Refining Advicelocal

GMWRAG members, we would like to think, should by now be familiar with the Advicelocal web site run by LASA.  We’ve been asked by the latter to assist with getting the site noticed by search engines and, to that end, you’ll notice new links to the site have appeared down the right side of every GMWRAG page you view.

This is also a good opportunity for GMWRAG to practice what we preach.

So, the preachy bit… please have a look at Advicelocal and test out the functionality. Like most things, it can only improve its accuracy with decent feedback. There’s a contact form on the web site and it couldn’t be easier to use.

The practicey bit…  GMWRAG is about to undertake our occasional, annual, biannual, when we can be bothered trawl of said links on our web site and we’ll be doing updates where possible but weeding out and deleting dead links when we can. If as a consequence of this a link to your organisation disappears and you think this is wrong please, please let us know and we’ll be more than happy to post up any new links you have.

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Initial details of the next GMWRAG meeting – in Bolton.

A date for your diaries.

GMWRAG is pleased to announce that (for once) we are wholly ahead of the game and can confirm that the next GMWRAG meeting will take place on Friday the 20th of April 2018 in the Hindleys Room at Bolton At Home. The full address is Valley House, 98 Waters Meeting Road, The Valley, Bolton BL1 8SW. This will be a full day meeting and as per the Salford meeting we are hoping to secure two excellent speakers.

The minutes of the Salford meeting and associated documents and videos have been available since the end of January 2018 and can still be downloaded from the initial post or their more permanent home. An agenda for the Bolton meeting will be available as soon as we have finalised speakers and at that point we’ll post up your full options for travel and food as well.

More information as we have it.

Children’s Society Research on local welfare assistance schemes.

The Children’s Society is conducting some research on local welfare assistance schemes.  They are looking for children and parents who have experience of local welfare assistance schemes in their area so that they can interview them for the qualitative part of the research.

Have you worked with a parent/carer with children, one of whom is aged 13-18, who has gone to the council for support because of a financial crisis in the last six months?

Please see the flyer for more information or contact Richard Crellin, Policy and Research Manager at The Children’s Society at richard.crellin@childrenssociety.org.uk

Minutes and presentation from the last North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group are now available.

The minutes from the last meeting of the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group, which took place on the 26th of January 2018, are now available for download. As ever, they will also be available permanently within the NWMHWRAG pages. The presentation from Manchester Early Intervention Team on “Understanding Psychosis” is also available for download from within this post and will again be available permanently within the “Presentations” section of the NWMHWRAG pages.

Nine Lives Media need your help.

A bit late notice as we’ve been waiting for approval to post this but Nine Lives Media, an independent television production company, are making a television programme for Channel 4’s Dispatches strand about welfare and benefit reform.

Last autumn the government announced a ‘balanced package of improvements’ designed to address concerns raised by claimants and campaigners about alleged problems with the roll out of Universal Credit. We will look at how these reforms are working in practice.

Jessica Bell is a TV journalist and would really like to talk to someone from GMWRAG about your experiences with UC She is also looking for case studies to talk to her about their experiences with Universal Credit. If you could get back to me with a number and a good time then I’ll give you a call.

Also they’d be grateful if you could spare a few minutes of your time to complete the attached, anonymous survey. This will greatly assist them to build an accurate picture of the current national situation. The deadline for submissions is Friday 2nd February.

http://bit.ly/2DrpByz

Minutes of the Salford GMWRAG meeting.

The minutes of the recent GMWRAG meeting in Salford are now available for download. They will also be permanently available at our minutes of previous meetings page.

Please note that these minutes are very detailed as they contain comprehensive additional notes for each speaker as requested by a number of attendees and members who sent apologies. They’re not a quick read but they offer a detailed insight into the work of both speakers!

The minutes also contain a significant number of links to useful resources mentioned by both speakers on the day, which we agreed to include in the minutes. If you want to view those resources you will need to read the minutes on a screen and click the links first rather than just download and print, albeit that we’d ask you to print a copy off to take to our next meeting in April 2018!

