal Credit applications. This did not sit well with us, and we carefully considered why.

We stand alongside people who’re fighting the DWP’s hostile environment. We have reclaimed over one million pounds falsely denied to disabled claimants in Greater Manchester, whilst demanding that the Government is held to account for the policies that are preventing disabled and unwell people from getting the disability payments they are entitled to. We are independent. Our legal services are free, professional, and face to face.

Therefore, our response was clear: the government cannot rely on the voluntary sector to pick up the pieces. For example, if Universal Credit is so convoluted and ineffective that those implement it ask charities for help, then it should not have been implemented at all. Our role is to publicly challenge the injustices of this government’s welfare regime.

One year on, we stand by this position. We remain independent, funded by our supporters and community.

GMLC’s statement, October 12th 2017: “We will not be complicit”

At the Greater Manchester Law Centre, we help people to navigate the existing benefits system. Vulnerable members of our community are struggling to access the support they deserve because of long and intimidating application forms and convoluted tribunal processes. In our first year, we helped clients with lost benefits to claim back £370,000, which demonstrates that many people are having to fight protracted battles to receive benefits that they should never have been denied in the first place. The consequences of an ineffective welfare system can be devastating, and Universal Credit appears destined to worsen the situation.

As a voluntary sector organisation, we are steadfast in our stance on Universal Credit: we will not assist in its implementation. If Universal Credit is so convoluted and ineffective that voluntary sector organisations are relied upon, then it should not be implemented at all. For example, a local Job Centre approached us earlier this year to ask if we would provide computers and supervisors to help people keep online journals for Universal Credit. Our response is clear: this is not the role of the voluntary sector. We will not be complicit in a scheme which results in further adversity and punishment for vulnerable people. We therefore refuse to facilitate the Universal Credit rollout.

Contact: Roz Burgin and Astrid Johnson, Development Workers, development[at]gmlaw.org.uk

Tel: 0161 769 2244                                                                                                                               

Facebook: Facebook.com/gmlawcentre

Twitter: @gmlawcentre

Web: www.gmlaw.org.uk

Registered Charity Number 1170317

Registered Company 09698401

The Greater Manchester Law Centre is a member of the Law Centres Network, http://www.lawcentres.org.uk.

Links

Manchester Evening News: Special Report on Universal Credit roll-out http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/who-going-feed-kids-stress-13739245

GMLC reclaim over one million pounds falsely denied to disabled claimants https://www.gmlaw.org.uk/2018/09/14/one-million-pounds/

The government has created a “hostile environment” for disabled people, new research shows https://www.gmlaw.org.uk/2018/07/16/hostile-environment/ 

Support GMLC today https://www.gmlaw.org.uk/donations-standing-orders/

Details of the next NAWRA meeting.

The next NAWRA meeting takes place in Durham on Friday the 7th of December 2018
at the Town Hall, Market Place, Durham DH1 3NJ (hosted by Durham County Council). The agenda and full details of speakers and workshops will be posted in due course but the minutes of the last meeting and the various presentations can already be downloaded here.

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.

GMWRAG attempts to bend time and space. 2019 here we come with another big announcement.

GMWRAG is busy compiling a list of the many UC issues you have kindly sent us in order to put together a draft agenda for our October meeting in Trafford to agree with the office of our special guest, Neil Couling, the Director General of the Universal Credit Programme.

In the meantime, we are pleased to announce initial details of the January 2019 GWMRAG meeting and we hope GMWRAG members will be as excited by this as we are.

GMWRAG, Tameside WRS, NWMHWRAG and GMSCG presents

“Everyday Equality: challenging discrimination in the welfare benefits system” featuring Jo Chimes and a whole lot more.

The meeting is hosted by Tameside. It is a full day event and will take place at the LGBT Foundation, 5 Richmond Street, Manchester, M1 3HF on Friday the 18th of January 2019 We’ll be open for refreshments, networking and juicy gossip for 9:30am with a planned running time of 10am to 4pm.

This will be the northern version of the excellent event run for those grim southerners by Jo in May 2018. You can read more about that here and we recommend all potential attendees download a copy of the absolutely invaluable “Practical Equality Rights in Welfare Benefits Advice” in advance of attending.

