An invitation to GMWRAG members to take part in something a little bit different.

Elaine Craig, a Masters Psychology Student at Manchester Metropolitan University. who joined the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group along with Kim Heyes in November 2017, would like to inform you of a research project she is doing which is relevant to GMWRAG members.She’d like to ask whether the any GMWRAG members would consider taking part in a reformation agenda Focus Group. The aim is to review the current statutory out-of-work and back-to-work support experienced by individuals with mental health challenges in order to develop a more suitable intervention.

The study is called An Analysis of Workplace Wellbeing Supporting a ‘Staying Well at Work’ Intervention’.

There is evidence highlighting current statutory back-to-work process are inappropriate financially penalising and patronising people who cannot/do not engage. Workshops are job-seeker orientated and do not address mental health challenges specific to the workplace. Enhancing this understanding will enable us to develop a person-centered intervention, supporting people who want to get back into employment after a period of ill health. The findings of which, we will feed back to the DWP.

Focus group participants’ need have a working knowledge of the statutory welfare framework and practitioner experience of real life challenges faces by individuals trying to access support. They will be asked if they would like to participate in an informal discussion with four other group members, lasting approximately 60 minutes (but no longer than 90 minutes) at Manchester Metropolitan University.

GMWRAG have years of experience in supporting this vulnerable group and your support would be greatly appreciated. Additionally I am more than willing to come to the next meeting and give a 5 minute presentation about the research proposal should this be suitable.

Please find below an overview of the study, which will inform your considerations and feel free to contact Elaine should you have any further questions by either ringing 07730 032 826 or emailing elaine.m.craig@stu.mmu.ac.uk

Focus Group Particpant Information Sheet

Workplace Wellbeing poster

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Seeking claimants to take legal cases over PIP dishonesty

Disability News Service has been investigating claims of dishonesty in the PIP assessment process for 18 months.

A leading discrimination lawyer has now said he may be able to take legal cases on behalf of PIP claimants who believe that the HCPs who carried out their assessments did not honestly report the results.

Cases would be taken under the Equality Act, but crucially the assessment must have happened in the last 6 months, for legal reasons.

If GMWRAG members know of any PIP claimants who have had an assessment in the last few months and want to consider legal action, please contact DNS – with some brief details of the dishonesty and when it took place – either by phone or email*.

Here’s some background to the DNS investigation…

In November 2016, DNS began an investigation into claims that healthcare professionals who carry out face-to-face assessments of benefit claimants had lied, ignored written evidence and dishonestly reported the results of physical examinations.

The claims involved HCPs working for both Capita and Atos.

The alleged dishonesty included HCPs: refusing to accept further written evidence from medical experts; wrongly claiming that physical examinations had been carried out; refusing to list all medications; ignoring or misreporting key information detailed during the assessment; and reporting a refusal to co-operate with a physical examination, when they were unable to complete it because of their impairment.

The first story was published in January 2017 and since then, DNS has compiled claims of dishonesty made by about 300 PIP claimants.

Over 18 months, evidence of institutional dishonesty has continued to build, and many of the stories published by DNS have been shocking.

DNS also reported how secret recordings revealed how a nurse failed to mention a disabled woman’s near-fatal asthma attacks, accidental overdoses and repeated blackouts in yet another dishonest benefits assessment report.

The DWP, Capita and Atos continued to insist that there is no dishonesty in the process as the evidence continued to mount.

Since the investigation began, many claimants have expressed a wish to take legal action against assessment companies because of harm caused to them and the discrimination they believe they faced.

There was some hope when a court ruled last year that a disabled woman should be awarded £5,000 compensation by Atos, after a dishonest report by one of its assessors led to her being awarded the wrong level of benefits, but Atos had failed to offer a defence to her claim for damages and is now challenging the court’s ruling.

And there was hope when solicitor Daniel Donaldson announced earlier this month that he was taking a case against DWP in the Scottish courts for allegedly discriminating against him in the way it dealt with his PIP claim.

