New job advert on the GMWRAG web site.

The following post has also been added to our job vacancies page.

Tameside Council

STRONGER COMMUNITIES

CUSTOMER CARE AND ADVOCACY

WELFARE BENEFITS AND DEBT ADVICE SUPERVISOR

Grade H: £29,323 – £32,486 per annum

36 hours per week, Permanent

Located at: Clarence Arcade, Stamford Street, Ashton under Lyne, OL6 7PT

Tameside MBC has a well-established Welfare Rights & Debt Advice Service.

A vacancy has arisen for a welfare benefits and debt advice supervisor.

We are looking for an individual with particular experience in delivering welfare benefits advice at a specialist level including experience of representing clients at social security appeals. Knowledge around specialist debt advice, in particular around rent and mortgage possessions in preventing homelessness is also a requirement of the post as you will be supervising a multi-disciplinary team of both debt and benefits advisers.

As this is a supervisory post, you will need to have significant experience of supervising staff, ideally in an advice setting. You will be responsible for ensuring that high quality advice is being provided through supervision, file review and peer review processes. You will also oversee workflow into the service to ensure that residents are supported with benefits and debt advice issues.

You must have an ordered approach to casework with excellent inter-personal skills with the ability to work under pressure.

You will need excellent organisational and supervisory skills and be able to demonstrate experience of providing support or advice to the public including vulnerable people.

If you would like to discuss any aspects of the post, please contact Janine Yates, Team Manager on 0161 342 3494.

This role is a designated customer facing role under the fluency duty and requires a specified level of spoken English in the person specification.

Reference No: ADV754

Contract: permanent
Working hours: full-time
Closing date: 11:59pm on the 26th of October 2017
Interviews: to be confirmedJob Description/Person Specification.doc

The application process is managed through Greater Jobs and you will need to create an account and/or login on that site in order to be able to commence the application process.
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Next meeting of the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group – Questions for the DWP.

The next meeting of the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group (NWMHWRAG) takes place on Friday the 24th of November 2017 as detailed on their pages within the GMWRAG site. Minutes of the last meeting remain available for download but we’d like to remind attendees that the November meeting should include a session with DWP Partnership Managers for full service Universal Credit areas. NWMHWRAG are asking for questions in advance in order to minimise the need for questions to be “taken back”.

Questions should be directed to Helen Rogers at Stockport by no later than Wednesday the 1st of November 2017. This does not prevent questions being asked on the day. It just maximises the chances of having full answers on the day.

Attendees should already know how to contact Helen. GMWRAG is generally reluctant to put contact details such as email addresses and phone numbers on this site as we have history on this opening up inappropriate lines of contact for clients looking for advice as well as resulting in advisers being spammed.

Work and Pensions Committee launches inquiry into effectiveness of PIP and ESA assessments.

The Work and Pensions Committee has launched an inquiry into the effectiveness of personal independence payment (PIP) and employment and support allowance (ESA) assessments. They are seeking recommendations for change on the assessment process for each benefit individually, and to hear about common lessons that can be learned from the two processes, the Committee invites submissions over three main areas:

Assessors and assessments –

  • whether contractor assessors possess sufficient expertise to carry out assessments for people with a wide range of health conditions;
    • whether the DWP’s quality control for contractors is sufficient and effective;
    • whether the options for reforming the work capability assessment mooted in the government’s Improving Lives green paper should be taken forward; and
    • what examples of best practice in assessing eligibility for benefits are available internationally, and whether they are transferable to ESA and/or PIP.
  • Mandatory reconsideration and appeal –
    • the reasons why claimants seek to overturn initial assessment outcomes for ESA and/or PIP;
    • the reasons why levels of disputed decisions are higher for PIP than for ESA;
    • whether the mandatory reconsideration process is working well for claimants of ESA and/or PIP;
    • the reasons for the rate of overturned decisions at appeal for PIP and/or ESA;
    • whether there are lessons that could be learned from the ESA mandatory reconsideration and appeal process for PIP and vice-versa; and
    • whether there are changes that could be made earlier in the process to ensure fewer claimants feel they need to appeal.
  • Claimant experiences –
    • whether prospective claimants currently understand the purpose of the assessment;
    • in what way could claimants be helped to better understand the assessment process;
    • whether there are some groups of claimants particularly likely to encounter problems with their assessments – and if so, how can this be addressed; and
    • whether the assessment processes for PIP and ESA should be more closely integrated, and other ways the processes might be streamlined for claimants.