As we’re limited to 50 attendees we’ll be using a GMWRAG Eventbrite account and asking people to book through that for the first time. There is no cost attached to this. It’s just a practical way of managing numbers. As NWMHWRAG members attempted to book Jo first we’re going to attempt to put out some early bird tickets exclusively for them but no promises on that. We’re still figuring it out. Registration is not yet available. We will post when it goes live.

An agenda for the day plus details of any additional speakers will be posted as soon as finalised but you can realistically expect this to be post the Trafford meeting in October as that is currently fully occupying the GMWRAG hive mind.

The sorry tale of how GMWRAG received a response to our first ever Freedom Of Information request; missed a chance to do some DWP wide research and learnt more than we possibly intended.

On the 13th of August 2018 GMWRAG made a Freedom of Information request to DWP via our new WhatDoTheyKnow account. You can read all about the context for that first request in our post of that date but it’s worth reiterating the basics here.

On the 3rd of August 2018 @neilcouling posted the following tweet.

“Nice end to the week. UC claimant on work experience in jobcentre tells whole of DWP, UC is better than JSA, feels more customer-friendly, giving people responsibility for their money means work less of a culture-shock, that change is inevitable but this one is welcome.”

@GMWRAGtweets has enjoyed “bants” with Mr. Couling previously and we’re well aware of an infamous occasion claims were made of being inundated with thank you cards from claimants who had been sanctioned. The final number could be described as something less than “inundated” unless DWP are now using a dolls house sized letter box as the front end for mail handling.

We have no idea whether the above account is controlled by Mr. Couling (or perhaps a “UC claimant on work experience”) but the above tweet provokes more questions than answers and Mr. Couling wasn’t very forthcoming.

We probably don’t need to comment further on the phrase “UC claimant on work experience in jobcentre”… but we will! We think the very concept of “work experience in jobcentre” begs a question as to what on earth JCP think they’re doing? Why would you place anyone on work experience in a jobcentre? If you can do it for one why can’t you do it in all (recognising the problematic nature of doing it in even one JCP)? What safeguards are in place if the work experience doesn’t work out? Is the work coach the supervisor? And so on… ad nauseam.

However, our more immediate concern was that this was someone giving out a message which offers a perspective on UC which flies in the face of all the evidence accepted by the Public Accounts Committee, the Work and Pensions Committee and the National Audit Office and in the context of doing work experience in, of all places, a JCP. So, this would be someone who not only seemed unlikely to have had any issue with the fluctuations inherent in UC in other situations and is therefore potentially largely uniformed by the wider issues but also who looks from the outside to have said something which at worst looks potentially coerced given that the language used, to most reasonable people, does not appear to be the language of a claimant. Indeed it bore remarkable similarities to those leaflets the DWP had to concede contained case studies of claimants who weren’t exactly real!

So, GMWRAG elected to ask a simple question? Which jobcentre? When we didn’t get an answer we decided to just keep asking. Every day!

At first we couldn’t any response at all but then, after 5 days Mr. Couling denied we’d asked him anything.

“Think you need to check back on your twitter history. I don’t recall you asking me anything. This tweet suggests you have asked a local jobcentre? But if I missed a tweet from you apologies”.

By this time we had, of course, on the 4th of August 2018 asked every JCP on Twitter in the UK whether this inspirational claimant had been at their office. We didn’t think this was unreasonable. Weren’t these the same JCPs who had claimed to be so responsive on social media that they had once prevented a claimant setting out to sign on in those notorious “adverse weather conditions” less then 10 minutes after they’d been asked if they were open! Yes, they were.

At the time of writing, a mere 40 days later, not a single one of those JCPs has shown enough social media manners to offer us a polite response. Not a “Sorry, not us”. Not a peep. Were there to be a storm of biblical proportions it seems most unlikely any JCP would be able to offer up a response in 9 minutes.

On the 8th of August 2018 Mr. Couling finally responded that this “… wasn’t from a jobcentre, which perhaps explains why jobcentres haven’t responded.”

