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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy reading.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update on the roll-out of Universal Credit.

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

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

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

  • April 2017
Oldham
  • July 2017
Trafford

Cheshire East – Crewe

Cheshire West & Chester – Chester

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

Tameside

Cheshire East – Congleton, Macclesfield

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

Bury

  • June 2018
Salford
  • July 2018
Bolton

The minutes of the Stockport GMWRAG meeting are now available.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.