The presentation from our first speaker will remain permanently available in our Presentations and Notes section. Salford’s “Tackling Poverty Strategy” remains available by clicking on the title in this sentence.

Our second speaker also brought a number of leaflets with him re: PLP work on sanctions and we agreed to distribute these with the minutes. You can download the PLP sanctions project leaflet from here.

GMWRAG members will be aware we streamed the second speaker via Persicope. That stream was eventually viewed by 128 people. These were largely GMWRAG or NAWRA members. The foregoing number does not count those very strange scantily clad people who urged “Boys, look at my profile pic! The more eagle-eyed members at the meeting may have noticed some frantic profile blocking going on during the broadcast! We’re fairly confident most GMWRAG members don’t usually dress like that!

The broadcast itself was available until midnight on the day of the meeting. Now it has been summarised within the minutes the broadcast has been deleted. We have been given permission to allow a short, non-controversial clip to be used for the site and you can see this below.

Again, the more eagle-eyed will note that in order to facilitate this GMWRAG now has a YouTube channel. You can find this by clicking the link in the previous sentence. If GMWRAG members have any good ideas for things we could live stream or record in future then we’ll be more than happy to listen. Feel free to contact GMWRAG via @GMWRAGTweets.

The Equality Exhibition in Stockport.

This is an informative and inspiring exhibition organised by the UK Equality Council and hosted by Centric Community Projects is taking place at St James House on Wellington Road in Stockport.

There is a focus on how disability has been reflected in popular culture across the years, how disabilities can be mental as well as physical, and how science has advanced throughout the years to improve the lives of many affected by disabilities. There is also a great amount of content on race relations in the 21st century, and on how depictions of race in the media have changed over the past few decades. This exhibition also celebrates influential women such as political leaders, scientists and amazing women who have changed our world. There is also a great amount of content on race relations in the 21st century, and on how depictions of race in the media have changed over the past few decades.

The exhibition is free but tickets can be booked via Eventbrite at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-equality-exhibition-tickets-42321134653. It opens on Monday the 29th of January 2018 and runs until Friday the 9th of February 2018, Monday to Friday between 12:00pm and 5:00pm.  

Maxine Peake supports Bolton Law Centre appeal.

After the successful launch of the Greater Manchester Law Centre in Moss Side two years ago, campaigners are now seeking to create a centre in Bolton, run by the community for the community.

With the massive reductions in Legal Aid, community access to justice was reignited by the founding of the Greater Manchester Law Centre Moss Side, which opened its doors in 2016. Since then, over £500,000 worth of benefits have been reclaimed from the DWP for Greater Manchester residents, while many others have received free advice on a number of issues.

On Friday February 2nd, there’s a public meeting to found another law centre, in Bolton, with speakers including Bolton South East MP, Yasmin Qureshi and Denise McDowell of the Greater Manchester Law Centre.

“More and more families and individuals are finding themselves in positions where access to the law is being denied them, at precisely the time when they are most in need of it” says Maxine Peake, who is supporting the Bolton appeal.

“Universal Credit, the denial of employment rights through zero hours contracts and minimum wage infringements and a hardening of the Government’s stance against refugees and asylum seekers all make the Law centre Bolton urgent and necessary” she explains “I welcome and support the initiative whole heartedly.”

While the Centre would be based in Bolton it would be open and accessible to Salford people and anyone in Greater Manchester.

“We are not just a campaign for access to advice, or even access to the law, we are a campaign for justice” states the Greater Manchester Law Centre “We call for full and equal legal advice and representation for the claimants, as the state awards (out of our taxation) to the police and other departments of the state. We want independent walk-in face-to-face advice for everyone in need in all ten boroughs of Greater Manchester.”