Well, on one level, we had achieved a little more clarity, albeit only in the sense that we had established that blood wasn’t likely to leak from a stone any time soon. On the other hand, are we truly alone in thinking that an organisation which gets asked a questions and fails to acknowledge that even if only to confirm that they couldn’t help is best described not as “customer friendly” (to hark back to our original concern) but simply unprofessional? If GMWRAG members received a query from a client or another government department or indeed just about anyone, and simply failed to answer does “unprofessional” not leap out as the obvious adjective?

GMWRAG then asked, not unreasonably, if not in a JCP, then where. Mr. Couling was on fire now. He came back with the brilliant phrase “Sure, social media.”. We then asked which account and… silence.

ON the same day GMWRAG then found the account of one @AfrikKwame who quite remarkably had tweeted (on the 29th of March 2018 mind you) the words

“@JTomlinsonMP @ MMorley_JCP @Director_LHC I’m Deaf and loving my work experience at Barnsbury JC, coaching non-Deaf UC claimants into work.”

Putting aside that this means that work experience in a JCP is actually “a thing” we didn’t think this was our man (more on this later) but Mr. Couling then tweeted the astonishing

“This exchange reminds me of the bit from the Life of Brian where a follower says “only the true messiah denies his own divinity”. Brian replies “well what chance does that give me?”. Noted you never accept anyone might be happy with UC. I’m listening why not reciprocate?”

Two days earlier Mr. Couling had accepted an invitation to the October GMWRAG meeting! He then clearly set about doing some serious listening as his Twitter account fell mysteriously silent…

You can read the full text of the DWP response here. Like us you may wonder at how the DWP intranet translates into “social media”. Despite encouragement from elsewhere we think it would be futile to pursue this angle. Whilst most of us think of social media as specific platforms like Flaccidbook or Witter, it can be defined sufficiently loosely for Mr. Couling to be able to get away with the use of the phrase in connection with a post or broadcast on an intranet. See here for an example.

We do now have the full text of the voluntarily provided feedback, which reads

“I’m doing work experience at the job centre and I’m on UC. In my opinion UC is
much easier for customers than the old JSA system, it feels much more customer
friendly. Also, giving the customers full responsibility for their money is less of a
culture shock when we enter into full or even part time employment. I do
understand that some of the staff are concerned about the possibility of a heavy
workload due to the change of procedure, however, I think that once the change is
implemented, it will make the whole process smoother for all. In every system
change is inevitable, but I can tell you now, to me this is a very welcome one.”

GMWRAG is willing to listen to arguments that the above is real. The extent to which it was voluntary is open to discussion and ditto the extent to which the above is couched in the language of a claimant as opposed to a broadcast by DWP. However, the matter is not at an end. Indeed we have just tweeted @AfrikKwame to ask if they were in fact the person in question. Watch this space.

Brilliantly, it appears that when DWP posted the above responses they managed to not only fail to fully redact the name of the relevant claimant (too late folks, it’s apparently been sorted) but also managed to post a link which enabled a user to message the whole of the DWP! Yes, you read that right. GMWRAG of course missed the boat on this once in a lifetime opportunity to do some research in partnership with the DWP and that has been taken down also. Bearing in mind that UC is intended to be wholly digital and DWP is currently looking to migrate UC to a cloud computing platform. Let’s not even start on online ID verification. GMWRAG is both mildly amused and simultaneously horrified that such basic errors and data breaches continue to occur. It appears one little question can open up a whole can of worms.

Mysteriously, @NeilCouling is back on Twitter as of today! Perhaps someone lost the password and just found it in a journal!

The same “long read” as last time but possibly in a more digestible format and with a different title.

Back in July 2018 GMWRAG published a long read via TruPublica titled “Research Paper Update: State Crime By Proxy: Corporate Influence on State Sanctioned Social Harm”. You can read that post here and the actual article here.

The whole thing has now been formally published by the Centre for Welfare Reform and is available for download as a pdf by clicking below. The new title is the much more understandable “Preventable Harm and the Work Capability Assessment”.

If you want to know how we ended up where we are with the WCA, and why, then this is an essential read. The same caveats we wrote last time probably still apply.

Consultation on the enforcement of the Equality Act 2010.

