An update from our friends at Leigh Day.

GMWRAG was doubtless amongst many who received a recent update from Leigh Day. This is a timely reminder of how strategic casework might never be more relevant. However, as the email began with “Alright…” some editing was in order 🙂

They think we are going to have a lot of work on unpicking the government response to Coronavirus, in particular in relation to the administration of benefits. A lot of people are going to become reliant on benefits for the first time and potentially for an extended period of time.

They have one JR already in relation to the requirement for ‘self-employed’ workers to claim UC rather than get SSP or benefit from furlough payments (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/mar/22/rishi-sunak-under-pressure-to-bail-out-self-employed)

They are looking at the failure to raise legacy benefits in line with what has been done with UC. If GMWRAG members know of any rare person who is entitled SDP and self employed and also on legacy benefits they would be perfect for this but anyone impacted could potentially claim.

They would also be interested to know if any JCP’s are sanctioning people for failing to comply with conditionality at this time.

Welfare benefits advisers are going to be the first people to see the impact of any issues the changes made are having on the benefits system. If you spot anything you think is particularly grim and/or widespread and worth a challenge and want to talk it through please do let them know.

Housing Systems Briefing on Coronavirus and benefits.

Our friends at Housing Systems have put together a briefing and have asked us to specifically share it via the GMWRAG web site?

For once we’re not even nicking off Rightsnet. Housing Systems have told us what they put there and asked us to duplicate. So here you go. Simple and to the point.

Housing Systems have put together a briefing for benefits advisers
https://www.housingsystems.co.uk/News/Briefings/2020

Please note that the briefing will be updated as more information becomes available. It is very clearly and somewhat inevitably labelled “v1”.

The GM bit of GMWRAG.

GMWRAG is painfully conscious of trying to avoid being yet another source of (often duplicated) information about the many social security changes caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In light of that we’d like to offer a slightly different role.

Firstly, we’d like to offer all GM welfare rights advice services the opportunity to post information up here (and via @GMWRAGtweets) about how access to welfare rights advice has been affected and amended in light of events. Please contact us either via Twitter DM or the usual email routes if you have information about your advice lines; online referrals; opening times or any other aspect of alternative service provision.

We think this would be a good way to highlight local provision as well as innovation.

Secondly, we’d like to offer any advisers who are currently socially distancing or socially isolating the opportunity to write about the experience from the perspective of being an adviser; trying to keep a service going and trying to not stress out.

This can be as long or as short as you want. In many ways the longer the better. This is your opportunity to describe what the front line currently looks like. We fully appreciate we may get no responses at all at present as people work flat out to maintain something like a status quo. However, the offer is there.

You can email us re: either of the above at

GMWRAG

at

hotmail

dot

co

dot

uk

We absolutely cannot guarantee our responsiveness at present but we’ll certainly do the best we can.

URGENT: North West Mental Health WRAs Group meeting has been cancelled and re-arranged.

The meeting of the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group on the 27th March 2020 has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The speaker, Susan Perry, Team Leader at DWP Disability Services, has agreed to re-schedule for Friday the 29th of May 2020.

This meeting remains at 9.30am for 10am at Greater Manchester Law Centre as per our previous post.

A reminder and further confirmation nearer the time.

GMWRAG meetings part 2.

You may have been expecting the next GMWRAG post to be something about Covid-19. It is not (much).

Further to our recent post re: the next meeting of the NWMHWRAG we have been advised by Greater Manchester Law Centre via Twitter that they will “get the kettle on”. Better still the email which told us that all those complex instructions on how to get there – “press a buzzer and wait for someone to let you in.” – can be superseded as “The buzzer’s broke; just let yourselves in.”. We’re not sure this is the safest advice but go with it and see what happens.

GMWRAG takes no responsibility for people stood outside like lemons waiting for something to happen.

Those of you awaiting confirmation that the next GMWRAG meeting is cancelled will have to wait a little longer. At present, the meeting proceeds on the 15th of May 2020 albeit that our intended speaker @citizenbradshaw has been told to step down by his wife because he’s on holiday. Yes, you really did just read that correctly 🙂

A replacement speaker (also from Leigh Day) has been tentatively sorted by the kind Mr. Bradshaw so at present we’re all systems go for both the GM UC meeting and the pm GMWRAG meeting.

More meetings for GMWRAG members.

The next meeting of the NWMHWRAG will be on Friday the 27th of March 2020 at 9.30am for a 10am start.

The speaker will be Susan Perry, Team Leader in Disability Services at Chorlton Service Centre. She will be talking about Personal Independence Payment. They aim to finish by 1pm.

The meeting will be at Greater Manchester Law Centre, 667-669 Stockport Rd, Levenshulme, Manchester, M12 4QE.

The centre is on the A6 between (little) Asda and Crowcroft Park.
There is a car park at the centre.

192 bus from Piccadilly Gardens.
The centre is on left as you head south out of town on the A6, between Crowcroft Park and (little) Asda.

