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

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

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

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

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

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New Universal Credit freephone numbers.

Following the announcement by David Gauke that call charges for calls to Universal Credit would be scrapped it appears that the new freephone numbers have been published on Twitter. You can find the actual tweet at https://twitter.com/rightsnet/status/935754885794058240. Rightsnet think these could be free from today. They are as follows:

Universal Credit Live Service

Telephone: 0800 328 9344

Textphone: 0800 328 1344

Universal Credit Full Service

Telephone: 0800 328 5644

Textphone: 0800 328 1344

All numbers are available Monday to Friday between 8am and 6pm so it looks like little account has been taken of those people on UC and in employment. The very people who will mostly only be able to ring at lunch times or on their way home. Ah yes, employment. The thing UC was meant to incentivise!

Calls to these numbers have been free on all providers since 2015. However, GMWRAG has already noted that the textphone number for live and full service is the same. The potential for confusion for when dealing with hearing impaired clients should be obvious, but apparently not. Granted the tweet does says that “If you don’t have a Universal Credit online account and contact us by phone you are using Universal Credit live service… If you have a Universal Credit online account and contact us via your online journal you are using Universal Credit full service.”

QUICK UPDATE:

GMWRAG is highly amused that “building a welfare system that is fit for the modern world”  doesn’t seem to include spending money on having phone numbers which automatically re-direct so, yes, you guessed it… anyone unaware of the new freephone numbers will of course ring the old numbers and will have to listen to a message telling them to ring the new numbers. Will the original phone call still cost? No answer as yet but we think we can guess.

Next meeting of the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group – Questions for the DWP.

The next meeting of the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group (NWMHWRAG) takes place on Friday the 24th of November 2017 as detailed on their pages within the GMWRAG site. Minutes of the last meeting remain available for download but we’d like to remind attendees that the November meeting should include a session with DWP Partnership Managers for full service Universal Credit areas. NWMHWRAG are asking for questions in advance in order to minimise the need for questions to be “taken back”.

Questions should be directed to Helen Rogers at Stockport by no later than Wednesday the 1st of November 2017. This does not prevent questions being asked on the day. It just maximises the chances of having full answers on the day.

Attendees should already know how to contact Helen. GMWRAG is generally reluctant to put contact details such as email addresses and phone numbers on this site as we have history on this opening up inappropriate lines of contact for clients looking for advice as well as resulting in advisers being spammed.

Invitation to take part in research into bereavement and funeral poverty.

With thanks to our friends at NAWRA for passing this on.

You are invited to participate in a study relating to bereavement and funeral poverty. The aim of the research is to understand how the change to Bereavement Support Payment may affect claimants and to consider the adequacy of the support available overall to bereaved families. Your views would be valuable, whether or not you have much experience in this area or with the new benefit.

Participation involves an online questionnaire. It will take around 10 minutes. All questions will be completed anonymously; the researcher will not know who has completed the questionnaire. The researcher is Jennifer Cowen and she can be contacted at c032915c@student.staffs.ac.uk. If you have any further questions about anything to do with the questionnaire, or the research in general, please feel free to contact her.

If you would like to participate, click on the link below to the research questionnaire and further information on the study: Take the survey or the URL below into a browser: http://staffordshire.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_4GccGX3KdhbwHJP

DWP launches yet another consultation in which they will listen very carefully to what you have to say and then… well who knows!

Following on from the report of the Work and Pensions Committee which concluded that bereavement support was “opaque and outdated” the DWP have launched a consultation on reforms to the social fund funeral expenses payments scheme with the aim of making it clearer who is eligible for a payment and easier for people to claim.

Introducing the consultation, Minister for Family Support, Housing and Child Maintenance Caroline Dinenage said –

‘We understand what a distressing and difficult time it can be losing a loved one and we want to make the process of claiming a Funeral Payment as simple as possible..’

The proposals include –

  • allowing recipients of payments to receive additional contributions towards the cost of a funeral from charities, friends and relatives without deducting these from the value of the funeral payment award;
  • introducing an exception for people living in care who receive income-assessed financial support from their local authority towards all or part of their care fees (and therefore not receiving a qualifying benefit), and not assigning them the responsible person status;
  • extending the application period from 3 to 6 months;
  • a shorter application form for claims for children’s funerals;
  • amending regulations to clarify that funeral payments will pay for the necessary costs of a burial with or without exclusive rights of burial;
  • allowing applicants and funeral directors to be able to submit evidence electronically to support a claim for funeral payments; and
  • including medical examiner fees under a proposed unified system of scrutiny of all deaths, if adopted in the future, as a necessary cost as currently covered  for cremation medical fees.

The consultation period runs until the 21st of August 2017. You know what to do.

For more information see Reforms to the Social Fund’s Funeral Expenses Payments

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.

SDP awards following an award of PIP.

A number of GMWRAG members have brought it to our attention that there has been a nosedive in the number of awards of Severe Disability Premium (SDP) since the introduction of Personal Independence Payment (PIP). This has apparently been confirmed via a Freedom of Information request and appears to be related to the removal of SDP from Universal Credit (UC) and a policy intent to not check for SDP entitlement UC takes hold.

It’s worth remembering that checking for entitlement to means-tested benefits in specific scenarios remains an obligation regardless of policy intentions and future changes. See, CE277/2014 for but one example.

The above would also explain why a number of members have reported having to repeatedly send in IS 10s or their equivalent as forms mysteriously drop into some kind of abyss. If GMWRAG members can cast this drop off in any different light please let us know but we thought we’d flag it up after several members highlighted numerous issues fully explained by a policy change e.g. SDP forms going missing; SDP forms taking an age to be processed unless constantly chased; SDP being refused incorrectly or refusing to issue forms in the first place.

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.

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.