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.

The Stockport GMWRAG meeting is here – Friday the 16th of June 2017. Speakers, public transport, presenting officers and biscuit details all below.

On the 10th of May 2017 GMWRAG quietly announced that the next meeting (indeed the first of 2017) would take place in Stockport. You can find that post here but we’re now in a position to provide you with full details and there are a lot of them. Please note that a number of key details have changed from that original post, not least the venue. Soooo…

The next GMWRAG meeting is a full day meeting and takes place in room 5 of Stockport Town Hall (NOT Fred Perry House as we originally suggested) on Friday the 16th of June 2017. Doors will open for refreshments, networking and those without any sense of direction at 9:30am for a 10:00am start.

The minutes of the last meeting can be downloaded from here and the full agenda can now be downloaded from here. Please print them off and bring them with you. GMWRAG hosts are no longer funded to provide copies on the day.

The meeting will have an update on the newly launched GM Strategic Casework Group. If you haven’t had a look at our pages then please do so. There will also be an opportunity to share experiences of the new tranche of Presenting Officers at First Tier Tribunals and both the morning and afternoon sessions will have speakers as detailed below.

GMWRAG was surprised to learn that in our near 4 decade existence we appear to have never had speakers talking about sensory impairment and benefits. Our friends at NAWRA have had workshop presentations from charities like RNIB (and even then maybe only the one) but our agendas and minutes suggest we have not. Hopefully the speakers at this meeting will whet the appetite for further work in this area.

Neither session will involve death by PowerPoint and there will be much in the way of handouts; quizzes; throwing things, er, discussion, interaction and some case law!

Stockport Town Hall, or the “spiritual home of GMWRAG” as it was recently described, is very easily accessed by rail and is a massive 4 minutes walk from Stockport railway station. GMWRAG recommends the train as absolutely the fastest way to get to (and from) Stockport from/to Manchester city centre. Journeys are between 7 and 14 minutes from Manchester Piccadilly station. Please note though that tickets on this route may only be valid for some trains e.g. Northern Trains tickets may not be valid on Virgin Trains and so on.

There are frequent buses and you can get full multi-modal travel information on this via the My TfGM journey planner but all will take considerably longer than the train. If you weren’t already aware, there is also an app available for your smartphone. Welfare rights advisers all have smart phones, don’t you!

If you’re driving in, there are several car parks nearby but you will pay a lot for a full day and the road system can be very confusing for anyone not familiar with the area. Don’t say we didn’t warn you 🙂

Oh, yeah, and the biscuits are on order.

Minutes of the last North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group plus speaker notes now available.

The minutes of the May 2017 meeting of the NWMHWRAG meeting are now available within their pages within this site. Along with these, speaker Dan Manville has kindly provided a copy of his notes and some guidance and these are available on their “Presentations to the group” page.

If you’re a member of the group then you’ll already know that the minutes are password protected and you’ll know the password. If you have a legitimate need for access to the minutes then please DM @GMWRAGTweets.

The date of the next meeting is already up on their pages. Full details of any future speakers will of course be posted as soon as we know them.

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.

Quick reminder about the next NAWRA meeting.

GMWRAG would like to remind our members that the next NAWRA meeting takes place on Friday the 9th of June 2017 in God’s own country (and the best part of it to boot) in Wrexham. The meeting opens for registration at 9:30am and runs from 10am to 4pm. It takes place at the Catrin Finch Centre, Glyndwr University, Mold Road, Wrexham LL11 2AW. The meeting is kindly hosted by Welfare Rights Advice Cymru.

A full agenda can be found at http://www.nawra.org.uk/wordpress/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/NAWRA-meeting-in-Wrexham-9-June-2017-agenda.pdf and there will be a pre-meet from 6:30pm onwards on Thursday the 8th of June 2017 at The Elihu Yale, 44–46 Regent Street, Wrexham LL11 1RR.

It’s a Wetherspoons pub – usual fayre of good beer, not too noisy and reasonable food. Members of Welfare Rights Advisers Cymru, Wrexham Council Welfare Rights team and NAWRA committee members will be ready to welcome thirsty travellers from 6.30pm onwards on the evening of Thursday 8 June.

Full travel details are contained within the agenda although GMWRAG will be expressing our profound disapproval that the list of alternatives includes Sainsburys and not the legendary Turf Hotel, which was the only pub ever built inside a football ground. Further words will be exchanged that the accompanying blurb makes no mention of the mighty Wrexham AFC and, worse still, mentions Chester as an attraction of going to Wrexham.

Guest speakers include

  • Paul Neave, Head of Advice Services – Welsh Government. “The Information and Advice Action Plan for Wales – a model for the UK?”
  • Dr Gideon Calder, Swansea University – “The Spirit Level: Why Inequality is Everyone’s Issue.”