“Bolton Needs A Law Centre”
Friday 2nd February 7pm-8pm
Bolton Central Library
Le Mans Crescent BL1 1SE

If anyone can’t make the meeting but wants to donate towards the centre the account details are Lloyds Bank Sort Code: 309192 Account Number: 55658268

Further details on the Bolton Needs A Law Centre Facebook event page.

NB: Maxine Peake was due to speak at this event but has had to cancel due to other commitments

 

Second presentation from the January 2018 GMWRAG meeting in Salford.

Matt Ahluwalia from PLPA quick update on the p.m. presentation from Matt Ahluwalia from the Public Law Project talking about RF. As you will be aware this was successfully streamed live from Periscope and by the end of the day of the meeting it had been viewed more than 120 times, which we consider excellent for a first go.

The broadcast itself was available for replay to midnight on the day of the meeting.Whilst we initially hoped to have this permanently available by via YouTube it was suggested that this may prejudice future legal action so we are sorry but we will not be posting a link to the full 1 hour 9 minute recording.  We have been able to post the accompanying screen shot and we will be able to give you a 1 minute taste of the presentation (again via YouTube) but the only permanent record will be the partial transcription/summary included as part of the minutes when we have finished them.

Matt was anticipating a DWP appeal on his desk upon his return to London but obviously events have moved on apace and our notes will hopefully reflect this. Watch this space for the minutes.

We would also like to take this opportunity to thank all those whose consent we required to make the live stream possible in the first place. We had a packed room morning and afternoon and, if nothing else, we have learned that live broadcast onto t’internet is definitely the way to get a GMWRAG meeting to behave! That one has definitely been noted for future reference 🙂

First presentation available from the January 2018 GMWRAG meeting in Salford.

There are a lot of materials to upload from the recent GMWRAG meeting in Salford so apologies in advance for doing this in a slightly piecemeal manner. All presentations at meetings are permanently located within Our Meetings sub pages if you can’t find posts like this which initially announce their availability.

Our a.m. speaker in Salford was Catherine Connors, Commissioning Manager from the People’s Directorate in Salford City Council. Her presentation on “The development and delivery of the Tackling Poverty strategy in Salford – the role of specialist advice providers.” is now available for download.

Summary notes from the presentation will be available as part of the minutes

Anyone wishing to view the strategy itself, titled “NO ONE LEFT BEHIND: A joint strategy from the Salford City Mayor and Salford Youth Mayor can view/download it from here.

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/

Next NAWRA meeting.

The first NAWRA meeting of 2018 takes place from 10:00am to 4:00pm with registration from 9:30am) on Friday the 9th of March 2018 at The Tab, The Square, Stockton-on-Tees TS18 1TE.

The NAWRA web site provides a link for the above venue but it appears dead to us and a quick search didn’t reveal a web site so at present you’ll be navigating by post code. Agenda, minutes etc. will be on their meetings page as soon as they’re available.

NAWRA quarterly meetings are held around the country and include keynote speakers, workshops and a range of networking and professional development opportunities. You must be a member to attend. Details of how to become a member are available on their web site.

In the meantime, there’s a GMWRAG meeting taking place…

 

The BBC are looking at the accessibility of every ESA and PIP assessment venue and your help is needed.

With thanks to our colleague Peter Turville via our friends at Rightsnet.

A BBC disability correspondent is compiling details of the accessibility of every ESA and PIP assessment venue – following up on a piece on ‘You & Yours’ some months back.

They are looking at practical issues including:

• Where is the venue located – city centre, out of town industrial estate, rural location etc?
• How easy is it to get to by public transport? Frequency of service, distance from nearest bus stop / trains station etc. Would a client need to take a taxi for part of the journey?
• Parking – at venue or nearby, cost etc. Problems if not a Blue Badge holder.
• How well is the venue signed – big sign or little plaque on door / in window? How is it identified – providers / sub-contractors name / logo?
• Financial difficulty for client paying for the travel cost up front / delay in provider paying refund or refusing to pay taxi fares.
• Accessibility – steps, ramps, for (electric) wheel chairs etc. Issues with suitable adaptions, provision of BSL and other interpreters etc.
• Pre-appointment info. – does it provide details of public transport routes, parking, accessibility restrictions, prepayment & refund of fares, paying for taxi, requesting an alternative venue or time of appointment?

