The Stockport GMWRAG meeting is here – Friday the 16th of June 2017. Speakers, public transport, presenting officers and biscuit details all below.

On the 10th of May 2017 GMWRAG quietly announced that the next meeting (indeed the first of 2017) would take place in Stockport. You can find that post here but we’re now in a position to provide you with full details and there are a lot of them. Please note that a number of key details have changed from that original post, not least the venue. Soooo…

The next GMWRAG meeting is a full day meeting and takes place in room 5 of Stockport Town Hall (NOT Fred Perry House as we originally suggested) on Friday the 16th of June 2017. Doors will open for refreshments, networking and those without any sense of direction at 9:30am for a 10:00am start.

The minutes of the last meeting can be downloaded from here and the full agenda can now be downloaded from here. Please print them off and bring them with you. GMWRAG hosts are no longer funded to provide copies on the day.

The meeting will have an update on the newly launched GM Strategic Casework Group. If you haven’t had a look at our pages then please do so. There will also be an opportunity to share experiences of the new tranche of Presenting Officers at First Tier Tribunals and both the morning and afternoon sessions will have speakers as detailed below.

GMWRAG was surprised to learn that in our near 4 decade existence we appear to have never had speakers talking about sensory impairment and benefits. Our friends at NAWRA have had workshop presentations from charities like RNIB (and even then maybe only the one) but our agendas and minutes suggest we have not. Hopefully the speakers at this meeting will whet the appetite for further work in this area.

Neither session will involve death by PowerPoint and there will be much in the way of handouts; quizzes; throwing things, er, discussion, interaction and some case law!

Stockport Town Hall, or the “spiritual home of GMWRAG” as it was recently described, is very easily accessed by rail and is a massive 4 minutes walk from Stockport railway station. GMWRAG recommends the train as absolutely the fastest way to get to (and from) Stockport from/to Manchester city centre. Journeys are between 7 and 14 minutes from Manchester Piccadilly station. Please note though that tickets on this route may only be valid for some trains e.g. Northern Trains tickets may not be valid on Virgin Trains and so on.

There are frequent buses and you can get full multi-modal travel information on this via the My TfGM journey planner but all will take considerably longer than the train. If you weren’t already aware, there is also an app available for your smartphone. Welfare rights advisers all have smart phones, don’t you!

If you’re driving in, there are several car parks nearby but you will pay a lot for a full day and the road system can be very confusing for anyone not familiar with the area. Don’t say we didn’t warn you 🙂

Oh, yeah, and the biscuits are on order.

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 http://pipinfo.net

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 http://pipinfo.net/about/widget. 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 @ http://www.lasa.org.uk/webtools

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.

Benefits, safe-guarding and vulnerability. Bedtime reading for the Trafford GMWRAG meeting.

GMWRAG doesn’t often set members background reading but if you’re coming to our Trafford meeting in September then you’ll need to be up to speed on where we’re up to with benefits, safeguarding and vulnerability. The discussion is part of a necessary move towards maintaining a rights based approach to benefits advice by increasingly bringing to bear legislation from outside the social security sphere. The finest examples of this would of course be the increasing use of EU legislation; directives and so on and, more recently, the use of the Equality Act 2010 to challenge DWP practice and policy.

Our first September speaker, Louise Tanner, has put together some background reading to give people a feel for the range of the topic. You can download and read this from our site but before you do we suggest you have a look at the discussion forums hosted by our mates over at Rightsnet.

We recommend a read of

If these don’t give you a feel for the breadth and reach of the subject, as well as the potential for challenging the DWP and local authorities then, er, you probably haven’t read them! See you in Trafford.

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 tom@nawra.org.uk  

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.