Along with judicial review and Human Rights Act challenges, the Equality Act 2010 has become an increasingly relevant and powerful force in achieving change to both roll back welfare reform; eliminate discrimination and enforce reasonable adjustments as part of the claim, decision making and challenge processes. GMWRAG members via the GMSCG group and meetings have rapidly gained confidence, expertise and excellent contacts to make such challenges far easier.

So, head bowed, we can’t for the life of us remember why we haven’t publicised the current consultation being run by the Women and Equalities Committee looking at the effectiveness of the enforcement of the Equality Act 2010.

The Women and Equalities Committee has launches this inquiry into the enforcement of the legislation which is designed to “provide a legal framework to protect the rights of individuals and advance equality of opportunity for all”. You can read the full detail of this at Enforcement of the Equality Act: the law and the role of the EHRC.

Widespread problems with enforcement

Individuals can take legal action to enforce their right not to be discriminated against, mostly through employment tribunals and county courts.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) also has duties and powers to enforce the Act and it has stated that it wishes to become a more ‘muscular’ regulator.

However, the Committee’s work in a range of areas has shown that individuals have difficulties enforcing their rights under the Act and has questioned the effectiveness of the EHRC: inquiries on pregnancy and maternity discrimination, transgender equality, disability and the built environment, workplace dress codes, older people and employment and sexual harassment in the workplace all identified widespread problems with enforcement.

Previous recommendations

The Committee has already made recommendations to improve the enforcement of the Equality Act in specific areas. These include:

  • extending time limits for bringing certain employment cases (pregnancy & maternity and sexual harassment reports)
  • adequate financial penalties (workplace dress codes and sexual harassment reports)
  • increased use by the EHRC of its enforcement powers (workplace dress codes, older workers)
  • greater action by regulators to tackle discrimination in the organisations they oversee (pregnancy and maternity, sexual harassment in the workplace)

The Committee now wants to know what more needs to be done to achieve widespread compliance with the Equality Act 2010 for all those with rights under it.

Send us your views

The Committee calls for written evidence on:

  • How easy it is for people to understand and enforce their rights under the Equality Act
  • How well enforcement action under the Equality Act works as a mechanism for achieving widescale change
  • How effective and accessible tribunals and other legal means of redress under the Equality Act are, and what changes would improve those processes
  • How effective current remedies for findings of discrimination are in achieving change, and what alternative or additional penalties should be available;
  • The effectiveness of the EHRC as an enforcement body, including:
    • Whether the powers the Commission has are sufficient and effective;
    • Whether the Commission is using those powers well;
    • Whether changes are needed to the Commission’s approach to using its enforcement powers as set out in its policies (such as the strategic litigation policy and compliance and enforcement policy) or as implemented in practice, and the way it identifies and selects legal cases to lead or support;
    • Whether the Commission uses enforcement action appropriately and effectively as part of its wider strategies for advancing equality;
    • Whether the Commission’s role as an enforcer is widely known and understood and acts as a deterrent to discrimination.
  • Whether there are other models of enforcement, in the UK or other countries, that could be a more effective means of achieving widespread compliance with the Equality Act 2010, either overall or in specific sectors.

Send your submission using the written submission form. The deadline is Friday the 5th of October 2018.

Please note that the Committee cannot look at individual cases or accept submissions about cases that are currently before the Courts.

Written submissions should focus on the enforcement issues set out in the terms of reference.

This could include, for example, barriers faced when trying to bring a case, but it should not include detailed descriptions of individual cases themselves.

Submissions that do not address the issues set out in the terms of reference may not be accepted by the Committee.

Please contact the Committee staff at womeqcom@parliament.uk if you have any questions about this

Inquiry provides opportunity for a systematic review

Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Maria Miller MP, said:

“Many of our inquiries inevitably focus on the problems with enforcement of equality legislation and critique the role of the EHRC.

This inquiry will provide the opportunity for a more systematic review of the causes and identify possible solutions.

We want to look at whether the Equality Act creates an unfair burden on individual people to enforce their right not to be discriminated against. How easy is it for people to understand and enforce their rights? How effective is enforcement action? Are tribunals accessible and remedies for findings of discrimination effective? Is the EHRC able to do its job properly? Those are just some of the questions we are seeking to answer.

I would encourage people to submit evidence to our inquiry if they are able to provide more information on those points.”

