GMWRAG at PLP Conference North on Benefit Sanctions and the rule of law.

GMWRAG members turned out en masse for the PLP Conference North at the BPP Law School in Manchester last week. There was particularly strong representation from the newly formed GM Strategic Casework Group and much work is now being done to assimilate what was learnt through a long day of networking, lectures and workshops.

We have attempted a brief taster below and in due course we hope to present some the key documents from the day which are not already in the public domain. Where we can we have provided links so if you want to know who someone is or what they said then please click away.

Happy reading.

Michael Adler Benefit sanctions and the rule of law – Great Britain is 33rd of 40 OECD countries in terms of severity of work incentives. We are worse than South Korea. The slide did say “Korea”. How sad that someone had to ask which one!

2012 was the first year the number of benefit sanctions exceeded the number of fines for criminal offences (Just let that one sink in!)

Judge Wright UT – How the first tier tribunal deals with sanctions following Reilly – the Government response to Jobseekers (Back To Work Schemes) Act 2013 breaching Article 6 is due in August 2017. Could impact many stayed Reilly cases.

Richard CrellinResearch on the impact of benefit sanctions – Research is being undermined by DWP repeatedly resetting the clock on FoI requests at 19 days by asking for clarifications. They refuse to provide data and then publish it as a response on the day any report with is released.

Alison Pickup – Public Law Workshop – looked at project approaches to systemic issues with organisations i.e. not just using the law. We were especially interested in the idea that challenging an apparent unfairness could involve more than litigation e.g. campaigning; publicity; partnership working and so on.

James Stark – Anti-social behaviour legislation, poverty and discriminationvivid description of the Tour De France being used as a test bed for clearing the street homeless and beggars across the UK. People being imprisoned for 6 months for begging for 50p. Longer than under the Vagrancy Act 1824 (1 month).

Zoe Leventhal – Article 6 in social welfare law – Zoe has history on Article 6 challenges. Currently testing the legality of a refusal by the SoS to extend the right to a late MR so appeal rights are lost. A 3 judge panel has sat on whether denial of appeal is a breach of article 6 and whether JR is a sufficient remedy. Decision due in August 2017.

Joseph Markus and Clare Fowler – Bringing an EA 10 claim in the County Court concerning housing, benefits and education. How to bypass the Civil Legal Aid telephone Gateway issues on discrimination cases.

Charlotte O’Brien – Brexit and benefits – There is significant potential for an “administrative cataclysm” yet this is not even on agenda. Need to understand that even the most innocuous changes to benefits now e.g. definitions of work, will have huge impact on who stays post Brexit.

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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.