Next meeting of the NWMHWRAG.

The next meeting will be on Friday the 26th of May at 9.30am for a 10am start.

It will be in Committee Room 6 in Manchester Town Hall extension.

Please note the change of venue!

Our speaker will be Dan Manville, Mental Health Welfare Rights Officer from Wolverhampton Council.

He will be talking about Right to Reside cases.

Important! – please let Helen Rogers know on 0161 217 6003 if you are planning to attend the meeting by 5pm on the 10th of May 2017 as we need to submit email addresses of all attendees so that you can access the meeting. Instructions will be emailed nearer the time with as to how to get into the building.

You’re on your own when it comes to getting out 🙂

This post also includes the notes on Upper Tier decisions from Robin Serjeant, our speaker at the last meeting in February 2017.

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

 

NAWRA response to the “Quick consultation on the new General Data Protection Regulation(GDPR).”

Following on from the GMWRAG post on this at https://gmwrag.wordpress.com/2017/03/10/quick-consultation-on-the-new-general-data-protection-regulationgdpr we were pleased to see our friends at NAWRA have submitted their response and we already know several GMWRAG members contributed to this.

You can read their response in full at NAWRA-response-ICO-March2017. Please note that the consultation, one of the shortest in memory, has now closed.

Quiz for a cause

It’s a little known fact, but in the unwritten history of quizzing in the North West, the GMWRAG quiz team looms like a quizzing colossus. The history of North Wales Football League teams? Check. The novels of Patrick JG Hill? Check. Anarcho-punk bands of the early ’80s? Yes please.

Perhaps you will have the chance to see these and more quizzing skills in action, at a fundraising event for Greater Manchester Law Centre and the Cheetham Hill Advice Centre.

It’s on Thursday the 27th of April 2017 from 6.30 pm at the Pie and Ale Beer Hall on Lever Street, in the heart of the Northern Quarter.

Tickets will be available on Eventbrite soon priced at £5 for those on a low income and £15 for everyone else – or you can just come along on the night and pay at the door. Your ticket price includes entry to the quiz (bring your own team or join a team on the night), some mezze-style snacks and some great entertainment including a raffle (tickets available on the night).

As an added bonus, it’s Happy Hour until 8pm, whatever that means.

Now, what were the two capital cities named after American presidents?

Quick consultation on the new General Data Protection Regulation(GDPR).

GMWRAG members may be aware that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will apply in the UK from May 2018 and replaces the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). In light of the recent controversy about the use of explicit consent in relation to Universal Credit.

The Information Commissioner’s Office is consulting on draft consent guidance in relation to the new General Data Protection Regulation that will apply in the UK from May 2018, replacing the Data Protection Act 1998.

The GDPR sets a high standard for consent. It builds on the DPA standard of consent in a number of areas and it contains significantly more detail that codifies existing European guidance and good practice.

The draft guidance on consent explains the ICOs recommended approach to compliance and what counts as valid consent. It also provides practical help to decide when to rely on consent, and when to look at alternatives.

The ICO are now running a short consultation on the draft guidance to gather the views of stakeholders and the public. These views will inform the published version of the guidance.

The consultation opened on the 2nd of March 2017 and the response deadline is the 31st of March 2017. All GMWRAG members are encouraged to at least be aware of this significant change and to submit a response if you can. We fully appreciate that 29 days sets a new bar for requiring a speedy response to an consultation!

https://ico.org.uk/about-the-ico/consultations/gdpr-consent-guidance/

The Budget 2017 – all you can eat.

For the first time in many years the Budget did not significantly change the landscape of welfare reform. That isn’t to say that significant changes aren’t already on the horizon and April 2017 will see the end of payment for being in the work-related activity group put large numbers of people into significant debt and at high risk of homelessness.

If, by any chance, you missed the key budget announcements then the links below should soon put you right.

The live TV feed was at http://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/8a000060-1bde-4491-bffe-4359e85832ea

Summaries and analysis can also be found at The Guardian and if that doesn’t float your boat then there’s also the BBC summaries.

The next meeting of the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group attendees has a new venue.

This is a message for anyone planning on attending the NWMHWRAG meeting on Friday the 26th of May 2017. The venue of the meeting has changed and will now be held in Committee Room 6 of the Manchester Town Hall Extension.

Attendees should note that you will need to arrange to have an email invite in advance from the meeting organiser so that you can enter the extension and collect a pass which will allow you to move through the building. These passes are based on having your email address in the MCC system. Alternatively, you will need to pick up a pass from the reception at the far end of the extension hall on the day and this will require you to know the name of the meeting and the room it’s in.

Minutes of the last meeting remain available via our last post. As of today we have still not had the opportunity to add them to the NWMHWRAG pages.

NAWRA annual report now available ahead of this Fridays NAWRA meeting.

GMWRAG has previously advised members of the next NAWRA meeting which takes place in Durham this Friday the 3rd of March 2017. Oh yes we did 😦 You can find the details here.

Ahead of the meeting you can now peruse (perhaps on a train) the 2016 annual report authored by Alan Markey. This is available for download from https://gmwrag.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/annual-report-2016.pdf otherwise known as here!

Enjoy the meeting.

Next meeting of the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group has been confirmed.