They would be interested in particularly difficult to get to or find or otherwise inappropriate venues and other related problems like clients refused appointments at local / most easy to get to/accessible venue.

For example: a venue (featured in the previous item) is ‘hidden away’ in a small industrial estate in a village which has no public transport on a Sunday (when claimants are offered appointments). City centre(ish) venue is on a busy main road with no parking (double yellow, residents only in side streets, public car park 150m away and often full), old shop front with whitewashed windows (looks empty) with a tiny sign in the window (if you can see it due to condensation!).

If anyone has a claimant who is willing to be interviewed (radio – probably pre-recorded) about issues they had with a venue Carolyn would love to hear from you!

So for example – if a client missed their appointment because they couldn’t find the venue (tucked away on an industrial estate with a tiny sign on the door) or couldn’t get to the venue for the correct time (or had to go hours early or hang around for hours after) because of infrequent bus services etc.

Perhaps what they are not so interested in is claimants who were given an appointment at a venue a long way away when they had a more local venue. That was covered in the original piece – although if the provider refused to change the venue that would still be of interest.

Please contact: carolyn.atkinson@bbc.co.uk

 

Speakers for the next meeting of the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group.

GMWRAG would like to wish all members a happy new year. We’re not sure why – Esther McVey is now in charge of the DWP – but we’ll do it anyway. Someone somewhere will be having a good new year! Anyways…

The next meeting of the NWMHWRAG will be at 1pm for a 1.30pm start at Manchester Town Hall on Friday the 26th of January 2018. Details of the room and how to access it will follow next week but you broadly know the routine. Make sure you’re on the mailing list. Get sent an email invitation. Get issued with a pass on the day. Find someone whose pass works!

Minutes of the last meeting can be found at https://gmwrag.wordpress.com/nwmhwrag/minutes-of-previous-meetings. Remember to DM @GMWRAGtweets if you don’t know the password.

The speakers will be Dr Sarah Woodward, Clinical Psychologist and Ellen Anderson, Assistant Psychologist, from Manchester Early Intervention Team on “Understanding Psychosis.”

Please note the change of time of the meeting. This is a one off due to availability of rooms.

Simplification of the benefits system – GMWRAGs Christmas surrender.

GMWRAG has recently posted twice about the DWP and new freephone numbers for Universal Credit. You can find these tremendously exciting posts both here and here. Additional to these we now have new JobcentrePlus freephone numbers as follows:

Telephone: 0800 169 0310
Textphone: 0800 169 0314
Welsh language: 0800 328 1744
Monday to Friday between 8am and 6pm

All of this information is coming out in what we believe to be quaintly knows as “dribs and drabs” or has been discovered more by accident than design on social media. One is left with the impression DWP marketing have signed off for Christmas and possibly forever. We’re struggling to keep up. One can only imagine what a UC claimant must feel about all of this! Simple, easy to find and transparent? Er, no.

We are doing our best to agree that things are indeed getting better. Proof positive can be found in the strangest places. 5 years ago the CPAG Welfare Benefits and Tax Credits handbook had 1,784 pages. This year we’re up to 1,800. Clearly the pace of change is finally changing! Simplification is afoot!

Much of 2017 has been characterised by the cognitive dissonance between what DWP do and what they say they do. Thus we have a whole pile of freephone numbers to make life cheaper and easier for claimants but nothing resembling an easy way of finding them.

GMWRAG is a huge fan of W1A, the BBC series in which the BBC comedically dismantles itself.