The Committee is seeking written submissions by the 10th of November 2017 and also invites claimants who have had an assessment, or are waiting for an assessment, to submit a comment on its web forum.

For more information see Are PIP and ESA Assessments working well? from parliament.uk

Research on the impact of Universal Credit on advice agencies.

From the latest Institute of Money Advisers (IMA) bulletin:

As part of his masters in Social Welfare Law, Policy, and Advice Practice, IMA member Tom Barrett is researching the impact that Universal Credit is having on advice agencies, and their ability to manage this impact. To gather the data for this research he is conducting a short survey that should take around eight minutes to complete.

It would be much appreciated if GMWRAG members could complete the survey. It can be found here at

https://staffordshire.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_9YSJ9Z9vPjzChut

Minutes of the latest North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group meeting.

The minutes of the latest meeting of the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group (NWMHWRAG) are now available for download.

Additional to this a number of useful documents have been circulated around the idea that renewals are effectively supersessions and therefore a decision maker and/or tribunal cannot make a decision without referencing what has changed since the original decision. In support of this we give you

CDLA 5196/2001

SF v SSWP (PIP) [2016] UKUT 481

and a model submission courtesy of Nick Smith of Manchester Advice Appeals team.

Although this will be relevant to all GMWRAG members we have uploaded the first two of the above to the “relevant case law” page, which resides within the NWMHWRAG section of this site so they can be permanently referenced without having to search through posts.

Agenda and speakers for next weeks GMWRAG meeting in Oldham.

The agenda for next weeks GMWRAG meeting in Oldham is now available and can be downloaded by clicking on this link. Everything else you need can be found in our previous posts yesterday and back in July 2017.

Well, yeah, okay. You will need a coat, possibly a scarf. Almost certainly gloves and maybe even a hat and an umbrella. Apart from that, everything you need to know is in those posts 🙂

Er, okay, you might also want to know how to get there. We sort of covered that in the July post when we mischievously described transport to Oldham as “straightforward nowadays”. If you don’t believe us then please check out MyTfGM for journey planning.

We are pleased to confirm that we have two speakers for the day covering innovation and Universal Credit. If you want to know more please download the agenda from the link above.

Countdown to the October the 6th GMWRAG meeting in Oldham.

We posted full details of the next GMWRAG meeting as far back as the 12th of July 2017. To save yourself (well, us) some time, you can have a look at that post now.  Everything you need is in there. The date, the time, the place , how to get there and even tentative details of a speaker.

A quick hint. It’s a full day meeting on Friday the 6th of October 2017 (that bit wot is in the title of this post) and you’re still going to have to read that previous post and remember to bring your own minutes from the last meeting.

We’re waiting for final confirmation on our morning speaker but we can confirm that our afternoon speaker will definitely be Vivien Robinson, DWP Partnership Manager, who will be talking about the local roll out of full service Universal Credit from 2:00pm onward.

Some of you may remember that in a previous post we detailed an update to UC roll out and this included the news that Oldham was rolling out from April 2017.

As soon as our a.m. speaker is confirmed the full agenda will be published here.

Invitation to take part in research into bereavement and funeral poverty.

With thanks to our friends at NAWRA for passing this on.

You are invited to participate in a study relating to bereavement and funeral poverty. The aim of the research is to understand how the change to Bereavement Support Payment may affect claimants and to consider the adequacy of the support available overall to bereaved families. Your views would be valuable, whether or not you have much experience in this area or with the new benefit.

Participation involves an online questionnaire. It will take around 10 minutes. All questions will be completed anonymously; the researcher will not know who has completed the questionnaire. The researcher is Jennifer Cowen and she can be contacted at c032915c@student.staffs.ac.uk. If you have any further questions about anything to do with the questionnaire, or the research in general, please feel free to contact her.

