The next meeting of the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group is upon us.

The next meeting of the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group will be on Friday the 23rd March at 9.30am for a 10am start at Manchester Town Hall.

Details of the room and how to access it are to follow but can we please have volunteers to chair and to take minutes?

The minutes of the last meeting can be found in the usual places.

We will be discussing the group’s “Mission Statement.”,  which you can view by clicking on the foregoing link. This is the blurb that we have used in the past on letters and responses to consultations but, as you can see, it needs updating!

We will also have a discussion about PIP decisions post the RF judgement and the Government’s announcement that it will trawl cases for incorrect decisions. Members may also want to read the minutes of the last GMWRAG meeting which provide significant detail on the live-streamed talk re: RF and what should happen next.

Please bring any (anonymised) cases that you want to discuss.


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.

New PIP tool for advisers from LASA.

Lasa has just launched a new web tool designed to help advisers find details of regulations and case law relating to Personal Independence Payment.

The new web tool is available at

Any help you can provide in sharing a link to pipinfo would be very much appreciated. Like what we have done here 🙂

There’s also have a widget if you’d like to add pipinfo search to your site for your visitors to use. You can find this at GMWRAG likes widgets and we use lots of them. Sadly our web site platform doesn’t accept this kind of tool else we’d be widegting away with the rest of you. .

Information on Lasa’s range of web tools is available @

Now, if someone could just explain what’s wrong with a capital letter at the start of a web site name!

Post Brexit PIP consultation reminder. No webinars involved!

Whilst we’re on a roll, or possibly (an entirely natural and legal) high we may as well remind all GMWRAG members that the deadline for the second PIP consultation approaches immin, imminen, imminen… next week.

We’ve written extensively about it previously (see, we have been plugged back in and rebooted now) and you can find that here. Mostly this is because it’s Friday and we can’t be bothered copying and pasting the whole thing into here. You, however, need to be bothered. This is an important consultation and GMWRAG members need to be represented in responding across the North West.

So, er, there!

Heads up – another PIP consultation to respond to.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has appointed Paul Gray CB to lead the second independent review of PIP. Paul led the first PIP review and the SoS welcomes the opportunity for him to continue to build on that work.

The review will consider how effectively further evidence is being used to assist the correct claim decision and the speed and effectiveness of information-gathering as well as building on recommendations from the first review.

The Terms of Reference for this review are to provide the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions with an independent report evaluating the progress made on the PIP claims process as a result of the longer term recommendations made in the first independent review of the PIP assessment, in particular looking at:

  • the use of IT and speed and effectiveness of the information gathering process during the assessment, looking at data sharing within the Department and across government, including the way we share information gained from the PIP assessment with other organisations to improve health and care services; and
  • how effectively further evidence is being used to assist the correct claim decision, exploring the balance between how much and the type of evidence we source and what we ask the claimant to provide;
  • build on the recommendations and lessons learnt from the first review using, where relevant, findings from the evaluation and Full PIP Rollout data.

A call for evidence will be published later, seeking evidence from individuals and organisations to inform the review, in the near future. The second review will be laid before Parliament by April 2017.

In light of recent unevidenced attempts to reform PIP for no reason other than some civil servants being somewhat surprised that, when you award points for the use of aids and appliances some people might actually qualify solely by that route, we think all GMWRAG members should be concerned about this latest development. PIP reform has not gone away and there isn’t much to salami slice so any suggested reforms may well be fairly radical. Be ready to respond when GMWRAG lets you know the call for evidence is open.

Tom Messere would like your help!

What do you mean you don’t know who Tom Messere is? Tom is a NAWRA committee member and author of the Big Book of Benefits as well as a well known member of Maggies Online Centre.

He would be very interested in hearing about poor practice among PIP assessors of the kind shown in a recent Dispatches programme.

The particular assessor concerned appeared to demonstrate a crass, prejudiced, medicalised and suspicious view of claimants, but seemed to evidence some rather corrupt practises to maximise his piece rate earnings. Such an example may confirm our occasional suspicions of rogue assessors from time to time, going back to DLA rogue EMPs. Nothing new there, then.

But for Tom the bigger concern was the fact that:

  • this bad practise was clearly known about and seemingly condoned by the Assessment Centre where he worked
  • furthermore, he was seen as an exemplar for mentoring a new trainee, and his manager seemed to be quite happy to condone his possibly exaggerated bragging as she removed awkward notices about the right to record interviews.
  • and the much vaunted audit process that we were assured maintained quality even if it contributed to early PIP delays did not seem to have picked up on what must have been a rather high rate of negative recommendations.

