O Come All Ye Faithful – the next meeting of the Greater Manchester Strategic Casework Group is upon us.

The next GMSCG meeting takes place on Wednesday the 6th of December 2017 between 9.30am and 11.30am at Garden Court North Chambers, 3rd Floor, Blackfriars House, Parsonage Walk, Manchester, M3 3JA.

Please note that this meeting has been very deliberately scheduled to enable anyone attending the CPAG Universal Credit session in the afternoon at the same venue to come see us also.

The purpose of the meeting remains as ever to
• identify appropriate areas of work for action using the Equality Act 2010 and/or public law
principles
• take an alternative approach to achieve rapidly revised decisions, policy change and financial
recompense by lodging complaints/letters before action and, where appropriate, damages claims or
judicial reviews
• push for systemic change over repeated wrongs by the DWP
• support advisers to take-up this approach, by way of: web pages; training; template letters; case
examples; meetings; a toolkit
• provide an occasional referral mechanism for cases which need to progress beyond a complaint or
letter before action

In public law terms this could be summarised as shifting the focus to the anticipatory duties and responsibilities of DWP and others, rather than the responsibilities of claimants.

The minutes of the last meeting can be downloaded directly from this link but will also be permanently available within the GMSCG pages.  The minutes are on their own password protected page. You can obtain this from any GMSCG member or via a DM to @GMWRAGtweets.

The agenda for the meeting is as follows. It has not been published as a separate item.

Agenda
1) Legal Aid / legal help and the gateway.
Clare Fowler, Howells Solicitors. What is legal help, what are the barriers to obtaining Legal Aid, and what advisers might do to further the case. Issue of extreme low take up of social security discrimination cases though legal aid gateway.
30-40 mins
Reference: Bach Commission, appendix 5, author – Henry Brooke.

2) Public Law Project (PLP) – new guide to exceptional cases funding, (Legal Aid) and welfare rights matters.
Katy Watts or Matt Ahluwalla. New guide in preparation, to support welfare rights advisors to access legal aid by the exceptional cases funding route.
20 mins
Reference: PLP guides

3) DLA to PIP transfers and failures of the DWP to make reasonable adjustments in the process.
Kester Dean. Proposal for possible actions to take to protect vulnerable claimants.
10 mins

4) Anonymous case study & digital exchange and referral tool
Jo Chimes, Project Lead Equality, Rossendale CAB, (& Sian Jordan, Rossendale CAB, & the legal geeks)
Proposal in development: a tool for the exchange and circulation of anonymous case studies, with possible support from legal geeks, ‘Atticus Link’.

The aims of the tool include a means to connect advisors, legal eagles, & organisations, for the progress of cases towards action in the courts, and for exchange of knowledge and practice.
20-25mins

5 ) Case study from a GMSCG member
10 mins

If you would like to attend this or other GMSCG meetings notify please contact Robin Serjeant or DM @GMWRAGtweets and we’ll put you in touch with Robin.

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PLP’s project on benefit sanctioning would like your input.

Shivani Misra is a research fellow at the Public Law Project and is conducting research on the impact of benefit sanctioning on disabled people. This is a part of PLP’s three-year project to develop and instigate a strategic legal response to the national issue of benefit sanctioning.

She will be particularly focusing on the following:

  1. Delays at the mandatory reconsideration and appeal stages, particularly for ESA claimants who have been put into the WRAG or refused ESA altogether and/or where hardship payments are unavailable.
  2. Problems caused by failures to share relevant information about a claimant’s medical condition or disability between the Work Capability assessor, the JCP Decision Maker, and the Work Programme Provider
  3. Failures by Work Programme Providers to make reasonable adjustments for disabled claimants in the WRAG or claiming JSA
  4. Lack of/inadequate reasons for sanctioning decisions undermining appeal rights.

As a part of the research she is interested in gathering evidence and hearing individual cases studies as well as talking to advisers about their experience.

Would your organization be interested in participating in the research? Your experience and inputs would certainly enrich the project.

She would also be willing to meet and discuss the issues at greater length and looks forward to hearing from you.

You can contact Shivani at The Public Law Project on 020 7843 1260  or email: s.misra@publiclawproject.org.uk

You can follow PLP on Twitter @publiclawprojct.

GMWRAG members will already be getting themselves familiar with the idea that all 4 of the above areas are ripe for public law, EA 10 or Article 6 challenges. If not, please have a look at our strategic casework pages at https://gmwrag.wordpress.com/gmscg.

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.