If you would like to participate, click on the link below to the research questionnaire and further information on the study: Take the survey or the URL below into a browser: http://staffordshire.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_4GccGX3KdhbwHJP

The Right To Justice.

‘Right to justice’, the final report of the Bach Commission is out today.

People should have a right to justice they can afford, urges a new report on access to the justice system.

The Fabian Society was secretariat for the Bach Commission which has heard from more than 100 individuals and organisations over the past two years. The commission found that cuts to legal aid created a two-tier justice system where the poorest go without representation or advice.

In its final report, published today, the commission calls on the government and other political parties to ensure minimum standards on access to justice are upheld through a new Right to Justice Act.

The proposed Right to Justice Act would:

  • Codify our existing rights to justice and establish a new right for individuals to receive reasonable legal assistance without costs they cannot afford
  • Establish a set of principles that guide interpretation of this new right
  • Establish a new body called the Justice Commission to monitor and enforce this new right

The commission also sets out an immediate action plan for the government to: widen the scope of legal aid, with a focus on early legal help; reform the eligibility requirements for legal aid; replace the Legal Aid Agency with an independent body; and improve the public’s understanding of the law.

To read the appendices to the report and see the written evidence the commission has received, please click here.

Detailed commentary can also be found via the Grauniad, Independent , The Law Society Gazette and the Solicitors Journal.

The National Audit Office calls for evidence on the impact of Universal Credit.

The National Audit Office (NAO) has called for evidence on the impact universal credit is having on both claimants and local stakeholders.

Following its two previous reports Universal Credit: early progress (in September 2013) and Universal Credit: progress update, (November 2014) the NAO is commencing a third study examining whether the DWP is on course to make the full service available in all jobcentres by September 2018 and to transfer existing claimants by March 2022. Anyone remember when UC was going to all be sorted 2018 or did we hallucinate that?

Evidence can be emailed direct to the study team (the director of this work will be Joshua Reddaway and there are two audit managers – Caroline Harper and Andy Nichols), presumably because if they set up an office there would be insufficient space to queue!

The report is due in Spring 2018 and will assess whether universal credit is delivering its objectives and the impact on claimants and local stakeholders.

For more information see Rolling-out Universal Credit from the NAO website.

Evidence for the study can be emailed to the study team via enquiries@nao.gsi.gov.uk putting the study title in the subject line. The team will consider the evidence you provide; however, please note that due to the volume of information they receive they may not respond to you directly. If you need to raise a concern please use their contact form

Research participants needed – Sanctions, Support and Service Leavers: Welfare Conditionality and Transitions from Military to Civilian Life.

Dr. Lisa Scullion is recruiting for research subjects.

We have attached a flyer for any veterans who might be interested in taking part – and also attached a participant information sheet, which provides further info for anyone who may be willing to speak to us.

Funding has been received for a new research project relating to military veterans. The project is called Sanctions, Support and Service Leavers: Welfare Conditionality and Transitions from Military to Civilian Life. It is funded by the Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT) and is being undertaken jointly by researchers at the University of Salford and the University of York. It is a two-year project (2017-2019) representing the first substantive research focusing specifically on how Armed Forces Service leavers experience the mainstream conditional social security benefits system.

Central to the work is a desire to establish an original evidence base to inform future policy and practice in relation to Service leavers and their families. This will be achieved through two rounds of interviews with Armed Forces Service leavers and their families, along with consultation with key national, regional and local stakeholders.

The research is also supported by an advisory group, including representatives from the College for Military Veterans and Emergency Services (CMVES), The Royal British Legion (RBL) and the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The following web link also provides details about the research: http://www.welfareconditionality.ac.uk/about-our-research/service-leavers/.

The North West is the key fieldwork site for the project, and they are keen to ensure they are able to capture the voices of people who are living in the Greater Manchester area. They are looking for people who are claiming the following benefits: Employment and Support Allowance (WRAG), Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) or Universal Credit (UC), as they would really like to hear people’s experiences of meeting the conditions attached to these benefits and whether or not they feel they have been appropriately supported by the Job Centre. The interviews are carried out by trained researchers, and take place wherever the participant is most comfortable – whether that is at a trusted organisation or another suitable location. A £20 shopping voucher is being offered as a thank you for people’s time.