The next meeting of the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group will be on Friday the 24th of February 2017 at 9.30am for a 10am start.

Our speaker will be Robin Serjeant an Appeals Officer at Manchester City Council.  He will be talking about representing clients at appeal tribunals and using case law.

The meeting is at the Community Room at Manchester Central Fire Station, Thompson Street, M4 5FP.

The entrance is via Cassidy Close off Thompson Street. You take the first left off Cassidy Close and the room is straight ahead of you.

The room has its own entrance.  Please don’t enter the building by any other entrance.

There’s a car park on Thompson Street. You can’t park in the Fire Station places.

The room can be difficult to find if you haven’t been there before. If you get lost, you can phone Helen Rogers on 07800 617 866.

Correction to Manchester TUG details – GMWRAG apologises for actually being administratively worse than the Tribunals Service.

Our recent post re: the Manchester TUG was incorrect.

The Manchester and Stockport TUG will take place on Monday the 27th of March 2017 (not February) at Manchester Crown Court Building, Ground Floor, Crown Square off Bridge Street, Manchester M3 3FL. It will start at 10am and no doubt finish on the dot at 12:00pm.

As per our Blackburn TUG post you need to let the Tribunals Service know if you’re attending.

If you haven’t been notified of the meeting by post then you will need to contact Sandy Barnes, Clerk to the Tribunal on 0151 243 1451. Questions will need to be submitted in advance and the clerk is also the route for that as far as we can ascertain. TS are also asking for details of your organisation, work phone number and work email address. GMWRAG refuses to be anything other than highly amused at the latter given ongoing issues persuading them that appeals can be lodged by email.

We’ll see you there or, alternatively, in the Spinning Fields Costa Coffee beforehand 🙂

 

Manchester TUG sort of announced.

GMWRAG refuses to accept we will ever come up with a better post title than Blackburn Tug(ay). However, with grateful thanks to our friends at Stockport Advice (at least that’s what we thought they were called) we are pleased to announce that the details for the Manchester Tribunal Users Group are now available.

The Manchester TUG will take place on Monday the 27th of February 2017 at Manchester Crown Court. It will start at 10am and no doubt finish on the dot at 12:00pm. If the Tribunals Service ever let us know more details then we’ll let you know.

In the meantime, as per our Blackburn TUG post you need to let the Tribunals Service know if you’re attended. If you haven’t been notified of the meeting by post then you will need to contact Sandy Barnes, Clerk to the Tribunal on 0151 243 1451. Questions will need to be submitted in advance and the clerk is also the route for that as far as we can ascertain.

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.

GMWRAG being a little dim.

GMWRAG has always thought the evidence in favour of oral social security hearings was overwhelming, especially when compared to paper hearings. Putting aside the Guardian “discussion”, and a similar piece from our own GM Law Centre check out this paper from UKAJI. At the present time an awful lot of people are showing an interest in the governments proposals for online dispute resolution.

We suggest GMWRAG members start with the Rightsnet thread and then have a read of the above so you are up to speed with what is proposed and the debates around it. This could well shape what a WRO looks like for years to come and so it’s important we all know what’s at stake and all have our say.

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.

Details of the next NAWRA meeting have been announced.

The next NAWRA meeting will take place from 10am to 4pm (with registration from 9.30am) on Friday the 3rd of March 2017 at Durham Town Hall, Market Place, Durham, DH1 3NE.

The agenda with rfull details of speakers will be published in due course.

You must be a member of NAWRA to attend the meeting. If you are not already a member, find out more about joining.

Please note that the next meeting after this will take place on Friday the 9th of June 2017 at Glyndwr University, Wrexham (hosted by Welfare Rights Cymru).

Would your organisation like to provide a venue to host a future NAWRA meeting? If so, please contact us. We can help with arranging guest speakers and workshops – you don’t have to do everything yourself!  Read NAWRAs short guide to hosting a NAWRA meeting. Please do this as GMWRAG would swear meetings are only taking place in Durham and Glasgow 🙂

Minutes, presentations and related documents from previous meetings can be found in the Members area.  Find out more about becoming a NAWRA member.

Welfare benefits advisers – we need you!

GMLC volunteer ad gmlc-logoThere are only 2 law centres in Bury and Rochdale, with the rest of Greater Manchester (and its 2.7 million people) effectively being a ‘law centre-free zone’. In addition to the increased number of people representing themselves, a recent report by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission citing the disproportionate effect of the legal aid reforms and law centre closures on women, disabled people and BME communities, the demand for a new law centre is clear. Quite simply, no representation means no access to justice.

In 2015, legal aid lawyers, trade unionists and advice organisations came together to set up a community law centre for Greater Manchester. The centre intends to provide access to high-quality, free legal advice and representation for people in Greater Manchester and to empower people to use their voices to campaign for change.

Volunteers will be the backbone of this law centre.

We have launched a pilot scheme that delivers advice and representation in welfare benefits and are looking for volunteer advisers and lawyers to help deliver these services.

If you are:

  • an experienced welfare benefits adviser or lawyer.
  • able to volunteer a few hours each week.
  • eager to be involved at the start of an exciting new project, then we would love to hear from you.

Please send over a CV with details of your experience in welfare benefits advice and representation to ngaryanli@gmlaw.org.uk by Tuesday 31st January, 6pm.