GMWRAG would therefore like to gift you all of the freephone numbers either in or linked to from this post and end 2017 with an entirely appropriate quote from W1A. It appears this was the year in which DWP identified “… what we do best and found more ways of doing less of it better”. Neil Couling clearly fits into this picture somewhere.

Are we rambling? Yes, we are. Okay, we’ll stop now 🙂

GMWRAG would like to wish all our members an excellent Christmas 2017 (“it’s been worse than good and it’s about to get worse than bad”) and an excellent 2018 (“Let’s nail the jelly to the hothouse wall!”).

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.

Updated – GMWRAG resources for advisers.

GMWRAG has updated the sub pages of the NWMHWRAG so that the presentations to the group page now includes recent DWP responses to group questions about Universal Credit.

Within our “Protected: Resources for advisers in the North West” section we have now added email contact details for every DWP Partnership Manager within the Greater Manchester area. You’ll be needing these for those rare UC failures you may occasionally come across when you need some soothing Vivaldi and a cushion to bite.

These are only accurate as of today and you will of course need the asymmetric encryption key and pass card…

Oh, okay. Ask nicely and we’ll give you the password.

Improving Lives: The Future of Work, Health and Disability – a brief part 2. There will doubtless be more to follow!

Yeah, yeah, yeah. We do know it’s snowing on the GMWRAG web site. We do know it’s only the 1st of December. We do know a number of you will object because it may even be snowing and inconveniencing you as we write. Anyway…

Following on from our recent piece on the governments somewhat under thought response to the existence of the disability employment gap which, if you haven’t read it already, can be found at  https://gmwrag.wordpress.com/2017/11/30/the-nightmare-before-christmas-improving-lives-the-future-of-work-health-and-disability, GMWRAG is pleased to see the BBC stepping to the fore with it’s first article on the subject not being an analysis of what will or won’t work amongst the many small proposals.

Instead the BBC have published this pertinent little article that ignores most of the proposals and instead focuses on a point made in the original GMWRAG article and indeed made by many responding to the original green paper. The plain old problem of transport to and from work (see the next to last paragraph in our article.

Disability employment: The challenge of getting to work in a wheelchair is worth 5 minutes of your time next time and can be found at the link above.

Robot foodbanks – coming to Manchester soon!

GMWRAG was fascinated to come across “Action Hunger” via a colleague posting on Rightsnet. It’s worth quoting verbatim from their mission statement.

“Action Hunger is committed to alleviating poverty and hardship amongst the homeless. We install vending machines that provide free food and clothing in key locations of cities across the United Kingdom — and beyond.

The machines dispense water, fresh fruit, energy bars, crisps, chocolate, and sandwiches, as well as socks, sanitary towels, antibacterial lotion, toothbrush and toothpaste combination packs, and books. A considerable amount of the food we vend is received from redistribution organisations that seek to reduce food waste.

Use of the machines is exclusively permitted to those in need, and items can only be vended with the use of a special key card, which our partner organisations in each locality give to our users.

At the most elementary level, Action Hunger’s machines provide access for the most vulnerable in our society to satiate the most basic of needs — that of sustenance.”

They also say

“We’re growing across the U.K. and wider Europe. If you know of a suitable location for installation of a machine — particularly in London, Birmingham, or Brighton — please send us an email at hello@actionhunger.org. Prospective sites must be accessible 24/7 and ideally well-lit, safe, and sheltered from inclement weather.

We’re also planning for two installations in New York, USA in February 2018, with Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle to follow. If you’re interested in supplying food or other items, or would like to help in another regard, please get in touch.”

A report on their Nottingham location makes for an interesting read.

GMWRAG notes that they are “Installing soon…” in Manchester and have an impressive list of supporters. We will contact them directly but wonder if any GMWRAG members know anything more about this interesting idea, albeit that we can’t help thinking that if you know of a location that is “… accessible 24/7… well-lit, safe… and sheltered from inclement weather” then you’ve probably just identified a location for homeless accommodation rather than a vending machine!