Workshops will include

Workshop A: PIP caselaw update

Ruth Hession, Welfare Rights Adviser / Ymgynghorydd Hawliau Lles

City and County of Swansea / Dinas A Sir Abertawe

Workshop level: Intermediate and Practical/Theoretical/Strategic

This workshop will provide an overview of the recent developments in PIP caselaw, selecting some of the most significant decisions for discussion. We will also discuss the impact of the recent amendments to the PIP regulations.

Workshop B: Universal Credit full service? What service?

Tom Messere – Big Book of Benefits

Workshop level: Intermediate/Practical

The slow initial pace of “transition” to UC – after a long period of piloting since 2015 – gave hope that the DWP were prioritising a pragmatic “test and learn” approach over any rush to unachievable timelines (as UC before) with the risk of total meltdown (as in PIP’s past). Teething problems were to be expected, but mainly from scaling up of numbers from pilot levels. However it’s the sheer scale of unpreparedness on basic processes and issues for a new much wider range of claimants that makes UC so unfit for purpose at present.

Building on a recent NAWRA survey of advisers, this workshop is an opportunity to share issues, concerns, experiences and – as ever – resourceful cunning workarounds, as the

DWP coalition of chaos and confusion moves ever closer to your area. Strong and stable it most certainly ain’t?

What will UC Full Service mean in theory when it arrives to a JC+ near me? What are likely problems in practice? What can we do about it? How can we build on these workshops?

Workshop C: Utility Best Deals

Jayne Bellis, Pennysmart Community Interest Company

Workshop level: Introductory and Practical

ith the recent welfare cuts and energy price increases, never has the need been greater for low income households to reduce bills as well as maximise income. There are help schemes available for low-income families that struggle to pay energy and

water bills. This is an upbeat session on paying less and guaranteeing ‘better-off’ outcomes for all who attend.

Learning outcomes:

  • Be able to assist clients to switch gas or electricity tariff/supplier
  • Know what help is available for vulnerable & low income consumers
  • Know what to do if clients have gas, electricity or water debts
  • Be able to signpost clients to access free help and advice

Workshop D: Down to Earth: How to help your clients plan an affordable meaningful funeral.

Fiona Singleton, Down to Earth, Quaker Social Action

Workshop level: Introductory/Practical

What you’ll get out of the session:-

  •  A clear understanding of the range of funeral options and the cost implications of these
  •  An understanding of ways to help your clients to save money when planning a funeral
  •  The ability to discuss ways of raising money to help pay for a funeral
  •  A clear understanding of the eligibility criteria for bereavement benefits and payments
  •  The ability to access a range of resources to support clients in funeral planning

Workshop E: Can there be equal life chances? (afternoon session only)

Dr Gideon Calder, Swansea University

Workshop level: Introductory and Theoretical/Strategic

oliticians of all kinds will say that every child should have an equal chance in life, and that promoting this should be a priority. Yet this has never been the case in the UK. In many respects, it is less true now than it was a few decades ago. The children of disadvantaged families are very likely to end up disadvantaged themselves. This workshop will explore both why life chances remain so unequal in the 21st century, and how this might be tackled.

Equality and Welfare Reform Transformation Project job vacancy.

Equality & Welfare Reform Transformation Project

Project Lead – 30 hours per week, actual salary £24,324 per annum (£30,000 pro-rata)

Citizens Advice Rossendale and Hyndburn have secured 3 years funding from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation to deliver a new and exciting project, which aims to address inequalities and poor decision making within the welfare benefit system that adversely affects vulnerable and disadvantaged people. This will be achieved through specialist casework, gathering evidence to influence fairer practices and policies and developing links with legal advice providers both locally and nationally. This is a unique opportunity to make a real difference.

The Project Lead will have overall responsibility for managing and delivering the project in line with its aims and objectives, working alongside the Project Support Assistant and reporting to the Chief Officer.

The ideal candidate will have experience of giving welfare benefit advice and have knowledge of the impact of recent welfare reform. You will also have knowledge of the Equality Act 2010 and how this is applied in advice giving. You will need excellent interpersonal and presentation skills and the ability to communicate with a wide variety of audiences. This post requires travel locally and nationally, a full driving licence is required and access to a car or otherwise able to fulfil the travel requirement.

An application pack, including the job description and personal specification, is available on our website www.rossendalecab.org.uk as well as on the foregoing links. To request an application pack, please email admin@rossendalecab.cabnet.org.uk or phone 01706 252012. Please note that CVs will not be accepted without an application form.

If you would like an informal chat, please contact Rachel Whippy on 01706 252 012/01254 304 110.

Closing date: Monday the 26th of June 2017, 5pm

Interview date: week commencing 10th July 2017

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

The next meeting of the NWMHWRAG 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.

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/