Simplification of the benefits system – GMWRAGs Christmas surrender.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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DLA and PIP caselaw for visual impairment.

At the June 2017 Stockport meeting GMWRAG members had a rare opportunity to look directly at issues around hearing and sight impairment in relation to DLA for children and PIP.

Presentations have previously been circulated from both speakers and made available via a post here on the 4th of July 2017. However, for reasons which escape, but which are most likely wholesale incompetence, the presentations have not been made available on a permanent basis in our “presentations and notes” page. Indeed, we had managed to turn the menu item for this off in our Meetings section. Good to see no-one noticed 🙂

Anyway, a number of requests have been made for the case law pack for people with a sight impairment, improvised for the session, to be made properly available. Additionally a number of GMWRAG members have contributed new decisions to be added so, we have been able to produce an updated edition. Nowt special but it’s as good a place as any to start. You can download it from here and find it permanently here, which is a different “here” if you see what we mean. We have also added the NDCS new line on PIP and safety document to the same place.

In other news we appear to have posted up the minutes of the Oldham meeting and then completely forgotten to add them to the minutes section of the web site. Fixed it now.

Updated – GMWRAG resources for advisers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Universal Credit freephone numbers part 2.

Further to our recent post on UC freephone numbers we  have noted that our colleague Barbara Knight from Derby has posted online at the following additional numbers.

Universal Credit housing line

0800 328 3844

Welsh line

0800 328 1744

Payment services

0800 328 0128

At the same time GMWRAG feels it important to bring to your attention the details of Christmas closures for these lines as reported in a somewhat sensationalist manner by the media. We’ll just give you the Grauniad version and leave it at that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O Come All Ye Faithful – the next meeting of the Greater Manchester Strategic Casework Group is upon us.

The next GMSCG meeting takes place on Wednesday the 6th of December 2017 between 9.30am and 11.30am at Garden Court North Chambers, 3rd Floor, Blackfriars House, Parsonage Walk, Manchester, M3 3JA.

Please note that this meeting has been very deliberately scheduled to enable anyone attending the CPAG Universal Credit session in the afternoon at the same venue to come see us also.

The purpose of the meeting remains as ever to
• identify appropriate areas of work for action using the Equality Act 2010 and/or public law
principles
• take an alternative approach to achieve rapidly revised decisions, policy change and financial
recompense by lodging complaints/letters before action and, where appropriate, damages claims or
judicial reviews
• push for systemic change over repeated wrongs by the DWP
• support advisers to take-up this approach, by way of: web pages; training; template letters; case
examples; meetings; a toolkit
• provide an occasional referral mechanism for cases which need to progress beyond a complaint or
letter before action

In public law terms this could be summarised as shifting the focus to the anticipatory duties and responsibilities of DWP and others, rather than the responsibilities of claimants.

The minutes of the last meeting can be downloaded directly from this link but will also be permanently available within the GMSCG pages.  The minutes are on their own password protected page. You can obtain this from any GMSCG member or via a DM to @GMWRAGtweets.

The agenda for the meeting is as follows. It has not been published as a separate item.

Agenda
1) Legal Aid / legal help and the gateway.
Clare Fowler, Howells Solicitors. What is legal help, what are the barriers to obtaining Legal Aid, and what advisers might do to further the case. Issue of extreme low take up of social security discrimination cases though legal aid gateway.
30-40 mins
Reference: Bach Commission, appendix 5, author – Henry Brooke.

2) Public Law Project (PLP) – new guide to exceptional cases funding, (Legal Aid) and welfare rights matters.
Katy Watts or Matt Ahluwalla. New guide in preparation, to support welfare rights advisors to access legal aid by the exceptional cases funding route.
20 mins
Reference: PLP guides

3) DLA to PIP transfers and failures of the DWP to make reasonable adjustments in the process.
Kester Dean. Proposal for possible actions to take to protect vulnerable claimants.
10 mins

4) Anonymous case study & digital exchange and referral tool
Jo Chimes, Project Lead Equality, Rossendale CAB, (& Sian Jordan, Rossendale CAB, & the legal geeks)
Proposal in development: a tool for the exchange and circulation of anonymous case studies, with possible support from legal geeks, ‘Atticus Link’.

The aims of the tool include a means to connect advisors, legal eagles, & organisations, for the progress of cases towards action in the courts, and for exchange of knowledge and practice.
20-25mins

5 ) Case study from a GMSCG member
10 mins

If you would like to attend this or other GMSCG meetings notify please contact Robin Serjeant or DM @GMWRAGtweets and we’ll put you in touch with Robin.

The Miracle Before Christmas.

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

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

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

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

New Universal Credit freephone numbers.

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

Universal Credit Live Service

Telephone: 0800 328 9344

Textphone: 0800 328 1344

Universal Credit Full Service

Telephone: 0800 328 5644

Textphone: 0800 328 1344

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

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

QUICK UPDATE:

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