Nevertheless we shall watch this develop with genuine interest and feedback anything we learn.

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.

The Nightmare Before Christmas – Improving Lives: The Future of Work, Health and Disability.

In the furore about whether the Grinch really did steal Christmas Universal Credit claimants will miss out on money during the Christmas period you may have missed that the government yesterday published “Improving Lives: The Future of Work, Health and Disability”.

This follows on from last years consultation on proposals to close the “disability employment gap”, which itself derived from the “Improving Lives: work, health and disability green paper” to which the government responded yesterday.

The proposals are nicely summarised at gov.uk but we’ll repeat them here for the sake of completeness. This includes:

  • Extending fit note certification beyond GPs to a wider group of healthcare professionals, including physiotherapists, psychiatrists and senior nurses, to better identify health conditions and treatments to help workers go back into their jobs faster. Fit notes are designed to help patients develop a return to work plan tailored to their individual needs.
  • Conducting large-scale employment research pilots in West Midlands and Sheffield which will include over 11,000 people. This research will gather evidence to help improve services for those with health conditions, supporting them get into and stay in work, and helping make sure services are accessible and inclusive for all.
  • 2,000 work coaches have received training since 2015 to help them work with benefit claimants with mental health conditions. The government is committed to building on this with the introduction of an enhanced training offer developed with a national mental health charity.
    £39 million investment to more than double the number of employment advisors in an existing NHS programme treating people with depression and anxiety disorders.
  • Responding in full to the 40 recommendations of the Stevenson/Farmer Review of mental health and employers – including reforming Statutory Sick Pay, improving advice and support for employers and encouraging transparency. The government is also encouraging other employers to take forward these recommendations.
  • Over 5,000 companies have signed up to the Disability Confident scheme to promote disability inclusion and government is encouraging more companies to sign up.
  • Appointing an Expert Working Group on Occupational Health to champion, shape and drive a programme of work to take an in-depth look at the sector.

Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke described this as “…an ambitious 10-year strategy to end this injustice once and for all. By bringing employers, the welfare system and health services together we’re taking significant steps to ensure everyone can reach their potential”.

GMWRAG was fascinated to note on page 50 of the document all the “progress” thought to have taken place since the green paper. Key amongst these are things GMWRAG members already know to simply not be working anywhere near what was intended such as the introduction of a digital DS1500 to increase process speed for terminally ill customers, and, the “health and work conversation”.

GMWRAG notes the conspicuous intent to “fix” MSEs within the NHS but with no comparable intent with regard to assessment providers for ESA. We note the complete failure to address the lack of coherence in provision of support for disabled people. We note the total failure to recognise significant structural issues within the benefit system which act as a fundamental barrier to employment including a reduction in the scope of in-work and disability benefits such as the removal of a payment for being in the work-related activity group.

We note the lack of any recognition that equally fundamental deficiencies in public and door to door transport might be a significant barrier to employment. The continuing insistence on describing support as “specialist” when it patently is not and, finally, we note the recognition that only 6% of fit notes talk about people being able to do any kind of work without any corresponding analysis of whether that is actually a reflection of the reality of being a disabled person in the UK.

In short GMWRAG cannot see any way in which any of the above proposals, interesting as they are in isolation, will make even the slightest dent in the disability employment gap.

The Miracle Before Christmas.

GMWRAG will of course offer a grovelling apology to Oldham WRS for the tongue in cheek title of this post. We simply refer you to our minutes page and mention “January 2014”! 🙂

However, following on from the recent post confirming initial details of the first GMWRAG meeting of 2018 we are happy to confirm that the minutes of the last meeting in Oldham are now available for download.

GMWRAG will now have to stop pretending we’ve got an agenda and speakers and pull our proverbial finger out 🙂 We’ve booked the room okay! We’ve booked the room! 🙂 Anybody got a number for Frank Field or the award winning Neil Couling?