You can download a pdf version of this post from https://gmwrag.files.wordpress.com/2017/01/gllc-volunteer-ad.pdf

Blackburn Tug(ay).

We think that’s the most sophisticated football pun we’ve ever used in a GMWRAG post title but what do we know.

Anyways… GMWRAG has been advised that the next Tribunal User Group (TUG) meeting for the Blackburn area is listed to take place on Monday the 6th of March 2017 at 10:00am.

For the purposes of clarity this TUG will cover issues for the Blackburn, Bury, Rochdale, Bolton and Burnley venues.

The meeting will take place on the second floor of Soho Foundry, Cicely Lane, Blackburn BB1 1HQ. Perhaps someone from Blackburn could explain to GMWRAG why the Tribunals Service have missed out the first line of the above address from their communications? For those of you wondering it’s  “DWP – NORTH WEST GOR 03”.

A Google of the post code should show you where you’re going. It’s easy enough and it looks remarkably like a factory/workhouse.

You need to let the Tribunals Service know if you’re attended. If you haven’t been notified of the meeting by post then you will need to contact Sandy Barnes, Clerk to the Tribunal on 0151 243 1451. Questions will need to be submitted in advance and the clerk is also the route for that as far as we can ascertain.

Finally, please note that GMWRAG is aware that this must mean other TUGs are being listed. We haven’t had our invites so, if you have, especially for the Manchester TUG, please let us know asap.

New year. New opportunities. Total lack of imagination on post titles.

Who knew we’d start 2017 on such a positive note eh?

GMWRAG is pleased to start the year of running rather than walking with two job opportunities within Salford Welfare Rights and Debt Advice Service. Full details of these posts are below for those of you who get the emails but can’t access this site. You can also view and apply via the site which has replaced YourCouncilJobs. For those of you who don’t know this is called GreaterJobs. You will see these same jobs advertised with our friends on Rightsnet and you may note that the link on there refers to YourCouncilJobs. Please note that whilst it does redirect to GreaterJobs it only redirects to the home page and we have already had some queries asking whether the jobs exist or have been pulled. They have not. It’s just an inaccurate redirect.

If you can’t find this post in future then please remember all current vacancies are advertised on our current vacancies page up the point of their closing date whereupon we move them to our archive.

HEALTH and SOCIAL CARE

Welfare Rights & Debt Advice Service

2 x Welfare Rights Adviser (Carers)

Scale 2C £20,456 – £22,434 (Ref: 50025907)
Scale 3A £23,166 – £25,694
Scale 3B £25,694 – £28,203
[Scale depends on level of experience and ability]

The Care Act introduced additional responsibilities for local authorities in relation to Carers. These two posts have been newly created in order to provide benefit advice to carers and the ‘cared for’ to help maintain their financial independence. It involves working closely with disabled people, their carers and social work staff in order to identify benefit issues and offer advice on the options available to maximise income for service use and the local authority via charging for services.

The post holder will join a team of Welfare Rights staff dedicated to ensuring that users of Social Services domiciliary services receive their correct benefit entitlement and can make an informed choice about the way that their care needs are met.

The successful applicant will need to have:-

• Proven experience and expertise in Welfare Benefits advice work;
• An understanding of charging policies for non-residential services
• Experience of working with disabled people;
• The ability to communicate complex information clearly and concisely;

The post carries an entitlement to a casual user’s car allowance.

Please be aware that this post is subject to a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check and that you will be required to meet the cost of the DBS check – currently £44.00. The payment for this will be deducted from your first four months’ salary payments at a rate of £11.00 per month. If you do not commence employment for any reason but the DBS has been processed, you will be sent an invoice for the payment of £44.00.

Closing date: Friday 27th January 2017

Job Description.pdf
Person Specification.pdf

__________________________________________________________________________________________________

Welfare Rights & Debt Advice Service

WELFARE RIGHTS OFFICER
(Health)

Scale 3B £25,694 – £28,203 (Ref: 50004034)

This post is funded by Salford Primary Care Trust to address poverty and health inequalities through the provision of Welfare Rights advice in primary health care settings

The job involves conducting advice sessions in local health centres/GP practices, undertaking individual case-work and representation, providing training and acting as a consultant to primary health care professionals and promoting benefit take-up work amongst key patient groups.

You should have proven experience and expertise in benefits work for at least two years. Being able to undertake tribunal representation and advocate on behalf of claimants is essential. You should be able to work on your own as well as part of a team, and be committed to the promotion of anti-poverty & social inclusion work.

The post carries an entitlement to a casual car user’s allowance.

Please be aware that this post is subject to a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check and that you will be required to meet the cost of the DBS check – currently £44.00. The payment for this will be deducted from your first four months’ salary payments at a rate of £11.00 per month. If you do not commence employment for any reason but the DBS has been processed, you will be sent an invoice for the payment of £44.00.

Closing date: Friday 27th January 2017

Job Description.pdf
Person Specification.pdf

Small but significant.

It’s only small thing but we here at GMWRAG think it’s significant. The numbers who view this latest iteration of the GMWRAG web site grew steadily from its creation in the latter third of 2009. From 5,468 in 2010 through to a peak of 12,261 in 2013.

