Benefit sanctions and the rule of law.

Nicely linking in with the recent go live on our Greater Manchester Strategic Casework Group pages, and the update we’ll be providing at the Stockport GMWRAG meeting next Friday about our plans to push public law remedies, we are pleased to note that the following course is taking place in Manchester. Whilst this event is specifically aimed at tackling benefit sanctions the ideas discussed will have applicability across the board on social security.

Events: Public Law and Judicial Review North: Benefit Sanctions and the Rule of Law

Location: Manchester

Address: BPP LAW SCHOOL, ST JAMES’S BUILDING OXFORD STREET MANCHESTER M1 6FQ

Start date: July 20 2017

A conference on the impact and potential responses to sanctioning and other public law issues for advisers, advocates, lawyers,campaigning organisations, NGO’s and legal services in public bodies

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PDF PROGRAMME 9.30 ARRIVAL AND REGISTRATION 10.00 INTRODUCTION Alison Pickup, Legal Director, Public Law Project 10.05 BENEFIT SANCTIONS AND THE RULE OF LAW Michael Adler, Emeritus Professor of Socio-Legal Studies, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh 10.35 HOW THE FIRST TIER TRIBUNAL (FTT) DEALS WITH SANCTIONS FOLLOWING ‘REILLY’ Stewart Wright, Judge of the Upper Tribunal 11.05 BREAK 11.20 RESEARCH ON THE IMPACT OF BENEFIT SANCTIONS Richard Crellin, Policy Officer, The Children’s Society 11.40 TOP PUBLIC LAW CASES OF THE YEAR Matt Stanbury, Garden Court North Chambers & Alastair Wallace, Irwin Mitchell 12.20: MORNING BREAKOUT SESSIONS CHOOSE ONE OF THREE BELOW

  1. Public law remedies and sanctioning Sanctions can have a very serious and long-lasting effect on claimants’ lives, but challenging them is frequently difficult and time consuming. Come to this session and learn how to: – write a complaint letter which gets results; – speed up appeals; – spot and fund test case litigation; – use judicial review in urgent cases; – win damages for discriminatory treatment Tom Royston, Garden Court North & Katy Watts, Public Law Project 2. Public law workshop Open discussion about how to challenge recurrent themes and systemic problems faced by clients and service users dealing with public bodies. Alison Pickup, Public Law Project 3. Interim relief in review cases Practice and proceedure in urgent judicial review cases. Ian Brownhill QC, No 5 Chambers

13.15 Lunch

AFTERNOON SESSION Chair: Pete Weatherby QC, Garden Court North chambers

14.10 Anti-social behaviour legislation, poverty and discrimination The use of injunctions and other ‘remedies’ against vulnerable people on the streets James Stark, Garden Court North Chambers

14.40 Article 6 in Social Welfare Law Nathalie Lieven QC, Landmark Chambers

15.10 Break

15.25 Afternoon breakouts: 15.25 – 16.25

CHOOSE ONE OF THREE BELOW

  1. Bringing an Equality Act claim in the County Court concerning housing, benefits or education Practice, procedure and common legal aid problems arising in county court discrimination claims, including those brought by way of counterclaim. Joseph Markus, Garden Court North Chambers & Clare Fowler, Howells LLP
  2. Developing sustainable advice services This is a workshop aimed at NfP’s in the advice sector, and will cover common issues in development and governance for NFP advice services. Mark Schwenk, barrister Kenworthy Chambers and Management Committee Member, Greater Manchester Law Centre & Matthew Howgate of Matthew Howgate Consulting & Chris Minnoch, Operations Director, Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG)
  3. Litigating the cuts – an update Oliver Carter, Irwin Mitchell & David Wolfe QC, Matrix Chambers

16.25 Brexit and Benefits Dr Charlotte O’Brien, York Law School

16.55 Closing Address: Access to justice and the Rule of Law Pete Weatherby QC, Garden Court North Chambers

17.15 Finish Standard fee: £192 (£160+VAT) per delegate – private practice and public bodies. Discounted fee: £90 (£75 + VAT) per delegate – Charities, voluntary sector, academics, students, trainee solicitors, pupils and barristers within 2 years of admission. Advisers: £72 (£60 + VAT) per delegate including caseworkers, advisers in CAB’s, Age UK, student advisers and lay advocates working in the voluntary sector. 5% off any online payments 50% off third delegate when 3 book from the same organisation at the same time. Fees include refreshments and lunch. This conference is presented with the supprt of Garden Court North Chambers, BPP Law School and Irwin Mitchell Solicitors.

Agenda for the Tameside GMWRAG meeting now available.

If you’ve been paying attention then you’ll already know that the next GMWRAG meeting will take place on Friday the 9th of December 2016 in Tameside. Just about everything you could possibly want to know was contained in our authoritative (well, long) post here.

The only thing missing from that post was, of course, the agenda. We are pleased to announce that the agenda can now be downloaded from here.

Please remember to download and print both the agenda and minutes and bring them with you to the meeting. GMWRAG hosts are kind enough to provide a room and refreshments from their own pocket. There is no budget for printing. If anyone fancies chairing the p.m. meeting that would be much appreciated.

This is a full day meeting and to add value we have managed to secure the services of two speakers (although two may eventually read four).

SPEAKER 1 – Homeless Prevention Service officers.

The increase in rough sleeping in the towns and cities across Greater Manchester is self-evident. The increase in other forms of homelessness is seen in the queues in reception areas of council homelessness services.

Welfare rights advisers know some of the causes – bedroom tax, benefit cap, rates of LHA for singles and couples in shared accommodation, and under 35’s, as well as massive reductions in community support services, MH support, and housing rights advice services.

