The experience of appealing to a first tier appeal tribunal.

Our friends at Rightsnet are reporting that Alex Homer, a reporter for the BBC website in Birmingham, is hoping to speak to someone who has challenged their benefits award at First-tier tribunal. He’s hoping to find out what the experience was like for them and also to find out if there were any common causes of complaint before people reached that far in the process. GMWRAG thinks we know the answer to all those questions. Our members will and we won’t be short of claimants either. It’s unclear whether this request is confined to Birmingham.

His contact details are alex.homer@bbc.co.uk and 0121 567 6299 for those who would be happy to talk to him.

GMWRAG suggests you email as we can see him being overwhelmed by phone calls!

A quick reminder about the next NAWRA meeting in Glasgow.

GMWRAG has mentioned this before but as we’re now much closer to September it’s timely to remind members that the next NAWRA meeting will take place from 10am-4pm (registration from 9.30am) on Friday the 7th of September 2018 at Renfield St Stephen’s Centre, 260 Bath St, Glasgow G2 4JP (hosted by Glasgow City Council).

The guest speaker will be the newly appointed Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People, Shirley-Anne Somerville.

Also speaking is Dr Sharon Wright of Glasgow University, co-author of ‘A hand up or a slap down? Criminalising benefit claimants in Britain via strategies of surveillance, sanctions and deterrence’

Last but not least there is GMSCG leading light Jo Chimes, Project Lead/Legal Adviser at the Equality and Diversity Forum talking “In the small places close to home – making equality rights practical and relevant in welfare benefits advice”.

A. Deductions from universal credit – Daphne Hall (Rightsnet) with thanks to Will Hadwen

Workshop level: Intermediate/Practical

Many universal credit claimants struggle because of the high level of deductions. This workshop will look at:

  •  the current rules for the different deductions;
  •  maximum rates;
  •  how or if we can negotiate with the DWP to reduce them;
  •  and what to do when this isn’t successful.

We’ll also discuss Esther McVey’s commitment to look at this problem.

B. Practical equality rights in welfare benefits advice – Jo Chimes (Equality and Diversity Forum) Workshop level: Introductory/Practical

The Equality and Diversity Forum launched an online handbook, Practical Equality Rights in Welfare Benefits Advice, in May 2018. This workshop will show how the handbook can help everyone working in welfare benefits advice to make practical use of the Equality Act 2010 to solve everyday discrimination problems and fill the ‘discrimination advice gap’.

C. Reg 35 limbo – Scott McInally and Kathryn Gaines (Durham County Council Welfare Rights Service)

Workshop level: Advanced/Practical

Are tribunals lowering the bar for work-related activities making it all but impossible to satisfy regulation 35? Durham Welfare Rights share their experience of Reg 35 appeals and invite you to share yours.

D. Pitfalls and processes with universal credit – Zoey Corker (Sanctuary Housing)

Workshop level: Introductory/Strategic

As it finally rolls out to most of Scotland, Zoey Corker provides us with an insight into processes and pitfalls for claiming universal credit, including Scottish protections.

The full agenda can be found here.

“… supportive eye rolling”.

GMWRAG is having an enjoyable “long post” period and our recent UC post was given considerable traction by social media so we’re not going to apologise for the length of this one.

Once again we offer thanks to our friends at Righstnet but before reading this it’s worth understanding what a UN Special Rapporteur actually is else the significance of the person and the action may not register.

The title Special Rapporteur is given to individuals working on behalf of the UN within the scope of “special procedure” mechanisms who have a specific country or thematic mandate from the United Nations Human Rights Council. The term “rapporteur” is a French-derived word for an investigator who reports to a deliberative body.

The mandate from the UN has been to “examine, monitor, advise, and publicly report” on human rights problems through “activities undertaken by special procedures, including responding to individual complaints, psychological operations and manipulation via the controlled media and academia, conducting studies, providing advice on technical cooperation at the country level, and engaging in general promotional activities.”

Yes, you read that right. “… human rights problems… individual complaints, psychological operations and manipulations”. Worth bearing that in mind the day after the Public Accounts Committee heard the following surreal statements regarding Universal Credit.

“Q96 – Luke Graham MP: why do you think that food bank footfall is increasing in areas where we have full-service Universal Credit?

Peter Schofield: I don’t know. It is a really good question …”

“Q132 – Peter Schofield: …. just because you can’t measure something, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

Gareth Snell MP: Like hardship?”

“Q146 – Shabana Mahmood MP: Mr Schofield and Mr Couling, just thinking about the demeanour with which you are giving evidence today, has it ever occurred to you that a little humility and a willingness to listen might go a long way towards rebuilding some trust in this process?

Chair: Mr Schofield.

Peter Schofield: No, look, well, I—

Chair: No. Thank you. That was very cat out of the bag.”

“Q160 – Chair: Perhaps you can help us out by saying which of the stakeholders and organisations are only raising issues because they don’t approve of the policy. Which of the organisations that we heard from earlier, or that you have heard from, are doing this because they don’t agree with Government policy and actually want to undermine it? Do you want to name them? It would help us to know which ones are doing that.