This is the first research project to focus on this issue from the perspective of veterans, so we are keen to ensure that their voices are heard.

If you need any more information please contact

Dr Lisa Scullion

Reader in Social Policy

School of Nursing, Midwifery, Social Work & Social Sciences, the University of Salford, Salford, M6 6UP.

t: +44 (0) 161 295 5078 | e: l.scullion@salford.ac.uk

Skype: lisa.c.scullion | www.salford.ac.uk | www.shusu.salford.ac.uk/ | www.welfareconditionality.ac.uk/

PLP’s project on benefit sanctioning would like your input.

Shivani Misra is a research fellow at the Public Law Project and is conducting research on the impact of benefit sanctioning on disabled people. This is a part of PLP’s three-year project to develop and instigate a strategic legal response to the national issue of benefit sanctioning.

She will be particularly focusing on the following:

  1. Delays at the mandatory reconsideration and appeal stages, particularly for ESA claimants who have been put into the WRAG or refused ESA altogether and/or where hardship payments are unavailable.
  2. Problems caused by failures to share relevant information about a claimant’s medical condition or disability between the Work Capability assessor, the JCP Decision Maker, and the Work Programme Provider
  3. Failures by Work Programme Providers to make reasonable adjustments for disabled claimants in the WRAG or claiming JSA
  4. Lack of/inadequate reasons for sanctioning decisions undermining appeal rights.

As a part of the research she is interested in gathering evidence and hearing individual cases studies as well as talking to advisers about their experience.

Would your organization be interested in participating in the research? Your experience and inputs would certainly enrich the project.

She would also be willing to meet and discuss the issues at greater length and looks forward to hearing from you.

You can contact Shivani at The Public Law Project on 020 7843 1260  or email: s.misra@publiclawproject.org.uk

You can follow PLP on Twitter @publiclawprojct.

GMWRAG members will already be getting themselves familiar with the idea that all 4 of the above areas are ripe for public law, EA 10 or Article 6 challenges. If not, please have a look at our strategic casework pages at https://gmwrag.wordpress.com/gmscg.

GMWRAG at PLP Conference North on Benefit Sanctions and the rule of law.

GMWRAG members turned out en masse for the PLP Conference North at the BPP Law School in Manchester last week. There was particularly strong representation from the newly formed GM Strategic Casework Group and much work is now being done to assimilate what was learnt through a long day of networking, lectures and workshops.

We have attempted a brief taster below and in due course we hope to present some the key documents from the day which are not already in the public domain. Where we can we have provided links so if you want to know who someone is or what they said then please click away.

Happy reading.

Michael Adler Benefit sanctions and the rule of law – Great Britain is 33rd of 40 OECD countries in terms of severity of work incentives. We are worse than South Korea. The slide did say “Korea”. How sad that someone had to ask which one!

2012 was the first year the number of benefit sanctions exceeded the number of fines for criminal offences (Just let that one sink in!)

Judge Wright UT – How the first tier tribunal deals with sanctions following Reilly – the Government response to Jobseekers (Back To Work Schemes) Act 2013 breaching Article 6 is due in August 2017. Could impact many stayed Reilly cases.

Richard CrellinResearch on the impact of benefit sanctions – Research is being undermined by DWP repeatedly resetting the clock on FoI requests at 19 days by asking for clarifications. They refuse to provide data and then publish it as a response on the day any report with is released.

Alison Pickup – Public Law Workshop – looked at project approaches to systemic issues with organisations i.e. not just using the law. We were especially interested in the idea that challenging an apparent unfairness could involve more than litigation e.g. campaigning; publicity; partnership working and so on.

James Stark – Anti-social behaviour legislation, poverty and discriminationvivid description of the Tour De France being used as a test bed for clearing the street homeless and beggars across the UK. People being imprisoned for 6 months for begging for 50p. Longer than under the Vagrancy Act 1824 (1 month).

Zoe Leventhal – Article 6 in social welfare law – Zoe has history on Article 6 challenges. Currently testing the legality of a refusal by the SoS to extend the right to a late MR so appeal rights are lost. A 3 judge panel has sat on whether denial of appeal is a breach of article 6 and whether JR is a sufficient remedy. Decision due in August 2017.