It happened to be a Capita assessor, but I am sure these are also issues for Atos too, even if I am sure the majority of assessors are not so jaded, corrupt as appeared. There is good practice and feedback from claimants out there too. . .

The Wales Capita stakeholder forum is having a short meeting with Capita’s director of communications on Wednesday the 8th of June 2016. Tom is attending on behalf of Welfare Rights Advisers Cymru, but is happy to pop a NAWRA hat on too.

He anticipates a defense based on this being a one off rotten apple swiftly cast out of the barrel etc. So at this stage it would be useful to raise initial concerns that suggest that this may not have been a one-off.

In the short term, if you work in a Capita area and get a moment between now and Wednesday, please send Tom a summary of any similar issues as raised by the Dispatches example. to  

It’s a short meeting not a hearing/investigation, so no great detail of the case is needed – just a short anonymised thumbnail summary of key issues and concerns.

If you don’t work in a Capita area – or don’t have time before Wednesday –  please send me any examples anyway.

Tom be happy to collate these and raise with Capita and Atos to encourage some serious changes to education, culture and auditing to as far as possible root this out. Advisers and clients should not have to put up with this sort of nonsense.

Tel: 01348 874505  Mobile: 07729 775581

GMWRAG heading to Reading.

GMWRAG is again running 2 workshops at the Nystagmus Network Open Day on Saturday the 7th of May 2016, which this year will be held at the Hilton Hotel in Reading. The connection between GMWRAG and the Nystagmus Network was established when we were invited to attend their first ever northern Open Day in Manchester in 2012.

Nystagmus is an involuntary movement of the eyes which seriously reduces vision; the time to see, and, makes sharp vision impossible. Few people with Nystagmus in the UK can drive. Most encounter difficulties in everyday life, education, employment and social interaction. Visual functioning scores are worse than for diseases like age-related macular degeneration (AMD) because the macular/fovea is not fully developed in people with Nystagmus.

Last year 2 GMWRAG members attended for the first time and we ran workshops on DLA for children with Nystagmus and PIP for adults with Nystagmus. Both workshops were busy and felt by all concerned to be successful. We’ll be running updated versions of those two workshops this year.

There is plenty of information out there about DLA or PIP claims for the visually impaired but inevitably this is generalised. As a consequence of these workshops GMWRAG produces the only literature we’re aware of that’s specifically about Nystagmus and DLA/PIP.

The latest version of the booklet we use for the workshops is on our workshops page and will soon be up on the NN site itself. The sections on the practicalities of form filling have general applicability but the section on the specific impacts of Nystagmus will be useful for anyone struggling to understand any visual impairment which isn’t total blindness but doesn’t seem to be about distance vision.

GMWRAG members are always happy to talk to organisations representing people with specific medical conditions about how we can assist their members learn about benefit entitlements. We can’t guarantee to work out of area. Our focus remains very much on Greater Manchester and the North West of England/North Wales, but, Contact GMWRAG and we’ll see what we can do.

Court closures in the North West.

Spin this one whichever way you want, but GMWRAG members in many areas will have been dismayed yesterday to discover the final list of court closures in the North West. Many of these venues have been the home to first tier tribunal oral hearings for many years and it is easy to forget that these closures will impact social security claimants and advisers alike at a time when the introduction of PIP is reducing the number of people with access to a vehicle and concessionary travel. It is cold comfort indeed to read that “The proportion able to reach a tribunal within an hour by car will remain unchanged at 83%.”.

Little wonder the Tribunal Service is finally busying itself looking at Alternative Dispute Resolution and IT based solutions for some time in 2017.

The full list of closures can be found here but to make it clear how bleak this is the list includes

  • Accrington County Court
  • Accrington Magistrates’ Court
  • Bolton County Court and Family Court
  • Bury Magistrates’ Court and County Court
  • Oldham County Court
  • Oldham Magistrates’ Court
  • Runcorn (Halton) Magistrates’ Court
  • St Helens Magistrates’ Court
  • Tameside County Court
  • Trafford Magistrates’ Court and Altrincham County Court
  • Wrexham Tribunal (Rhyd Broughton)
  • Kendal Magistrates’ Court and County Court
  • Macclesfield County Court
  • Macclesfield Magistrates’ Court
  • Ormskirk Magistrates’ Court and Family Court
  • Warrington County Court

A small plus is that Stockport and St Helens (County) have survived.

Further details and commentary can be found in the Law Society Gazette. An equally interesting perspective on court closures, IT and ADR can be found on the Clinks blog. In this context of course it is vital that all GMWRAG members are aware of the work of the Bach Commission (no, not that one!) on access to justice as a fundamental right.