Peter Schofield: No, I don’t particularly want to name them here …”

“Q225 – Chair: What worries you about that? We have covered some of that today, but what genuinely worries you about what could go wrong there? A lot could go wrong. Every individual is different.

Neil Couling: I worry about the perception of Universal Credit. I am on record saying I am worried about how some of the debate is carrying on and what that is doing to claimants, making them quite fearful. There are a large number of people who will gain from this move over to Universal Credit, getting higher entitlements, but all of the media noise about it is making people quite fearful and I am worried about that…”

“Neil Couling: Yes, and I think we have good policy here, but that may be because I am the one who gave this advice.

Chair: I record for the record the eye-rolling of the permanent secretary.

Peter Schofield: It was a supportive eye-rolling. You will see that on the video afterwards.”

Anyways…

The United Nations Special Rapporteur, Professor Philip Alston (and you can read more about him here), is seeking evidence relating to poverty and human rights ahead of his UK visit in November 2018. Particular areas of interest include austerity and the implementation of Universal Credit.

Professor Alston’s visit – which will take place between the 6th and 16th of November 2018 – will focus on the interlinkages between poverty and the realisation of human rights in the UK.

Calling for written submissions by Friday the 14th of September 2018, Professor Alston highlights a number of themes to focus on, including austerity and universal credit, and he asks –

  • have austerity measures implemented by the government taken adequate account of the impact on vulnerable groups and reflected efforts to minimize negative effects for those groups and individuals?
  • what have the effects of austerity been on poverty (and inequality) levels in the UK in the last decade?
  • have the human rights of individuals experiencing poverty been affected by austerity measures?
  • how have local governments been affected by austerity measures in the last decades by, for example, administration of the welfare system?
  • what alternatives to austerity might have been considered by governments in the last decade that might have had a more positive impact on poverty (and inequality) levels in the United Kingdom?
  • what has the impact of universal credit been on poverty and the lives of the poor in the UK until now, particularly considering specific groups, including for example children, persons with disabilities, women and other groups which may be more vulnerable on the basis of their identity and circumstances?
  • what has been the impact of universal credit being a ‘digital-only benefit’ on the ability of potential claimants to apply for this benefit?
  • what has the impact been of various forms of ‘welfare conditionality’ in the context of universal credit in terms of incentivising work?
  • to what extent has the introduction of universal credit reduced the incidence of fraud and error in the welfare system?

For more information see Visit by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from 6 to 16 November 2018 from the UN website. You could also perhaps tweet him @Alston_UNSR.

A big(ger) read than you’re used to having had your minds rotted by social media (allegedly).

Take a breath GMWRAG readers and prepare for another big but rewarding read.

Follow the link at http://truepublica.org.uk/united-kingdom/research-paper-state-crime-by-proxy-corporate-influence-on-state-sanctioned-social-harm to read a June 2018 paper titled “State Crime By Proxy: Corporate Influence on State Sanctioned Social Harm”. This is an interesting take on welfare reform in the UK. Whilst the usual caveats apply i.e. you are especially daft if you think GMWRAG endorses or totally accepts every word we link you to on any subject (we think “especially daft” was what the solicitor told us to say!)  we do think much of the factual content of this article is essential background for anyone interested in welfare reform and especially (hopefully) welfare rights officers even if we don’t necessarily agree with all the inferences and conclusions.

When we say “big”, the article claims to take 15 minutes to read. That’s not really big unless social media has actually rotted your brain and its ability to concentrate. We actually think it takes a tad longer but that’s only because we’re not very good at counting.

GMWRAG, having failed miserably to give immediate credit to our colleagues at Rightsnet for their huge part in our recent UC item, would like to give credit to the GMWRAG member who brought this item to our attention. He They wishes (oops) to remain anonymous so we have agreed to refer to them as a kindly old gent who has a thing about cars. That isn’t what their colleague said but you get the gist.

Make Childcare Work – Save The Children are campaigning to make Universal Credit work better for families and need your help.

With thanks to our friends at Rightsnet for, as ever, drawing this to our attention.

Save the Children are currently running a campaign called Make Childcare Work which is all about fixing problems with how childcare support through Universal Credit works to make the system work better for families.

To help inform the campaign, they’re looking to speak to families who have experienced difficulties with the childcare element of Universal Credit e.g. who are concerned about what’s on offer, struggling with upfront costs or worried about how they’re going to be able to afford them.

If GMWRAG members can point them in the direction of families who are struggling with these issues and who would be happy to speak with Save the Children about their experiences that would very much support the campaign.

If you know of any families, or are happy to put a call out to advisers asking them if they work with any, then they’ve a short form that families receiving childcare support through Universal Credit can fill in at
https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/PYMZG3M) or they can email ukcampaign@savethechildren.org.uk and they will arrange for a member of their team to speak with them.

In the meantime you can read their response to the Treasury Committee Report on Childcare here.

NB: GMWRAG reserves the right to change every instance of “advisor” to “adviser” in every post until you all get your act together 🙂

Practice claiming Universal Credit!