Joseph Markus and Clare Fowler – Bringing an EA 10 claim in the County Court concerning housing, benefits and education. How to bypass the Civil Legal Aid telephone Gateway issues on discrimination cases.

Charlotte O’Brien – Brexit and benefits – There is significant potential for an “administrative cataclysm” yet this is not even on agenda. Need to understand that even the most innocuous changes to benefits now e.g. definitions of work, will have huge impact on who stays post Brexit.

Update on the roll-out of Universal Credit.

GMWRAG has been handed this handy little updated document detailing when various parts of the North West will finally experience the joy of full service Universal Credit. It looks as follows but you can download from the link above. If anyone hears of any changes to this please DM us via @GMWRAGTweets.

If anyone from Oldham would like to get in touch and maybe contribute an article about how things have been going since April then we’d be more than happy to publish.

Seems like a good moment to remind people of our hugely popular previous post on the high quality videos available about Universal Credit too.

  • April 2017
Oldham
  • July 2017
Trafford

Cheshire East – Crewe

Cheshire West & Chester – Chester

  • October 2107
Manchester – Alex Park, Didsbury, Rusholme
  • Nov 2017
Manchester – Newton Heath, Town Hall, Openshaw
  • Dec 2017
Cheshire West & Chester – Ellesmere Port, Neston, Northwich
  • Feb 2018
Rochdale
  • March 2018
Stockport

Tameside

Cheshire East – Congleton, Macclesfield

  • April 2018
Wigan
  • May 2018
Manchester – Cheetham Hill, Wythenshawe

Bury

  • June 2018
Salford
  • July 2018
Bolton

The next GMWRAG meeting. A date for your diaries/Outlook calendars; scrawls on the back of your hand/post-it notes attached to your PC monitor.

GMWRAG is pleased to announce that our next meeting will take place on Friday the 6th of October 2017 and will be hosted by Oldham Welfare Rights Service in the Lees Suite, Level 2, Civic Centre, West Street Oldham  OL1 1UT. This can be accessed by coming into the building by the Rochdale Road entrance where previous meetings have been held.

Public transport to and from Oldham is straightforward nowadays. Trams run every 12 minutes from Manchester Victoria station and take approximately 23 minutes or less depending on where you get off. You can download Metrolink apps for your smart phone that will give you the same live data as their web site

Those of you with cars can enter the above post code into your sat nav or use a map. GMWRAG also recommends a quick read of Pinpoint by Greg Milner and perhaps turning your sat nav off 🙂

One speaker has already been tentatively secured for this meeting and we’re in the process of securing a second. Agenda details will follow and you should all already be aware that the minutes of the last meeting are already available.

Call for evidence – EEA nationals and right of residence.

Alice Welsh from the University of York is requesting case study evidence on EEA national’s access to welfare benefits and permanent residence for a PhD research project in partnership with Citizens Advice Craven & Harrogate districts. She is undertaking this research as a PhD candidate at the University of York and a research and campaigns volunteer at Citizens Advice Craven & Harrogate districts.

The project:

Looking in particular on the Minimum Earnings Threshold (MET) and on the lookout for cases where EEA national clients who are working part time or casual hours have been denied benefits or permanent residence as they do not have a right of residence, they do not meet the minimum earnings threshold or their work is not “genuine and effective”. Also interested in the effects of those decisions.

The issue is of pressing, real importance, as those re-defined as not-workers will have a harder job claiming 5 years of continuous residence, which could make it difficult for them to keep residence rights after Brexit.

How to send evidence:

A brief information sheet on the cases being looked for and a letter from the CEO at Citizens Advice Craven & Harrogate Districts to confirm my training and agreement with accessing Petra files can be downloaded here.

If GMWRAG members could provide any evidence for this research that would be much appreciated. If this is possible Alice would be happy to meet to give further information on the project and discuss how case studies can be passed on or any cases can be sent to my email address: ajw550@york.ac.uk. All data will be anonymised and I will be collecting case studies until March 2018. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask.

In the meantime GMWRAG has realised we have never created a “Research” category for this kind of post so, feeling rather dumb, we now have and Alice can have the honour of being the first to be thus categorised 🙂

The minutes of the Stockport GMWRAG meeting are now available.