Since then there has been a noticeable steady decline which we absolutely associate with the cuts to advice across Greater Manchester which have been made during the past 3 years. There are less of you and so logically less of you will be looking at us.

This downward trend and the reasons for it were reflected in other ways too. For example, we had a long drought of job vacancy adverts. Authors slowly drifted away as their jobs disappeared or became so overloaded that something had to give. This year, for the first time since 2013 we are pleased to report an upturn on several fronts. The number of jobs we have advertised has risen. The number of posts we have posted has risen. The site has grown again and is about to sprout further wings/new section/pages very soon.

We were hoping to report an upturn in numbers but we were devastated to learn that the number of site views for 2016 fell exactly 1 short of 2015. That said, this is also hugely significant as the year on year decline has well and truly been arrested and for the first time since 2013 things are holding steady or looking up. More jobs for you to peruse imminently too.

Now, about 2017…

Local showing of “I, Daniel Blake”.

GMWRAG members will doubtless be familiar with the excellent and tireless work of Charlotte Hughes. Those of you who aren’t should check out her blog “The poor side of life”.

On Friday the 20th of January 2017 Charlotte has organised a one off showing of “I, Daniel Blake”. If GMWRAG has members who don’t know of Charlotte and don’t know of the film then we will find some way of rescinding your membership in due course 🙂

Suffice to say this is a free to view screening of the award winning Ken Loach film. With exceptional writing by Paul Laverty, and equally impressive acting by Dave Johns and Hayley Squires it shows the harsh reality of having to live whilst caught up in the cruel and complicated benefit system. That bloke has come a long way since GMWRAG first spotted him at the Buzz Club in Chorlton.

You will cry, so bring a tissue, and you will never forget watching this film.

We will also be showing the film that we made with The Guardian to go alongside this magnificent film. You might recognise some faces. This is also a powerful film.

Donation on the door if you can afford it. All donations going to fund food parcels that are handed out each week.

The performance will be from 7:30pm to approximately 10:30pm and will take place at Broadoak Community Centre, Broadoak Road, Ashton-under-Lyne OL6 8RS.

Whilst the performance is free you will need to register in order to attend and you can do this via https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/i-daniel-blake-film-screening-tickets-30812516065?aff=efbevent.

Read the reviews at IMDb but if you’re not yet convinced then by all means watch the trailer below. Excellent Rightsnet discussion can also be found here.

Justice in freefall.

GMWRAG members may want to link this post back to the now distant creation of our Access 2 Advice pages and our many posts updating on the work of the Low Commission.

Our friends at Legal Action have, to quote them directly, ended “… the year with a new report analysing the Ministry of Justice’s legal aid statistics and other evidence to identify the key trends in the legal aid market since the passage and implementation of LASPO (the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act) which came into effect in April 2013.

It’s not exactly a report infused with Christmas cheer – so don’t leave it until Christmas day to have a read.

Year after year the Ministry of Justice have been cutting civil legal aid more than they originally intended to, leaving large budget under-spends and even larger advice deserts, whilst at the same time surrounding the system with ever more suffocating and costly bureaucracy.”

We’re going to repeat what they say on their site in full as we think you need to see it and spread it. It bears repeating far and wide.

“The report’s main findings are-

  • Basic advice cases (known as civil legal help), have dropped by 75% after the implementation of the legal aid cuts in April 2013, and are continuing to fall.
  • Just over the last year the number of housing cases reduced by 18%, having already halved since 2013; the number of areas with no provision at all is growing.
  • The telephone gateway established to help people with debt, special educational needs and discrimination cases is failing the public- out of 165,000 calls last year only just over 10% were referred on to specialists for help.
  • The exceptional funding mechanism has demonstrably failed, with low take up and low numbers of applications (under 10%) granted.
  • Despite cuts to legal aid of 25% the Legal Aid Agency’s administrative budget has increased to over £100m.
  • There has been a 25% decline in solicitors firms undertaking civil legal aid work and this is leading to a lack of availability of the legal aid services which remain in scope.
  • Legal aid and other cuts have had an even greater impact on not for profit providers as these have declined by 50% in ten years

By this stage you might be asking is there anything new or different happening that we can hold onto for the hope of better publicly funded provision for access to justice?  Well perhaps.

Some time in 2017 the MoJ will commence its long-awaited post-implementation review of the LASPO reforms. There is also a new strategy for the justice system at the MoJ underpinned by the principles that the system should be just, proportionate, accessible, and involving extensive investment in courts reform and modernisation. Both the review and the reform programme are integral to the responsibilities of Sir Oliver Heald MP QC as Minister of State for Justice who has shown far greater willingness to engage and listen than his recent predecessors – so it is essential that the professions and advocacy groups engage constructively with the review.

Our report spells out some key recommendations for next year:-

  • Immediate commencement of the LASPO post-implementation review which should be undertaken independently from the Ministry of Justice, looking at whether, and set against three clear criteria for change and improvement in the legal aid system– just, proportionate, and accessible
  • The existing under-spend in the civil legal aid from the past three years should be re-invested in an innovation and early intervention fund which could be distributed on the basis of grant funding bids (for example for second tier specialist support, online tools, and public legal education projects).