Our friends at Rightsnet have drawn our attention to the following link from We Are Digital. This allows the rare treat of being able to practice a claim for Universal Credit. GMWRAG can foresee that this would be useful in multiple circumstances for claimants, advisers and perhaps many other front line professionals. To the best of our knowledge this absolutely unique. Please have a look at www.we-are-digital.co.uk/ucp-form/

New Universal Credit freephone numbers.

Following the announcement by David Gauke that call charges for calls to Universal Credit would be scrapped it appears that the new freephone numbers have been published on Twitter. You can find the actual tweet at https://twitter.com/rightsnet/status/935754885794058240. Rightsnet think these could be free from today. They are as follows:

Universal Credit Live Service

Telephone: 0800 328 9344

Textphone: 0800 328 1344

Universal Credit Full Service

Telephone: 0800 328 5644

Textphone: 0800 328 1344

All numbers are available Monday to Friday between 8am and 6pm so it looks like little account has been taken of those people on UC and in employment. The very people who will mostly only be able to ring at lunch times or on their way home. Ah yes, employment. The thing UC was meant to incentivise!

Calls to these numbers have been free on all providers since 2015. However, GMWRAG has already noted that the textphone number for live and full service is the same. The potential for confusion for when dealing with hearing impaired clients should be obvious, but apparently not. Granted the tweet does says that “If you don’t have a Universal Credit online account and contact us by phone you are using Universal Credit live service… If you have a Universal Credit online account and contact us via your online journal you are using Universal Credit full service.”

QUICK UPDATE:

GMWRAG is highly amused that “building a welfare system that is fit for the modern world”  doesn’t seem to include spending money on having phone numbers which automatically re-direct so, yes, you guessed it… anyone unaware of the new freephone numbers will of course ring the old numbers and will have to listen to a message telling them to ring the new numbers. Will the original phone call still cost? No answer as yet but we think we can guess.

New Salford job vacancies on GMWRAG.

GMWRAG is pleased to announce the first of a number job vacancies we will be posting this week. First up a couple of vacancies from Salford City Councils Welfare Rights and Debt Advice Service. Unusually the emphasis is on debt advice.

Details of the posts are on our job vacancies pages and are already up on Rightsnet and Greater Jobs and details of how to apply are on both sites and below. In the meantime, anyone wanting to know more about the posts can email Steve Quinn or ring him on 0161 793 3295.

Salford City Council logo

 

 

HEALTH and SOCIAL CARE

Welfare Rights & Debt Advice Service

DEBT ADVISER (Early Help)

Scale: 3B £25,694 – £28,203

Ref: 50163553

This post is primarily to provide debt advice, benefits advice, budgeting advice to vulnerable families identified by Children’s Services.

The job involves providing accessible and high quality debt advice to people in the City focusing on vulnerable families as part of an integrated ‘early help’ offer to families in Salford. This would include undertaking individual case-work, income maximisation and outlining potential strategies for dealing with clients’ debts, and preparing cases for court where necessary. Keeping abreast of developments in credit and debt recovery case law will be important and the post will also involve providing training and acting as a consultant to front-line staff.

You should have proven experience and expertise in debt advice for at least two years. Being able to act as an advocate on behalf of claimants is essential. You should be able to work on your own as well as part of a team, and be committed to the promotion of anti-poverty & social inclusion work.

The post carries an entitlement to a casual car user’s allowance.

Closing date: Friday 23rd June 2017  

You can apply via Greater Jobs.

____________________________________________

Salford City Council logo

 

 

HEALTH and SOCIAL CARE

Welfare Rights & Debt Advice Service

DEBT ADVISER (Tenancy Sustainment)

Temporary – 12 months

Scale: 3B £25,694 – £28,203

Ref: 50161459

This post is primarily to provide debt advice, benefits advice, budgeting advice to those affected by the ‘Benefit Cap’.

The job involves providing accessible and high quality debt advice to people in the City focusing on those affected by the ‘Benefit Cap’ who are tenants of social landlords. This would include undertaking individual case-work, income maximisation and offering practical assistance in retaining accommodation eg. applying for Discretionary Housing Payments and preparing cases for court where necessary. Keeping abreast of developments in credit and debt recovery case law will be important and the post will also involve providing training and acting as a consultant to front-line staff.

You should have proven experience and expertise in debt advice for at least two years. Being able to act as an advocate on behalf of claimants is essential. You should be able to work on your own as well as part of a team, and be committed to the promotion of anti-poverty & social inclusion work.

The post carries an entitlement to a casual car user’s allowance.

Closing date: Friday 23rd June 2017  

You can apply via Greater Jobs.

GMWRAG being a little dim.

GMWRAG has always thought the evidence in favour of oral social security hearings was overwhelming, especially when compared to paper hearings. Putting aside the Guardian “discussion”, and a similar piece from our own GM Law Centre check out this paper from UKAJI. At the present time an awful lot of people are showing an interest in the governments proposals for online dispute resolution.

We suggest GMWRAG members start with the Rightsnet thread and then have a read of the above so you are up to speed with what is proposed and the debates around it. This could well shape what a WRO looks like for years to come and so it’s important we all know what’s at stake and all have our say.