The minutes of the June 2017 GMWRAG meeting which took place in Stockport are now available for download from here and of course you can find them permanently on our Minutes page for which you will of course have the magic password. If you don’t then please either DM @GMWRAGtweets or email a GMWRAG member and they’ll be happy to oblige provided you are willing to delete, set fire to or eat any related communications.

The handouts from the session on hearing impairment and PIP can be found here and the case law pack from the session on sight impairment and DLA/PIP can be found here.

The next GMWRAG meeting is scheduled for Oldham in October 2017 and we’ll post up all the information you’ll need as soon as everything has been finalised.

Getting a home-visit for form filling from the DWP.

It’s very easy for welfare rights advisers to forget that, despite death by a thousand cuts, there are still organisations out there who will do home-visits and will still do form filling. Amongst them of course remains DWP. We have uploaded a list of contacts for DWP visiting services across the North West and Wales as well as the referral form they ask people to complete.

Please note that the referral form is for organisations only and, for that reason, we have chosen to password protect both the referral form and the associated document which gives advisers a nice list of email, phone and fax contacts across the North West of England and Wales. Most GMWRAG members will know our password routine but if you need us to spell it out then please DM @GMWRAGtweets on that Twitter thing or email the usual suspects within GMWRAG for details.

We are strangely reassured (or something) that in the age of driverless cars and the internet of things DWP still have fax machines.

Those of you who have had your interest piqued by the strategic casework approach we describe in our new section may want to consider that outsourcing form completion back to the organisation who issue most of them so you can focus on challenging erroneous decisions via complaints, letters before action and judicial review has many advantages.

  • Download a referral form for a DWP home-visit from here.
  • Download a list of DWP contacts from here.

GMWRAG is keen to emphasise that, when completing a referral for a home-visit, there is an unprecedented opportunity to detail whether there are any “risk factors” and whether there are any “accessibility requirements”.

Whilst DWP are undoubtedly only thinking of risk and access for their visiting officers this space can be used to spell out the risk of visitors for clients e.g. people with mental health issues, learning difficulties and sensory impairments, and, the accessibility needs of the claimant e.g. a large print form and so on.

GMWRAG is launching a new section of our web site introducing the Greater Manchester Strategic Casework Group.

The more beady eyed amongst you may have noticed a new section appeared on the GMWRAG web site in December 2016. This section has been password protected until now. Today we’re happy to release most of those new pages into the wild and let you see what we’ve been up to. If you need the password for the templates page please DM @GMWRAGtweets or email Mike Hughes. Alternatively, you can attend the GMWRAG meeting in Stockport on Friday the 16th of June 2017 and we’ll whisper it there.

NB: We’ve not forgotten that meeting. A full agenda including two speakers will be published in the next 24 hours along with full details of the venue and extensive transport options. Anyways…

Greater Manchester Strategic Casework Group was launched in October 2016. The impetus for its creation came from the Task Force report on “DWP Benefit Conditionality and Sanctions in Salford – One Year On.”, published in May 2016. You can read the report via our original post with related information on the report going viral. A presentation given to GMWRAG in June 2016 on same can also be seen on the site.

A number of next actions came from the report. It especially recognised the low number of challenges to sanctions decisions despite the success rate of those challenges being very high. It detailed a different approach in Salford to challenging those decisions where advisers were trained to look at decisions from the perspective of both public law principles and as a potential breach of the Equality Act 2010.

The report suggested the creation of a Greater Manchester wide group to build on this latter approach. This group is that entity.

The brief purpose of the group is to

  • identify appropriate areas of work for action using the Equality Act 2010 and/or public law principles.
  • take an alternative approach to achieving rapidly revised decisions, policy change and financial recompense by lodging complaints/letters before action and, where appropriate, judicial reviews.
  • support advisers in to take-up this approach through these web pages; training; the provision of template letters, case examples and a toolkit.
  • provide a focus referral mechanism for cases which need to progress beyond a complaint or letter before action.