The Ministry of Justice should set a target for reducing spend on bureaucracy and re-investing this in frontline services and contracts; achievable by greater discretion and delegation of powers and decision-making.

  • Immediate action should to address the low approval rates for exceptional funding through improving the guidance to decision-makers and reducing bureaucracy.
  • As a response to low take-up of civil legal aid, the MoJ needs to start a public information campaign about what problems legal aid is available for, how to seek help; this could be linked to a wider public legal education initiatives.

Immediate action should be taken over the emergence of housing legal aid deserts, by making arrangements to ensure there is contracted provision in all procurement areas and introducing greater flexibility within housing legal aid work to enable providers to undertake preventative work.

The Guardian carried a story on the report in its edition on Monday the 19th of December 2016.

Note – Since completing our report, the figures for the 3rd Quarter of 2016 have just been published showing a further decline in civil legal help over the current year. Workload in housing for example is down 9% from the same quarter last year, immigration works down 22% and help for discrimination cases is down by about a third.  

Minutes of that!

The minutes of the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group (apparently it’s NOT called the “NWMHWRAGOWTFDTM) for November 2016 are now available for download from here. Their web pages have been updated accordingly.

We have been made aware that some minutes are AWOL from 2016. These can still be found via a search (now we’ve found the “search” option again) and we’ll attempt to fix this as soon as the opportunity arises.

Details of the next meeting of NAWRA now available slightly quicker than we managed last time out!

The next NAWRA meeting will take place from 10am-4pm (registration from 9.30am) on Friday the 3rd of March 2017 at Durham Town Hall, Market Place, Durham, DH1 3NE

Agenda to follow. GMWRAG will post it as soon as we notice it’s out.

You must be a member of NAWRA to attend the meeting. If you are not already a member, find out more about joining.

Future meetings

  • Friday the 3rd of March 2017 – Durham (hosted by Durham County Council Welfare Rights Service).
  • Friday the 9th of June 2017 – Glyndwr University, Wrexham (hosted by Welfare Rights Cymru).

Would your organisation like to provide a venue to host a future NAWRA meeting? If so, please contact NAWRA. They can help with arranging guest speakers and workshops – you don’t have to do everything yourself!  Read their short guide to hosting a NAWRA meeting.

Previous meetings

Minutes, presentations and related documents from previous meetings can be found in the Members area.  Find out more about becoming a NAWRA member.

New WCA tool and widget from LASA.

You may recall our recentish post on the new LASA PIP tool for advisers, which has proved to be something of a revelation. If not then you can find more details in our post on the launch of the tool.

Now a new tool and widget are available but this time in connection with the WCA, which strikes GMWRAG as a jolly good idea. You can find said tool at the uninspiringly titled http://wcainfo.net. (although it’s obviously better than writing it out in full :)!

If you’ve missed any of these web tools you can find more info on all of them over on the LASA website: http://www.lasa.org.uk/webtools.

As ever, we’re sure there’s a widget you can embed in your web site. GMWRAG likes widgets and we use lots of them. Sadly our web site platform doesn’t accept this kind of tool else we’d be widegting away with the rest of you

Benefit uprating 2016 to 2017

The government has announced the new benefit rates to be introduced in April 2017.

Further to the Treasury’s publication last week of the new tax credit, child benefit and guardian’s allowance rates, the government has today published the proposed DWP benefit and pension rates for 2017/2018.

The proposed benefit and pension rates 2017 to 2018 are available from gov.uk. Separate links are available as follows:

There are a small number of potentially misleading elements to this which our friends at Rightsnet are busy noting. Check out this thread for further information.

GMWRAG has noted that Carer’s UK has welcomed the increase in the earnings limit for carer’s allowance, albeit that this is pitifully small. No-one else is shouting from the roof tops? You will of course note the number of benefit rates which remain frozen although it’s good to know that, presumably with his irony meter switched off, IDS is on our side on this! For an alternative perspective on what these cuts mean (and for many people they are undoubtedly further cuts) there are plenty of real world accounts out there like this.

Radical Readings

Radical Readings in  progressGMWRAG has generally been good over the past year publicising theatrical and cinematic events related to rights based advice work. We know many of you took the opportunity to attend events like Powerlines and Wish List. Indeed GMWRAG followers who have been paying attention will be aware that Cardboard Citizen’s “Cathy” is imminent. Welfare reform can at least take credit for some powerful art if nothing else especially positive.

Unfortunately, GMWRAG managed to attend one such event and forgot to tell members about it. We’re going to tell you about it now and hope that you’ll anticipate and book a place on the next one in 2017. The event in question was the second ever “Radical Readings” and it took place at the University of Salford as a fundraiser for the Working Class Movement Library in Salford on Sunday the 27th of November 2016.

Christopher Eccleston, Sheila Hancock, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Mike Joyce and Maxine Peake, who are all strong supporters of the Library, participated in an afternoon of prose, poetry and drama telling stories of radicalism and revolution.

Following on from 2014’s fantastically successful fundraiser for the Library  the audience were treated to old favourites, Ewan MacColl, Robert Roberts, Shelagh Delaney, Harold Brighouse and many more, as well as readings on such diverse subjects as Peterloo, the Spanish Civil War, Engels’s view of the Salford slums, and memories of Broad Street and Rat Week…

Maxine Peake, who is also a Trustee of the Library, said; ‘It is always a pleasure and an honour to take part in the Radical Reading and support the wonderful and invaluable resource that is the Working Class Movement Library. A building we should all be proud of’.