You may gather GMWRAG is rapidly approaching end of November “No, it is not Christmas yet!” levels of hysteria.

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.

First GMWRAG meeting of 2018.

We confirmed back in October 2017 that the next GMWRAG meeting would take place in Salford and we anticipated this would take place on Friday the 19th of January 2018. We can now confirm this as a definite date. The meeting will take place in committee room 3 of the old town hall in Swinton (M27 5 FJ). It will be a full day meeting and we are just waiting for two of three potential speakers to confirm. Minutes of the last meeting are awaited from Oldham and we’ll distribute those and a full agenda as soon as they’re finalised.

Many of you will have been to Swinton before and recognise there are considerable difficulties in securing parking, especially if needed for the day. For this reason GMWRAG urges attendees to either car share or use public transport. There is public transport information available at https://www.salford.gov.uk/council-buildings-and-venues/how-to-find-us but we have alerted Salford to the fact much of this out of date. Some options have improved (electric car charging) and some have not (parking generally).

We can tell you at this stage that Salford is well served by public transport with a train station less than 10 minutes walk from the civic centre and buses coming past the civic centre on Chorley Road and Partington Lane on a regular basis. Guided busway and other buses also go down the East Lancs. Road and drop off less than 10 minutes walk from the civic centre.

We’ll post more about your transport options when we post up the full meeting details with agenda, speakers and minutes of the last meeting.

Critical social policy work from NAWRA.

NAWRA has been liaising with a firm of solicitors talking about possible ways to take judicial review action on various aspects of Universal Credit. They are very interested in taking challenges on working disabled people and the self-employed – they are already taking a challenge on behalf of claimants losing the SDP.

They remain keen to hear about clients who have lost out moving to UC who are either –
• a working disabled person moving from WTC to UC and losing money due to loss of the disabled worker element;
• a self-employed person who is losing out because of irregular income and so gets less UC than an employed person earning a similar amount, or other self-employed people losing out under UC.

NAWRA are also widening their search for potential UC judicial review claimants to people in the following circumstances:

1. Claimants who are naturally migrating from ESA – failure to pay the LCW/LCWRA element straight away

2. The application of waiting days when they shouldn’t be applied as claimant was on legacy benefits before migrating

3. Submission of a DS1500 by a third party and a refusal to accept without explicit consent

If you have a client who is affected and would consider taking part in a legal challenge please email daphne@nawra.org.uk

 

 

 

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.

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

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.

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!!!

Mental health evidence reports – A request from the Royal College Psychiatrists for guidance from welfare rights advisers.

With grateful thanks to Susannah Fayers of Camden Citizens Advice and largely purloined and adapted from our friends at Rightsnet.

Following many online/real life robust discussions re: psychiatrists failure and/or reluctance to grasp the essentials of writing evidential reports, or, their just feeling totally out of their depth when wanting to assist, the President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists has put out a call to see if anyone has any guidance that will help them with supplying medical evidence for appeals.

There is a general fairly outdated link to ESA on the website at https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/pdf/Guidance

They have had some input in the past pro bono from a welfare rights worker and a psychiatrist who has attended tribunals. Whilst pressing for this type of work to be fully funded (and included in the next year’s budget and beyond) they are in the meantime asking if any of the welfare rights community have, or want to create, a template or a link for PIP and ESA that can be put forward to RcPsych. We all have ideas of what we want but if someone has produced something bespoke already maybe we can get it shared this way.?

The new President is engaged with this issue and active on Twitter (@wendyburn) if anyone wants to engage directly with her. Only 10% or so of those with mental health conditions are seen under secondary care but if we can get something the WR community thinks covers the essentials onto the website maybe we can then get GP’s to lift, copy and paste.

Details are on Rightsnet: https://www.rightsnet.org.uk/forums/viewthread/12409 and you can respond via Rightsnet or Twitter.