The approach involves lodging complaints and letters before action (usually combined) as a means to rapidly escalating and resolving issues which might otherwise have to proceed to MR and/or appeals. It is a process our members can evidence as having worked. It can produce policy changes which negate the need for endless, repetitive actions on the same issues, and, free up welfare rights advisers time. If a case needs to be a judicial review we now have referral processes which can help this happen quickly. Our first test case is currently with the EHRC.

The intent is shift the focus to the anticipatory duties and responsibilities of the DWP et al rather than the responsibilities of claimants. In practice, we hope to give advisers the tools so that in the future they can pursue these approaches without support from the group.

Meetings are not the main purpose of this group. Action, and changing the way we as advisers take action, is the focus. That said, the next one is tentatively scheduled for late July 2017 in Manchester Town Hall and we will start to post details of these here as soon as everything is confirmed.

Membership of the group is intended to connect activists to welfare rights advisers to barristers and funding for action where needed. We are a group intending to cross geographical boundaries and those between charitable advice services, community organisations, legal professionals, activists, and local government services.

We currently consist of representatives of the Public Law Project, EHRC, and Garden Chambers North. We are looking to ensure that all ten GM areas are represented (as well as increase membership from elsewhere) and we currently have advisers and activists from Wigan, Bury, Salford, Manchester, Stockport, Trafford, Lancashire and Tameside. We will be looking to bring on board advisers from Oldham, Rochdale and Bolton.

Membership of the group remains open to anyone who can contribute to our regardless of area. Please get in touch via @GMWRAGTweets,.

In the meantime, please have a look at our new pages where you can find much more detail, template letters and so on. News on our plans for training on this alternative approach will be posted in due course.

Apologies for the length of this post but we are sensitive to the fact some members do not have access to our web site thanks to IT policies at work so the email this post generates will be the only way some members get this information until they can view the site outside of work. Given recent ransomeware issues within the NHS and elsewhere we’re sure on balance people are currently very grateful for pro-active IT administration.

SDP awards following an award of PIP.

A number of GMWRAG members have brought it to our attention that there has been a nosedive in the number of awards of Severe Disability Premium (SDP) since the introduction of Personal Independence Payment (PIP). This has apparently been confirmed via a Freedom of Information request and appears to be related to the removal of SDP from Universal Credit (UC) and a policy intent to not check for SDP entitlement UC takes hold.

It’s worth remembering that checking for entitlement to means-tested benefits in specific scenarios remains an obligation regardless of policy intentions and future changes. See, CE277/2014 for but one example.

The above would also explain why a number of members have reported having to repeatedly send in IS 10s or their equivalent as forms mysteriously drop into some kind of abyss. If GMWRAG members can cast this drop off in any different light please let us know but we thought we’d flag it up after several members highlighted numerous issues fully explained by a policy change e.g. SDP forms going missing; SDP forms taking an age to be processed unless constantly chased; SDP being refused incorrectly or refusing to issue forms in the first place.

CPAG legal challenge – do you have a client affected by the two child limit to tax credits/ universal credit?

Do you have any clients who will be affected by the recent legislative changes to Child Tax Credit and Universal Credit due to come into effect 6 April 2017?

The Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 introduced fundamental changes to Child Tax Credit and Universal Credit, limiting child tax credit and universal credit to the first two children in a household. These changes, commonly known as the 2 child rule, will come into force from the 6th of April 2017 together with certain exceptions and transitional arrangements set out in recently published regulations.

The Child Poverty Action Group is looking into the possible routes of legal challenge to the 2 child rule and would like your help in locating potential claimants who would be affected by this rule and who would be willing to be part of a CPAG legal challenge.

CPAG is looking in general for:

  • Any family already claiming benefits with two children and looking to have more in the near future

But also the following particular types of households which may be unfairly affected by the rule (though this is not an exhaustive list of examples):

  • Two lone parent household units already with two children each considering forming a single ‘blended family’ arrangement because the adults have become a couple;
  • An individual or couple caring for one or two ‘kinship’ children but contemplating having children of their own;
  • A family which, when the children were born, did not require state support but now has a need to because of an unexpected change in circumstances (e.g. loss of a job); and
  • A parent who is religiously or philosophically opposed to birth control.