There is a comprehensive report of the event on the Salford Star web site. It’s hoped that the next event will include music as well as readings, prose and poetry.

If you would like to know more about the WCML please check out their web site or email them at trustees@wcml.org.uk. Indeed, if you’re really interested then this Saturday, the 3rd of December 2016, they are running a free event called Looking Back at the Grunwick Strike 1976-1978. Click on the lick for more information.

GMWRAG promises to try to stay more abreast of such things in 2017.  Why are we posting such stuff? How is it relevant to welfare rights advisers? Take you pick.

“Any fool can be happy. It takes a man with real heart to make beauty out of the stuff that makes us weep.” – Clive Barker, Days of Magic, Nights of War.

“Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.” – Pablo Picasso.

Agenda for the Tameside GMWRAG meeting now available.

If you’ve been paying attention then you’ll already know that the next GMWRAG meeting will take place on Friday the 9th of December 2016 in Tameside. Just about everything you could possibly want to know was contained in our authoritative (well, long) post here.

The only thing missing from that post was, of course, the agenda. We are pleased to announce that the agenda can now be downloaded from here.

Please remember to download and print both the agenda and minutes and bring them with you to the meeting. GMWRAG hosts are kind enough to provide a room and refreshments from their own pocket. There is no budget for printing. If anyone fancies chairing the p.m. meeting that would be much appreciated.

This is a full day meeting and to add value we have managed to secure the services of two speakers (although two may eventually read four).

SPEAKER 1 – Homeless Prevention Service officers.

The increase in rough sleeping in the towns and cities across Greater Manchester is self-evident. The increase in other forms of homelessness is seen in the queues in reception areas of council homelessness services.

Welfare rights advisers know some of the causes – bedroom tax, benefit cap, rates of LHA for singles and couples in shared accommodation, and under 35’s, as well as massive reductions in community support services, MH support, and housing rights advice services.

Other factors include reduction in hostel bed spaces, reductions in supported accommodation, rent increases that price out benefit claimants, and unfair and unreasonable sanction decisions.

Listen to those tasked with dealing with part of this situation. What can be done by local authorities to meet the need? What legal and policy restrictions do they have to work with? What are the procedures for the single and family homeless officers to respond to housing need of applicants?

David Unsworth and Jean Cavanagh specialise in brokering accommodation for applicants, sometimes vulnerable and hard to accommodate groups. They work with MH services, ex-offender support, hospital discharge teams and others. Mandy Bradbury will come along if she is available. She is the Team Leader for the Homeless Prevention and Assessment Service at Manchester City Council. They are also interested in finding out about advice services available across Greater Manchester, as their service increasingly is looking to place people outside Manchester.

SPEAKER 2 – GM Law Centre John Nicholson, Barrister and Chair of the GM Law Centre Steering Group) will talk about the reasons for the project, the current stage of development, and plans for the next 2 years and more.

Both speakers have plenty of time built into the agenda for questions and discussion.

We look forward to seeing you there.

 

Work, health and disability: consultation – least exciting consultation title ever.

GMWRAG members with a long memory may recall a consultation about closing the disability employment gap, which we publicised back in March 2016. This went nowhere as the government rethought their plans.

The consequences of that rethink are that a new consultation has been issued with the distinctly unsexy title of “Work, Health and Disability”. and the consultation questions are part of the new Green Paper on Improving Lives, which can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/work-health-and-disability-improving-lives.

The consultation opened on the 31st of October 2016 but does not close until the 17th of February 2017, so plenty of time to ponder and write for once. Whether this is a reflection of a desire to get this right or of it not being top of anyone’s list GMWRAG will leave you to decide but in the meantime you’ll need to have a look at the consultation page and the 45 questions being asked. The consultation contents can be found at https://consultations.dh.gov.uk/workandhealth/consult/consultation. Please read this as the 45 questions are detailed and will take time to answer properly.

This is a potentially important consultation and we hope many GMWRAG members will choose to put something together. If you do so please feel free to DM GMWRAG via Twitter and share your submission if you think it will help others.

Consultation on supported housing.

This has, to say the least, rumbled on for a good few years, but we are now at the stage when another attempt to resolve it has been suggested. So, the Department for Communities and Local Government and Department for Work and Pensions have now published a new consultation on the detail of the future funding model for supported housing from April 2019. This will obviously be hugely significant for a number of our members.

The consultation lasts for 12 weeks from the 21st of November 2016 until the closing date of Monday the 13th of February 2017. Everything you need to know can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/funding-for-supported-housing.

At the same time the government has published the evidence review of supported accommodation in Great Britain.

Queries and responses can be sent via email to supportedhousing@communities.gsi.gov.uk or you can write to the Department for Communities and Local Government, Supported Housing Programme, Fry Building, 3rd Floor, 2 Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DF

A new workshop: “Putting the security back into social security”.

This is one of eight workshops being held in different parts of the country, supported by the UK Social Policy Association.