DNS has now been in touch with a leading London-based lawyer, who has offered to consider cases of PIP claimants who allege dishonesty by their assessors, to see if there is a way to take legal action against Atos or Capita under the Equality Act.

*If you’re interested in potentially taking a legal case, contact DNS editor John Pring by phone (weekdays only, please: 01635 228907) or email: john@disabilitynewsservice.com

CPAG challenge to the two child limit succeeds but only in part.

CPAG have issued a statement today which reads as follows:

On 18 August 2017, CPAG issued a claim for judicial review in the High Court against the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (SSWP) to challenge the two child limit, introduced by the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016. Permission was granted on 17 October 2017 and the case was heard across two days on 6 and 7 February 2018.

Judgment was given on 20 April 2018 allowing the challenge in part.  The Court accepted CPAG’s arguments that the ordering restriction on the kinship care exception was perverse and therefore unlawful.  The wider challenge to the policy as a whole was dismissed.  CPAG is looking to appeal this aspect of the case. Read the judgment.

The case is brought on behalf of two lone mothers, who each already had more than one child born before 6 April 2017 and gave birth to an ‘additional’ child after that date, as well as a household who would be exempt from the policy but for the fact that the child being looked after under a child arrangement order was taken in as the family’s second child before the couple went on to have a natural child of their own (the family’s third child).

Grounds of challenge are:

(i) Direct breach of Article 8 (right to private and family life) and Article 12 (right to marry and found a family) given that the policy is intended to influence intimate behaviour and bring about smaller families;

(ii) Discrimination of children with multiple siblings in respect of Article 8 and Article 1, Protocol 1 given that a child with no siblings or only one sibling has their subsistence needs met through the social security system, while a child with 2 or more siblings does not; and

(iii) The ordering or sequencing requirement to qualify for an exception is unlawful for the same reasons given in (ii) above, as well as being irrational.

In the two claimant households headed up by lone parents, one is on income support, the other on WTC. Neither of the lone mothers intended to get pregnant with the ‘additional child’, indeed one of them was on the pill at the time, but equally for moral reasons neither of them was prepared to consider terminating the pregnancy.  In the third claimant household, the father works full-time while the mother is currently on maternity leave from her part-time job.

Background

On 6 April 2017, new rules came into force limiting the child element of child tax credit (CTC) and universal credit (UC) awards to two children. In CTC, this limit only applies to a third or subsequent child born on or after 6 April 2017; in UC the limit applies from 6 April 2017 (irrespective of when the child was born) though transitional protection currently applies to third or subsequent children born before 6 April 2017. There are a limited number of exceptions to this 2 child limit meaning that it does not apply to a third or subsequent child in the following circumstances: multiple births, adoption from local authority care, kinship care and children likely to have been conceived as a result of rape or a coercive or controlling relationship.

CPAG considers that the 2 child limit unlawfully discriminates against a number of different groups including, but not limited to, children with multiple siblings, large families and those with a religious or moral objection to the use of birth control. Further, the principal policy justification for the limit is logically flawed. In its impact assessment, DWP referred to the 2 child limit as ‘ensur[ing] that the benefits system is fair to those who pay for it, as well as those who benefit from it, ensuring those on benefits face the same financial choices around the number of children they can afford as those supporting themselves through work.’ However, 70% of those claiming tax credits are already working severely undermining such a fairness objective.

It is estimated that more than 250 000 children will be pushed into poverty as a result of this measure by the end of the decade, representing a 10% increase in child poverty. A similar number of children already living in poverty will fall deeper into poverty. Given such a severe impact on child poverty, the policy is in breach of the UK’s obligation under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to give primary consideration to the best interests of the child. In these circumstances, the discriminatory treatment cannot be justified.

DWP decide best way to tackle overwhelming psychological distress is to pretend nothing has happened.