GMWRAG members will of course not need much reminding that this is the same Maria Miller who introduced PIP with the intention of cutting 20% off the DLA budget and helping disabled people live “… more independent lives” and equally familiar rhetoric along the lines of the victim blaming

“concerns that are based on a lack of detailed information of what we are talking about in terms of our reforms. People need to get the facts rather than speculation”.

Now, where have we heard THAT before? Oh, hang on. It sounds remarkably similar to the phrase

“I remain worried that the legitimate campaigning activity on UC, that is regularly undertaken, is causing anxiety amongst claimants that will make it more difficult to move people safely over to UC”.

No irony at all in the same person who introduced legislation, which is now a hotbed of potential EA 10 cases, asking whether EA 10 is working okay.

GMWRAG loves life 🙂 Off you go then. 5th of October folks. 5th of October.

Further information

Guidance: written submissions

A big announcement for the next GMWRAG meeting.

Some two months after we first announced the next GMWRAG meeting would be in Trafford on Friday the 19th of October 2018 we are pleased to be able to put a little flesh on the bones of the agenda and we’re confident that we have a day which will pique the interest of even the most diehard Principal Officers stayaways .

Our original plan was to have our traditional 2 speakers and a full day. Only the latter of these ideas remains in play. At the request of several GMWRAG members the whole day will understandably be dedicated to Universal Credit Full Service. However, instead of 2 speakers we will be playing host all day to Neil Couling CBE, Director General of the Universal Credit Programme and working with him and DWP to put together an agenda agreeable to all.

Mr. Couling will be bringing with him 3 partnership managers, although GMWRAG had already started the process of inviting every GM partnership manager before he graciously accepted our invitation, so whether we end up with the former or the latter is currently up in the air.

The focus of the meeting will be on identifying common UCFS issues across the GM area and looking to identify consistent cross GM solutions in order to move away from having different problem solving processes for each of the 10 GM areas.

The intent is to leave the meeting with a clear plan for a cross GM UCFS forum to meet on a regular basis to build on the work we plan to get through in Trafford over a longer period.

In deference to Mr. Couling we are likely to have specific agenda items about what is going well with UCFS and also a discussion on the evidence base for the suggestion that UC campaigning is causing anxiety amongst claimants which will make managed migration difficult to move people over safely to UC from 2020 onwards. There may be further requests for specific agenda items from the DWP side which we will also try to accommodate.

GMWRAG members can now help make this a successful day by contacting GMWRAG and letting us know your top 5 UCFS issues or concerns. Where common issues are identified across GM we’ll put these as specific agenda items and will try to give them 30 to 60 minutes each. These need to be strictly defined as anything broad is likely to go nowhere fast.

GMWRAG already has some ideas around this from members posts in forums and social media e.g. issues around terminal illness; unspecified/unjustified deductions; corporate appointeeships and many more but we want members to lead in defining your concerns not ours. We will be contacting some GMWRAG members in existing UCFS areas in GM for their specific thoughts.

We may ask 1 person per item to set the scene on the day by spending 5 minutes outlining the issue in depth (and perhaps giving a quick case study) before we set about co-operatively agreeing solutions which work for the majority.

This is likely to be the most focused and stimulating GMWRAG meeting (since the last one); a PowerPoint free zone (unless absolutely unavoidable) and we anticipate numbers may be high. Bearing this in mind, we’ll be posting separately in due course to ask GMWRAG members to indicate whether they will be attending so we can get a quick idea of numbers.

All of this does of course mean that a final agenda may be produced only at a very late stage so please keep an eye on this site and Twitter for further information. The minutes of the Bolton meeting remain available for download now.

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.

NAWRA coming to the North West of England.

It has been a couple of months since GMWRAG posted anything in respect of our friends at NAWRA. Details of future NAWRA meetings have caught our eye though because early in March 2019 NAWRA will be coming to your area (the North West of England) and to Salford in particular. We will be playing an active role in publicising said meeting but in the meantime details of the next two NAWRA meetings are below.

The next meeting will take place from 10am-4pm (registration from 9.30am) on Friday the 7th of September 2018 at Renfield St Stephen’s Centre, 260 Bath St, Glasgow G2 4JP (hosted by Glasgow City Council).