Other factors include reduction in hostel bed spaces, reductions in supported accommodation, rent increases that price out benefit claimants, and unfair and unreasonable sanction decisions.

Listen to those tasked with dealing with part of this situation. What can be done by local authorities to meet the need? What legal and policy restrictions do they have to work with? What are the procedures for the single and family homeless officers to respond to housing need of applicants?

David Unsworth and Jean Cavanagh specialise in brokering accommodation for applicants, sometimes vulnerable and hard to accommodate groups. They work with MH services, ex-offender support, hospital discharge teams and others. Mandy Bradbury will come along if she is available. She is the Team Leader for the Homeless Prevention and Assessment Service at Manchester City Council. They are also interested in finding out about advice services available across Greater Manchester, as their service increasingly is looking to place people outside Manchester.

SPEAKER 2 – GM Law Centre John Nicholson, Barrister and Chair of the GM Law Centre Steering Group) will talk about the reasons for the project, the current stage of development, and plans for the next 2 years and more.

Both speakers have plenty of time built into the agenda for questions and discussion.

We look forward to seeing you there.

 

The first post European era minutes of the GMWRAG Manchester meeting are now available plus lots of supporting documentations from the speakers and, yes, we are aiming for the longest title ever…

We’ve now had a taste of the future, what with needing to take passports to get into Manchester town hall for our last meeting! The first post European GMWRAG minutes are now available for download from our minutes page. Grab them now before they get turned back at the borders. On the plus side, sanctions will presumably need to be re-named as we start to lose French words from our language! The “Universal” in Universal Credit is in trouble too although possibly in more ways than we can cover here 🙂

In addition the supporting documents below have all been added to our presentations and notes pages.

Details of the next GMWRAG meeting in Trafford in September will be posted as soon as we have them.

Manchester GMWRAG meeting agenda now available plus important information if you are attending.

The agenda for the Manchester GMWRAG meeting is now available for download. The minutes of the last meeting remain available from our meetings pages.

As we have previously detailed, the meeting takes place at Manchester Town Hall on Friday the 17th of June 2016. We can now confirm that we have 3 speakers around the ongoing concerns on the impact of benefit sanctions.

The speakers are:

  • Catherine Connors, Skills and Work Board Business Manager – talking about “DWP Benefit Conditionality and Sanctions In Salford – One Year On”.
  • Dr. Lisa Scullion, Research Fellow at Salford Housing and Urban Studies Unit at the University of Salford – talking about www.welfareconditionality.ac.uk.
  • Kester Dean, Salford Unemployed and Community Resource Centre – talking about legal challenges to benefit sanctions and conditionality.

You can find more about the speakers via our previous post.

The meeting will open at 9:30am for a 10:00am start. Please note that, despite our having three speakers, the meeting is a half day and it is intended to close the meeting no later than 1:00pm.

IMPORTANT

As per previous posts about this meeting it remains the case that we find ourselves in the unusual position of needing to ask members for an indication as to who will be attending the meeting so passes can be issued in advance for visitors. We are checking out whether we can herd you into one meeting place and take you through security but, in the meantime, members should email Robin Serjeant at Manchester at r.serjeant@manchester.gov.uk to confirm your attendance.

If you do not confirm your attendance to Robin we cannot guarantee that you will be allowed in. There is currently additional security in place because of the Referendum.

The two of you who contacted us to say you could attend the Thursday meeting… well we hope you can make the Friday. The other one… don’t worry we’ll forward all your emails to Robin.

 

Sanctions report goes viral.

Following on from yesterdays flurry of posts on sanctions we are pleased to note that the Salford report “DWP Benefit Conditionality and Sanctions in Salford – One Year On.” has now gone viral nationally. In what The Independent is claiming as an “exclusive” titled “Benefit sanctions lead claimants to suicide, crime and destitution, warns damning report”

Ashley Cowburn (@ashcowburn) writes that “Contrary to the DWP’s insistence that the threat of sanctioning encourages social security claimants to move from benefits into work, the system at present causes “damage to the wellbeing of vulnerable claimants and can lead to hunger, debt and destitution”, the report’s authors claim.”

“The report says that the rate of people being sanctioned in the area has not reduced over the previous 12 month period. But, critically, it adds: “Register sizes are decreasing and we believe this is in part due to a growing number of ‘disappeared’. These are claimants who drop their benefit claim or who move off benefit but do not take up employment. The Government has refused to publish destination data.”

DWP have now been forced into a response to the report which says little more than “A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “It’s only right that there are conditions attached to receiving benefits – this is nothing new. Sanctions are a long-standing part of the welfare system and are only applied where people fail to engage with the support on offer.”

This neglected to mention that, whilst historically sanctions have formally been around since the Poor Laws they were usually directed at preventing people relying upon the state, or, somewhat ironically aimed at local communities failing to fulfill what we would now characterise as their big society” obligations. Compare and contrast this to the scenario nowadays where sanctioning claimants is rife but the sanctioning of work providers usually involves the award of another contract.

At the time of writing the article has been shared nearly 700 times and has attracted more than 200 comments. Feel free to add to that as, as ever, the comments section can make for depressing reading. This is an important message and we need to get people hearing it and acting.

Sticking with sanctions – although we’d rather not!

Our friends at NAWRA have alerted us to the little known fact that the National Audit Office (NAO) is currently carrying out a study of the DWP’s benefit sanctions regime.  The terms of reference are at www.nao.org.uk/work-in-progress/benefit-sanctions.

The study runs until the Autumn of 2016 so there is time to send in relevant information and insights to the inquiry team.

The audit manager is Colin Ross and his email address is Colin.ROSS@nao.gsi.gov.uk.  There is also a contact form on the NAO web site.