Urgent update for anyone thinking of attending tomorrows meeting of the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group in Manchester.

The next meeting of the NWMHWRAG takes place tomorrow in Manchester. Full details were contained in our previous post. A number of you may be coming along tomorrow to hear Dan Manville, Mental Health Welfare Rights Officer from Wolverhampton Council talking about Right to Reside cases.

Those of you who read the previous post about this meeting should be aware that entry to the venue requires you to notify of your attendance in advance as per the previous post. Group members on the mailing list have been reminded of the need to do this. However, those wishing to attend who are not on the email mailing list, need to also be aware of the need to do this.

So, there you go.

GMWRAG would like to also point out in light of recent events Manchester Victoria station remains closed to enable forensic analysis and there are a number of transport diversions in place. Please check relevant web sites for updates but, at the time of writing, the situation is as follows:

  • Metrolink:  Victoria station remains closed. The Bury line will stop at Queens Road. The Rochdale via Oldham line will finish at Monsall. There will be no Metrolink services calling or operating through Market Street, Shudehill or Manchester Victoria.
  • Buses: All bus services are operating but there are diversions in place to some services. There are replacment bus services operating from Central Park and Queens Road to Piccadilly Gardens (stand R), Piccadilly Station (Fairfield Street) and Shudehil (stand B).
  • Roads: As roads may be busier than usual, drivers have been advised to consider taking public transport where possible. Trinity Way has reopened to traffic in both directions, but many roads remain closed and highways are extremely busy. Deansgate is currently closed.

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

Ooh look. GMWRAG has remembered that we’re supposed to have meetings.

You may have been wondering what on earth happened to the first scheduled GMWRAG meeting of 2017 back in March. As ever, we’ve had to do a little rejigging and as a consequence of that we are pleased to announce that our first meeting of 2017 will take place at the (almost) height of summer in sunny Stockport courtesy of our friends at Stockport Advice (or Benefits Appeal Help as they now appear to be known!). An agenda will be cobbled together circulated in due course. If members have any priorities for speakers please let us know asap via @GMWRAGTweets.

The minutes of the last meeting, which took place in Tameside in December 2016, can still be downloaded from here.

In the meantime all you need to know is that the meeting is our new style “clandestine” meeting :).

In order to get into our exclusive club you will need to make your way to Fred Perry House where you will be hooded and escorted to the depths of Stopford House, otherwise known as “next door”. Special tokens and a magic password will need to be ordered in advance in order to give each of you a sticker with your name on to say that, yes, you are a part of the show.

We will, as ever, cast open the doors with a dramatic swoosh and maybe a very large gong at 9:30am for lukewarm coffee, tea from an urn down the corridor, cold water and stale biscuits. Oh yeah, and networking. Is that still a thing? The meeting itself will commence at 10:00am and will run to 4:00pm with a break for lunch if you ask nicely and play well.

GMWRAG hopes our members are able to discern fact from “fake news” in the above paragraphs. Agenda to follow.

GMWRAG isn’t tracking the general election but…

GMWRAG has exhausted itself electing a new GM (Greater Manchester NOT genetically modified!) Mayor and has little enthusiasm for closely tracking the forthcoming General Election. However, we’re happy to point our members to a few resources which will help you do so if you wish. It is already very noticeable that this is not going to be an election in which welfare reform and poverty are at the top of anyone’s list.

The BBC have helpfully produced an election tracker, which you can find at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2017-39844115 or by clicking the magic words in this sentence. “Welfare” comes in at 11th on the number of things they’re tracking although you could argue that “Pensions” coming in at 5th has some significance! Lots of tabloids are tracking little more than who the pundits think will win but you could invest some of your diminishing faith in pollsters following the excess of statistics at Electoral Calculus.

Of more interest our friends at Rightsnet have identified at least three suggestions for manifestos. GMWRAG thinks it’s worthwhile digesting all three but may wonder out loud whatever happened to campaigning to change things rather than asking for tweaks to the status quo? Can Universal Credit ever be made to work, or make work pay (as opposed to merely function in the former case!)? No mention of the mess which is the Benefit Cap or even DHPs!

– Citizens Advice: Citizens Advice has 5 big asks for the next government
– CPAG: Election 2017 manifesto
– The Law Society: Law Society unveils election manifesto for Brexit Britain

Oh yeah, er…

GMWRAG members may well be wondering what happened to the March 2017 GMWRAG meeting? Much as we’d love to blame that “B****t” word the truth is that GMWRAG had a little bit of a hibernation due to a significant upswing in non-work activities eating into the time we would normally use to do GMWRAG things. Please rest assured that we haven’t forgotten and are working as we type this to ensure a GMWRAG meeting takes place asap as there is much to catch up on.

We’ll be trying to keep to the sequence laid out in the Our meetings section as best we can but watch this space (or probably one above it to be technically accurate) for further updates.

Any suggestions for speakers will be gratefully received on Twitter @GMWRAGTweets.

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.

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.

CPAG legal challenge – do you have a client affected by the two child limit to tax credits/ universal credit?

Do you have any clients who will be affected by the recent legislative changes to Child Tax Credit and Universal Credit due to come into effect 6 April 2017?

The Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 introduced fundamental changes to Child Tax Credit and Universal Credit, limiting child tax credit and universal credit to the first two children in a household. These changes, commonly known as the 2 child rule, will come into force from the 6th of April 2017 together with certain exceptions and transitional arrangements set out in recently published regulations.

The Child Poverty Action Group is looking into the possible routes of legal challenge to the 2 child rule and would like your help in locating potential claimants who would be affected by this rule and who would be willing to be part of a CPAG legal challenge.

CPAG is looking in general for:

  • Any family already claiming benefits with two children and looking to have more in the near future

But also the following particular types of households which may be unfairly affected by the rule (though this is not an exhaustive list of examples):

  • Two lone parent household units already with two children each considering forming a single ‘blended family’ arrangement because the adults have become a couple;
  • An individual or couple caring for one or two ‘kinship’ children but contemplating having children of their own;
  • A family which, when the children were born, did not require state support but now has a need to because of an unexpected change in circumstances (e.g. loss of a job); and
  • A parent who is religiously or philosophically opposed to birth control.

If you can help, please complete the attached test case referral form (save it to your computer first) and email it to testcases@cpag.org.uk

CPAG-Test-case-referral-form