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.

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