The workshop is free but places are limited so registration is essential and can be done by following this EventBrite link. Turning up without a ticket is not an option. If you don’t have an EventBrite account it’s easy enough to create one and download the app to your phone or tablet. This will save you carrying paper round on the day and give you an electronic ticket. If that fries your brain then alternatively, print off the attachment to your EventBrite confirmation planet and pretend it didn’t contain one of those trite warning about thinking before you printed it off!

The workshop: takes place on Monday the 5th of  December 2016 between 1.30pm and 4.30pm at the University of Salford, MediaCityUK, Salford Quays M50 2HE.

Details: What practical, concrete steps can be taken to put the security back into social security – in the short to medium term (and if this includes additional costs, how can it be funded)? is the question this workshop will tackle. It is for anyone interested in answers to the workshop question: front-line advisers, anti-poverty campaigners, practitioners, people with expertise by experience, policy-makers and academics.
 
Background: The issue of social security is fundamental to social policy. The recasting of social security as problematic, and now toxic, ‘welfare’ – which fails to prevent hunger, never mind ensure security – is well documented. A recent report “Secure and Free: 5+ steps to make the desirable feasible.” found that on issues such as housing and early childhood education and care, there are many ideas available within civil society and much consensus. However, on the core issue of social security in relation to income, the same is not the case.
  
The aim of this workshop is to:

·         identify immediately available answers to the workshop question;
·         create a community of interest around this issue; and
·         plan next steps.

The workshop will be based on participatory approaches including small group work, consensus building activities and so on. It will be introduced by Michael Orton, author of Secure & Free, with co-hosts Lisa Scullion (University of Salford) and Neil McInroy (Centre for Local Economic Strategies).

This is an exciting opportunity to generate, and build consensus around, practical and positive ideas. As noted above, the workshop is free but places are limited and registration is essential by following this link.

If you can’t find the information on EventBrite (although you should be able to) please consider contacting michael.orton@warwick.ac.uk, directly. Michael is author of “Secure and Free: 5+ steps to make the desirable feasible.”

For more information about the Social Policy Association, its work and how to become a member, visit www.social-policy.org.uk.

All capital ‘W’ letters from the word “Workshop” have been removed this post because GMWRAG found it really annoying. This has involved great diligence from GMWRAG and we apologise if anyone thinks we should put them all back, but… NO! 🙂

GMWRAG goes to Tameside.

The next GMWRAG meeting will take place on Friday the 9th of December 2016. The venue will be Function Room 1 in the Ashton Indoor Market Hall, Market Street, Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire OL6 7JU and as ever it will be a case of arriving from 9:30am onwards for a 10:00am start.

The full agenda, including speakers, will be published in due course. We are looking good for having 2 speakers but we’ll let you know in due course.

The minutes of the September 2016 meeting in Trafford are available here. Please remember to print both the agenda and minutes off in advance of the meeting and bring them with you. GMWRAG no longer has any expectation that the hosting authority will provide these as there is no budget for them to do so.

Function Room 1 is the first room you will see at the top of the stairs. The entrance to get to the meeting rooms is at the side of the market on the Wellington Road side. It’s a side door with a buzzer entry system. Select button number 3, although there should hopefully be a member of Tameside MBC Welfare Rights and Debt Advice Service on the door from 9:00am to let us in as we start to arrive. Directions on how to get to the venue via car, train or tram can be found at www.tameside.gov.uk/markets/directions. 

GMWRAG notes that both tram and train are within 5 minutes walking distance of the venue but please check your timings carefully. Trams are frequent at all times relevant to the meeting. Trains are equally frequent at peak hours. Travel time is around 30 to 35 minutes from the city centre regardless of whether you go by train or tram so please allow for this if trying to get to the venue for some time between 9:30am and the 10:00am start.

If you’re like GMWRAG and you work as you move then it may be important for you to know that the tram has wi-fi whilst the train does not. GMWRAG makes no claims for the reliability of the wi-fi.

The tram and tram stations are considerably more accessible than any of the relevant railway stations or trains.

We look forward to seeing you there and in keeping with the long GMWRAG tradition of having enough time to go do Christmas shopping at lunch time we suggest having a look at www.tameside.gov.uk/Businesses/Ashton-Market-Take-a-Tour-of-the-Stalls!, https://shopatashton.com/ and of course www.ikea.com/gb/en/store/manchester/

In the absence of a pm speaker GMWRAG members will help you carry your IKEA purchases and assemble them 🙂

Cathy – Forum Theatre Tour 2017 – “Settled… Until suddenly you’re not…”

Settled …. Until suddenly you’re not…

Candid, poignant and intimate, this four star hit new play (The Stage, The Upcoming & The Reviews Hub) by award winning playwright Ali Taylor (Cotton Wool, OVERSPILL, Fault Lines) offers a timely reflection on the social and personal impact of spiralling housing costs, gentrification and the challenges of the forced relocation away from London.

Acclaimed Theatre Company Cardboard Citizens presents this powerful and emotive Forum Theatre show, exploring resonances in today’s society with the story told in the ground-breaking Ken Loach film, Cathy Come Home, 50 years ago.

Forum Theatre is an interactive style of theatre which empowers the audience to change the outcome – every show is a unique experience. After watching the play, you’ll have the chance to voice your opinion and offer ideas which might change the course of the characters’ lives. Or, if you choose, just sit back and watch as the story is rewritten live in front of your eyes.