If you can help, please complete the attached test case referral form (save it to your computer first) and email it to testcases@cpag.org.uk

CPAG-Test-case-referral-form

 

Updates on the Tribunal Modernisation Project

Some GMWRAG member organisations may have received a letter from the Ministry of Justice inviting you to subscribe to a mailing list in order to receive updates on the Social Security & Child Support (SSCS) Tribunal Modernisation Project.

For those of you who don’t know what this is… last September the Lord Chancellor, Lord Chief Justice and Senior President of Tribunals published “Transforming Our Justice System” setting out a “… vision for transforming justice through the use of new technologies and innovative approaches to how cases are progressed and decided.

GMWRAG is not clear as to why using technology or alternative dispute resolution is considered as a use of either anything “new” or “innovative” but bear with us. “New” and “innovative” have different meanings in the Ministry of Justice compared to the general population. We’re prepared to suspend disbelief and embrace change as soon as we see them recycling those fax machines and introducing genetically modified judges.

In the meantime brace yourselves for the 14 year old technology of Skype; a further reduction in days available for hearings and video links resembling an episode of Phoenix Nights. “Cuts!” we hear you scream. “Cynics!” we respond (possibly).

The Social Security and Child Support Tribunal are the first of the tribunals to explore the above approaches and it is now proposed to email subscriber updates every 3 to 4 months. This may also involve user involvement.

GMWRAG members will all have had experience of the administration of appeals over the decades and it would not be unreasonable to suspect that not all members have received such a letter. Therefore, if you would like to subscribe to the updates please email SSCS_Tribunal_Proj@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk and ask to be added. We wouldn’t want you to miss out.

Greater Manchester and London handed new “disability powers!”

GMWRAG is wincing reading back the above title but that is what Gov.UK said yesterday when they released a press release. You can find the document at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/greater-manchester-and-london-handed-new-disability-powers but in case you were wondering what it’s really about then it’s about getting “thousands more disabled people into work” and we think it’s talking solely about claimants in receipt of ESA.

There are numerous issues around this starting whether the devolution of such monies does anything other than create a postcode lottery. We could easily take an “I’m alright Jack” approach to this but at present we’re still in the middle of a consultation period for the Green Paper on Work, Health and Disability which this now seems to over-ride with no real clues as to how the money is to be spent beyond procuring and delivering “localised versions” of the Work and Health programme. No reference to barriers to work like a fragmented public transport system; affordable child care; the deteriorating service being delivered by Access To Work and so on.

This talks in terms of the new Work and Health Programme when scepticism has been expressed already about how likely that is to succeed with less money; work coaches on the same grades with more responsibilities and less Jobcentres to begin with. This same climate has seen a deterioration in the work done by Access To Work and cuts to funding of those organisations who do exactly the sort of intense and long-term work needed to get a very small number of disabled people back to work. Add in the weirdness of announcing cuts to Disability Employment Advisers and now an announcement of 500 more and it would be easy to conclude that what we have here is a long way from clear.

So, GMWRAG watches with interest… and not a little confusion.

GMWRAG updates.

Please note that GMWRAG has deactivated our Facebook account with a view to deleting it permanently in due course. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • posts from this site automatically post onto our social media accounts but only Twitter has seen that information shared or commented upon.
  • Members have never approached GMWRAG for information via Facebook and there has only been one occasion when members offered apologies for attendance at a meeting via Facebook.
  • Non-members have repeatedly sought benefits advice and, whilst we have sought to direct and assist, this is untenable in terms of the amount of time it takes.
  • Facebook makes regular changes to its processes compared to other social media companies and this alone makes it difficult to keep up; difficult to manage correctly and so on. The introduction of a separate messaging application further complicated this.

Please accept our apologies if you have enjoyed following GMWRAG on Facebook but our priority has to be an up to date web site linking members into meetings, consultations and so on.

In the meantime we have also taken the opportunity to review aspects of how this site works and we have

  • done a hopefully thorough trawl of all the links posted on the right side of every page within the site and ensured that all broken links are updated or fixed.
  • reduced the post count and widgets (those little boxes of information on the right side of each page) on the home page to make it easier for members to locate currently relevant posts having had repeated comments that members could not locate information about the next meeting. No excuse now 🙂

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!!!