DWP have issued a FAQ for stakeholders in light of the MH decision. GMWRAG is of the view this is less than helpful and perhaps even less helpful than that. Our view is that the law is now the descriptors without the words ‘for reasons other than psychological distress’ included on 1c, d and f – and that is what should be applied. DWP appear to be of the strange view that they can’t implement anything until they have issued new guidance and so in the meantime they will continue making decisions in line with the November 2017 guidance which reflects their alleged original policy intent. This is despite a court decision which, amongst many other detailed findings, noted that there was simply no evidence of this alleged “original policy intent” at all.

It would appear DWP  are therefore intent upon making further decisions which are clearly outside the legislation and are equally intent upon repeating the mistake they made on the IB to ESA conversion.

Advisers who find that the correct wording of the activity means someone doesn’t get a new award or the right amount, or is refused a revision or supersession will need, sadly, to use the entire argument which was used in MH to challenge such decision, pending the issuing of guidance which GMWRAG cannot see saying anything other than “as you were”. Of course if, as we can probably anticipate, it does try to attempt to navigate its way beyond anything other than a full reversion to the original wording then that’s a whole other argument to be had.

GMWRAG will of course publish the new guidance as soon as it’s “out there”. We anticipate it will very much be “out there” but perhaps not as DWP intended.

Next meeting of the Greater Manchester Strategic Casework Group.

The next meeting of the Greater Manchester Strategic Casework Group will take place on Wednesday the 21st of March 2018. It is a game of two halves and the agenda currently looks as follows:

10:00am to 13:00pm

Garden Court North Chambers, Blackfriars House, Parsonage, Manchester, M3 2JA

Agenda  

1) ‘Rutherford’  and ‘Bedroom Tax’. The case  taken to the Supreme Court.

Sangeeta Enright, formerly caseworker at Ridley and Hall, (solicitors) and Tom Royston of Garden Court Chambers.

2)  Update on ‘ripple-bob’ [working title] – proposal for a share and refer digital platform (and not a discussion on near space astronomical object!).

Jo Chimes, Equality Project Lead at Rossendale Citizens Advice. 

3) Attendees brief activity

Break

4) ‘Small claims courts’ and compensation for claimants, using duties under the  Equality Act 2010 – Kester Dean.

5) Update on some recent JR applications over Universal Credit  and current Court of Appeal stage in the argument regarding applying the Human Rights Act to social security appeals by way of the Carmichael case – Lucy Cadd from Leigh Day solicitors.

6) Cases and issues update, including disputes over reasonableness of home visits for claim assessments.

7) Any other business.

Details of what we’re doing in the afternoon will have already been circulated to the small select group of invitees (that’s got you intrigued :)). More information as we have it.

For those new to the Strategic Casework Group, its purposes are:

  • use a strategic approach to stop wrong and harmful decisions and actions by the DWP,  its agents, and HMRC, alongside revisions and appeals
  • share experience, knowledge and practice as widely as possible
  • use the Equality Act 2010, public law duties and human rights legislation
  • promote the take up of this approach, with advisors and others
  • produce strategic casework materials, provide training, and develop process for referrals to specialist legal advice and representation

Updated – GMWRAG resources for advisers.

GMWRAG has updated the sub pages of the NWMHWRAG 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.

Countdown to the October the 6th GMWRAG meeting in Oldham.

We posted full details of the next GMWRAG meeting as far back as the 12th of July 2017. To save yourself (well, us) some time, you can have a look at that post now.  Everything you need is in there. The date, the time, the place , how to get there and even tentative details of a speaker.

A quick hint. It’s a full day meeting on Friday the 6th of October 2017 (that bit wot is in the title of this post) and you’re still going to have to read that previous post and remember to bring your own minutes from the last meeting.

We’re waiting for final confirmation on our morning speaker but we can confirm that our afternoon speaker will definitely be Vivien Robinson, DWP Partnership Manager, who will be talking about the local roll out of full service Universal Credit from 2:00pm onward.

Some of you may remember that in a previous post we detailed an update to UC roll out and this included the news that Oldham was rolling out from April 2017.

As soon as our a.m. speaker is confirmed the full agenda will be published here.

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.