Find out more about the show in Ali Taylor’s interview with The Evening Standard.

Cathy is appearing at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester between the 12th and 14th of January 2017. You can book now online or ring the Box Office on 0161 833 9833.

[twitter-follow screen_name=’GMWRAGtweets’ show_count=’yes’]

The minutes of the last GMWRAG meeting in Trafford are now available for download.

The minutes of the last GMWRAG meeting, which took place in Trafford, are now available for download. They are of course permanently available on our Minutes of Previous Meetings page.

The presentation referred to in the minutes has been available for some time from here.

Please be aware that the minutes are password protected for reasons discussed in depth at the last meeting. If you do not have the password please contact GMWRAG via Twitter direct messaging to @GMWRAGTweets or ask a colleague who attended the last meeting.

Details of the next GMWRAG meeting have been finalised but we’re in the process of sorting a speaker so we’ll announce as soon as we’re sorted.

New PIP tool for advisers from LASA.

Lasa has just launched a new web tool designed to help advisers find details of regulations and case law relating to Personal Independence Payment.

The new web tool is available at http://pipinfo.net

Any help you can provide in sharing a link to pipinfo would be very much appreciated. Like what we have done here 🙂

There’s also have a widget if you’d like to add pipinfo search to your site for your visitors to use. You can find this at http://pipinfo.net/about/widget. GMWRAG likes widgets and we use lots of them. Sadly our web site platform doesn’t accept this kind of tool else we’d be widegting away with the rest of you. .

Information on Lasa’s range of web tools is available @ http://www.lasa.org.uk/webtools

Now, if someone could just explain what’s wrong with a capital letter at the start of a web site name!

CPAG looking for test cases to challenge the Benefit Cap.

CPAG is looking for test cases to challenge the benefit cap. If you are an adviser and have clients currently affected by the cap or who are likely to be affected when the cap is reduced in November 2016, CPAG would like to hear from you. Please complete the referral form here (save it to your computer first). Alternatively, email Testcases@cpag.org.uk

The form can also be downloaded from GMWRAG here.

There’s more information about the benefit cap on CPAG’s website but it’s also worth having a read of

Sophie Earnshaws blog on the impact of the reduced cap.

The New Statesman on 5 reasons why the cap is wrong.

The Guardian on the caps lack of compatibility with the UN convention on the rights of the child.

Benefit Tales on the rise of in work poverty.

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!!!

The next (and future) GMWRAG meeting(s).

Now, GMWRAG members, please pay attention and listen very carefully. We shall say zis only once! Possibly.

A few years back we had to rejig the organisation of GMWRAG meetings thanks to the reality of public sector cuts decimating services in Manchester, Rochdale and Bolton. A core group of Salford, Stockport, Tameside and Trafford kindly agreed to rotate hosting meetings in order to ensure we could continue.

An unexpected but entirely welcome rejuvenated service in Oldham assisted with this aim but further service reviews and staffing changes in three of the first four above have meant that meetings over the past year have very much had to be organised “on the hoof” as services in the midst of being reviewed to death felt that hosting a meeting for a full day was a step to far in the midst of other stresses. We are very grateful to Stockport Advice, Salix Homes and Bolton at Home for stepping up at short notice to keep the show on the road.

GMWRAG fully appreciates this and so in a bid to provide some stability this year we are pleased to welcome an offer from Manchester to host our next meeting in June 2016. This pushes back meetings in Trafford and Tameside. It would be really helpful if all GMWRAG members could check out our meetings page and note these changes but if you can’t access the site in work then 2016 and 2017 currently look like this.

June 2016 – Manchester.

September 2016 – Trafford.

December 2016 – Tameside.

March 2017 – Oldham.

June 2017 – Stockport.

September 2017 – Salford.

December 2017 – Bolton.

All hosting members need to note these changes dates. There may yet be further date changes as none of us know what the remainder of 2016 will bring but we will try and avoid this if we possibly can. We will try and contact someone at each host in due course to firm all the above up but, if there are issues, it would help us if you “Contact GMWRAG” ASAP to let us know.

There will be a more specific post about the Manchester meeting imminently.

For those of you who periodically complain about the length of these posts, please remember not all members can access the site in their workplace, for a variety of reasons, so it is important that the posts contain what is elsewhere on the site.

More information on the abolition of Attendance Allowance as we know it.

You may recall the recent GMWRAG item on proposals to move responsibility for Attendance Allowance from the DWP to local authorities. This is such a radical proposal many people dismissed it out of hand when it was first publicised in December 2015 but plans appear to be progressing apace and agencies are now responding in increasing numbers with their concern. GMWRAG members, who have seen Council Tax Benefit and the Social Fund devolved previously, know only too well how this will end in terms of budgets being top sliced/reduced/dissolving. The welcoming of these proposals by the LGA is another development older people and GMWRAG members will have shared concerns about.

Bearing all that in mind GMWRAG would like to invite members to sign up to the 38 degrees petition about what is described as the “abolition” of Attendance Allowance. This no longer seems such a dramatic phrase. You can find full details of the petition at 38 Degrees.

Do we really need to remind you that it’s probably not a good idea to use your work email address 🙂