Train from to Levenshulme Station.
As you come out of the train station, turn left onto Albert Road, then turn left again at the T-junction with Stockport Road.

The Law Centre is a short walk north (ie towards the city centre) on your right, shortly after you pass Asda.

The centre is the smaller of the two buildings. When you arrive you need to press a buzzer and wait for someone to let you in.

It’s been a long time comin’ but I know a change gonna come!

GMWRAG is only mildly ecstatic to bring to your attention to the launch of an inquiry by the Work and Pensions Committee into the five week wait for the first payment of Universal Credit. Putting aside our only slight incredulity that it’s taken them this long in the face of such overwhelming evidence of there being a fundamental problem based on a fallacy about the frequency with which people get paid and the way in which people budget… GMWRAG welcomes the inquiry and urges all GMWRAG members to make a contribution. This really is a “put up or shut up” moment. Indeed, it could be argued that most of the work has been done already.

“Five weeks too long” by the Trussell Trust.

“We need to end the five week wait” by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

“Five week wait must go” by Citizens Advice.

We could go on, and we will (this is the but we always thieve from Rightsnet).

Many claimant support organisations have concluded that the five-week wait must be reduced or eliminated entirely so the Committee summarises some of the suggested options for change, including making advances non-repayable; offering non-repayable advances to some claimants, such as those with a vulnerability; allowing more flexibility to backdate claims; extending run-on payments to cover all legacy benefits; substantially reducing the repayment rates for advances; and paying universal credit two-weekly.

With the aim of helping the government ‘better understand’ the upsides and downsides of these options, and to explore other possible solutions, the Committee seeks views on the following questions –

  • to what extent have the mitigations the government has introduced so far (such as advance payments) helped to reduce the negative impact of the five-week wait?
  • what problems do claimants still experience during the five-week wait?
  • what is the best way of offsetting the impact of the five-week wait?
  • is it possible to estimate how much this would cost the Department?
  • is it possible to estimate any costs or savings to third parties (for example, support organisations)?
  • are different mitigating options needed for different groups of claimants?
  • are there barriers or potential unintended consequences to removing the five-week wait – either for claimants or the Department? How can they be overcome?

NB – responses must reach the Committee by Friday the 17th of April 2020.

Commenting on the inquiry, Committee Chair Stephen Timms said –

‘It’s now widely recognised that the lengthy wait for a first payment of universal credit is causing real difficulties for people—so it’s hugely welcome that the Minister is open to looking at how to fix it. The Committee wants to look carefully at all the possible solutions, and work out which are the most practical, affordable, and likely to make a meaningful difference to people’s lives.’

For more details see New Inquiry: Universal Credit: the wait for a first payment from parliament.uk.

If anyone would like to share their responses with GMWRAG we will be more than happy to publish them both as a repository of suggested good practice and to inspire those of you so overwhelmed with anger and cases you don’t know quite where to start.

“Fighting Together For Free Access To Justice” event at Greater Manchester Law Centre..

GMWRAG is not one for fighting but on this occasion we’ll make an exception.

On Saturday the 21st of March 2020 Greater Manchester Law Centre are hosting an event titled “Fighting Together For Free Access To Justice”. The more eagle-eyed amongst you may notice that this has in fact been their strap-line for some time. Anyway…

The event will discuss

  • Combating Universal Credit.
  • Supporting and enforcing workers’ rights for those in the Gig Economy and on zero hours contracts.
  • Promoting and demanding the right to decent, affordable housing that provides secure homes for everyone.

All three bouts appear to be reffed by some bloke called Jeremy Corbyn MP. We’ve provided a link in case you need more information on who he is.

As with all good fights spaces are limited and things will (ahem) “kick off” at 12:45pm for a 1pm start with the last man standing to be declared around 2:45pm so you can wander off to the football and kick off all over again.

Please RSVP to developmentworker@gmlaw.org.uk confirming your attendance.

For more information, please call 0161 769 2245.

Ipswich, Bolton, Dead Parrots and the resurrection of the “northerly” GMWRAG Strategic Casework Group.

Many GMWRAG members looked forward enthusiastically to meetings of our Strategic Casework Group. Indeed, the last entry on the SCG pages (until today)looked forward to the GMWRAG meeting on 16th June 2017! Sadly, thanks to life getting in the way of the steering group, the wheels fell off. However this parrot is not quite dead:

Greater Manchester Law Centre are hoping to breathe life into the Norwegian Blue once more and propose a meeting to plot a way forward on Tuesday the 28th of April 2020 at, 9.30am, at the Law Centre, above the Jain Community Centre, 669 Stockport Rd, Levenshulme, Manchester M12 4QE.

Anyone interested would be wise to email danmanville@gmlaw.org.uk so Dan can keep an eye on the numbers; it’s not a huge room!

We’re hoping to create a more northerly focus to the group going forward so please don’t be put off by the Greater Manchester badging…

See you there.