Following that meeting the next two meetings will be

Durham on Friday the 7th of December 2018 which will be held at Town Hall, Market Place, Durham DH1 3NJ (hosted by Durham County Council) and then Salford on Friday the 1st of March 2019.

Further details to follow as we have them.

Initial details of the next GMWRAG meeting now available.

GMWRAG is pleased to confirm that the next GMWRAG meeting will be taking place in October 2018 and will be hosted by Trafford Welfare Rights Service.

The meeting will be a full day meeting with the intention of having two speakers and will take place at the offices of Trafford Housing Trust, Sale Point, 126-150 Washway Road, Sale M33 6AG on Friday the 19th of October 2018. The venue is a very straight forward 14 minute walk from the Sale Metrolink stop (M33 2DG in case you were wondering) and is also on a main bus route. Drivers? You’ll figure it out 🙂

A quick reminder also that the minutes from the last meeting have long since been available and can be downloaded from our Minutes page. The agenda for the Trafford meeting will be published here as soon as it’s finalised and if anyone has either a great suggestion for a speaker or any other agenda items please contact GMWRAG in the usual ways.

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:

Seeking claimants to take legal cases over PIP dishonesty

Disability News Service has been investigating claims of dishonesty in the PIP assessment process for 18 months.

A leading discrimination lawyer has now said he may be able to take legal cases on behalf of PIP claimants who believe that the HCPs who carried out their assessments did not honestly report the results.

Cases would be taken under the Equality Act, but crucially the assessment must have happened in the last 6 months, for legal reasons.

If GMWRAG members know of any PIP claimants who have had an assessment in the last few months and want to consider legal action, please contact DNS – with some brief details of the dishonesty and when it took place – either by phone or email*.

Here’s some background to the DNS investigation…

In November 2016, DNS began an investigation into claims that healthcare professionals who carry out face-to-face assessments of benefit claimants had lied, ignored written evidence and dishonestly reported the results of physical examinations.

The claims involved HCPs working for both Capita and Atos.

The alleged dishonesty included HCPs: refusing to accept further written evidence from medical experts; wrongly claiming that physical examinations had been carried out; refusing to list all medications; ignoring or misreporting key information detailed during the assessment; and reporting a refusal to co-operate with a physical examination, when they were unable to complete it because of their impairment.

The first story was published in January 2017 and since then, DNS has compiled claims of dishonesty made by about 300 PIP claimants.

Over 18 months, evidence of institutional dishonesty has continued to build, and many of the stories published by DNS have been shocking.

DNS also reported how secret recordings revealed how a nurse failed to mention a disabled woman’s near-fatal asthma attacks, accidental overdoses and repeated blackouts in yet another dishonest benefits assessment report.

The DWP, Capita and Atos continued to insist that there is no dishonesty in the process as the evidence continued to mount.

Since the investigation began, many claimants have expressed a wish to take legal action against assessment companies because of harm caused to them and the discrimination they believe they faced.

There was some hope when a court ruled last year that a disabled woman should be awarded £5,000 compensation by Atos, after a dishonest report by one of its assessors led to her being awarded the wrong level of benefits, but Atos had failed to offer a defence to her claim for damages and is now challenging the court’s ruling.

And there was hope when solicitor Daniel Donaldson announced earlier this month that he was taking a case against DWP in the Scottish courts for allegedly discriminating against him in the way it dealt with his PIP claim.

DNS has now been in touch with a leading London-based lawyer, who has offered to consider cases of PIP claimants who allege dishonesty by their assessors, to see if there is a way to take legal action against Atos or Capita under the Equality Act.

*If you’re interested in potentially taking a legal case, contact DNS editor John Pring by phone (weekdays only, please: 01635 228907) or email: john@disabilitynewsservice.com

The first episode of GMPAs “Beyond Poverty” report has been issued.

Greater Manchester Poverty Action are committed to strengthening the voices of people in poverty. People who have lived experience of poverty are sometimes referred to as experts by experience, rightly
recognising the potential that they have to bring about real change for themselves, for their communities, and for wider society. Sharing people’s stories is important for raising their voices and helping them to be heard, and for developing everyone’s understanding of poverty.

The reasons why poverty exists in Greater Manchester, and in the UK as a whole, are well understood;
high living costs, a housing market that is incapable of meeting everyone’s needs, a broken social security system that fails to provide a sufficient safety net, and an economy that relies too heavily on insecure and low paying work in order to function are all among the structural factors that result in people experiencing poverty and hardship.

However, the reasons why one person experiences poverty and one person doesn’t, and why some
people are at greater risk of poverty are complex and multifaceted. Policy and practice needs to be
designed in a way that responds to these complexities and challenges. To do so the voices of people with
lived experience of poverty must be heard, and furthermore they must be involved in re-designing policy
and practice.

We are therefore pleased to announce the launch of GMPA’s “Beyond Poverty” report, which will be
serialised in a newsletter and on their web site over the next few months. The report will share the stories of people from across Greater Manchester who are either currently experiencing poverty or who have experienced poverty in recent years, describing the experience, the causes and the effects of poverty. They don’t offer detailed commentary alongside the case studies, we want the voices of these experts by experience to speak for themselves. When all the articles have been published we will print them as a single report – please let them know by email if you would like a copy.

They start with David’s story that describes being out of work due to illness and disability,
and shows the importance of a supportive and effective welfare system for those unable to work.
They want to take the opportunity to thank everyone whose story you will read in the coming months,
who have showed great courage and understanding in coming forward and telling their stories, as well as
Peter Cruickshank for having conducted the interviews with such sensitivity and dedication.

Going beyond the Beyond Poverty report, sharing stories is important, but it is only the beginning.
Poverty can only be addressed when those who experience it first-hand are involved in the process of
identifying problems and working on solutions. We are therefore also inviting experts by experience to
co-chair each sub-group of the Food Poverty Alliance (launching on the 8th of May 2018 – https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/greater-manchester-food-poverty-alliance-launch-tickets-44144968790). In so doing, we aim to co-produce a Food Poverty Action Plan for Greater Manchester with a deep understanding of the causes, effects and experience of food poverty.

Practice claiming Universal Credit!

Our friends at Rightsnet have drawn our attention to the following link from We Are Digital. This allows the rare treat of being able to practice a claim for Universal Credit. GMWRAG can foresee that this would be useful in multiple circumstances for claimants, advisers and perhaps many other front line professionals. To the best of our knowledge this absolutely unique. Please have a look at www.we-are-digital.co.uk/ucp-form/

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.

Future GMWRAG meetings.

We’re around the time of year when people start asking when the next GMWRAG meeting is. What they really mean is “is there a GMWRAG meeting before Christmas?”. The answer to this is “No, there isn’t.” Details of GMWRAG meetings have long since been plotted considerably in advance and full details can always be found on our meetings page.  We’re currently up to 2019 although those people hosting then probably haven’t noticed 🙂

The next GMWRAG meeting will be in Salford and, although it’s not finally confirmed, we are hoping it will take place in Swinton on Friday the 19th of January 2018.  We’re anticipating a full day meeting with two or more speakers. More details will be posted as soon as we have them. Minutes of the last meeting will be out in due course.

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!!!

The Christmas 2018 meeting of the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group is here.

The next meeting of the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group will be on Friday the 30th of November 2018.

We meet at 9.30 for a 10am start.

Jane Hobson from Trafford Welfare Rights will be leading off a discussion on Universal Credit under full service fresh from talking to the Money Advice Group in Manchester on the same subject and refereeing a room full of GMWRAG members v Neil Couling.

The meeting is held in in the Community Room at Central Manchester Fire Station, 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 left. Walk towards the building and then turn 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.

If you have any problems finding the room, you can call Helen Rogers on 07800 617 866.

As this will be our last meeting before Christmas, we’ll be going for lunch afterwards.

All are welcome to join us.

NB: The minutes of the last GMWRAG meeting remain in draft form as a number of very kind people have emailed in their own notes/recollections of the day (and indeed dodgy photographs) and we’re trying to incorporate these into the excellent minutes received from Trafford so we ensure we have covered all the bases. If anyone else has notes from the day which they’re happy to email in to gmwrag at Hotmail dot co dot uk this would be much appreciated.