GMWRAG isn’t tracking the general election but…

GMWRAG has exhausted itself electing a new GM (Greater Manchester NOT genetically modified!) Mayor and has little enthusiasm for closely tracking the forthcoming General Election. However, we’re happy to point our members to a few resources which will help you do so if you wish. It is already very noticeable that this is not going to be an election in which welfare reform and poverty are at the top of anyone’s list.

The BBC have helpfully produced an election tracker, which you can find at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2017-39844115 or by clicking the magic words in this sentence. “Welfare” comes in at 11th on the number of things they’re tracking although you could argue that “Pensions” coming in at 5th has some significance! Lots of tabloids are tracking little more than who the pundits think will win but you could invest some of your diminishing faith in pollsters following the excess of statistics at Electoral Calculus.

Of more interest our friends at Rightsnet have identified at least three suggestions for manifestos. GMWRAG thinks it’s worthwhile digesting all three but may wonder out loud whatever happened to campaigning to change things rather than asking for tweaks to the status quo? Can Universal Credit ever be made to work, or make work pay (as opposed to merely function in the former case!)? No mention of the mess which is the Benefit Cap or even DHPs!

– Citizens Advice: Citizens Advice has 5 big asks for the next government
– CPAG: Election 2017 manifesto
– The Law Society: Law Society unveils election manifesto for Brexit Britain

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.

CPAG legal challenge – do you have a client affected by the two child limit to tax credits/ universal credit?

Do you have any clients who will be affected by the recent legislative changes to Child Tax Credit and Universal Credit due to come into effect 6 April 2017?

The Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 introduced fundamental changes to Child Tax Credit and Universal Credit, limiting child tax credit and universal credit to the first two children in a household. These changes, commonly known as the 2 child rule, will come into force from the 6th of April 2017 together with certain exceptions and transitional arrangements set out in recently published regulations.

The Child Poverty Action Group is looking into the possible routes of legal challenge to the 2 child rule and would like your help in locating potential claimants who would be affected by this rule and who would be willing to be part of a CPAG legal challenge.

CPAG is looking in general for:

  • Any family already claiming benefits with two children and looking to have more in the near future

But also the following particular types of households which may be unfairly affected by the rule (though this is not an exhaustive list of examples):

  • Two lone parent household units already with two children each considering forming a single ‘blended family’ arrangement because the adults have become a couple;
  • An individual or couple caring for one or two ‘kinship’ children but contemplating having children of their own;
  • A family which, when the children were born, did not require state support but now has a need to because of an unexpected change in circumstances (e.g. loss of a job); and
  • A parent who is religiously or philosophically opposed to birth control.

If you can help, please complete the attached test case referral form (save it to your computer first) and email it to testcases@cpag.org.uk

CPAG-Test-case-referral-form

 

Yeah yeah. That thing AGAIN. NWMHWRAGOWTFDTM

The next meeting of the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group will be on Friday the 25th of November at 9.30am for a 10:00am start.

The speaker will be Stuart Erskine who is seconded from Stockport Council to be a Budgeting Support Officer for claimants of Universal Credit at Stockport Job Centre. We have a vague sense we may have told you this before. He will be talking about Universal Credit; some of the pitfalls that it has caused for clients and some of the remedies that are available.

The meeting is at the Community Room at Manchester Central Fire Station, Thompson Street, M4 5FP.

The entrance is via Cassidy Close off Thompson Street. You take the first left off Cassidy Close and the room is straight ahead of you.

The room has its own entrance.  Please don’t enter the building by any other entrance.

There’s a car park on Thompson Street.  You can’t park in the Fire Station places.

The room can be difficult to find if you haven’t been there before. If you get lost you can phone Helen Rogers on 07800 617 866.

GMWRAG normally posts some nice links to accompany those directions but, come on, if you haven’t figured it out by now then all hope is lost.

Minutes of the last meeting are available for download.

As this will be our last meeting before Christmas, NWMHWRAG will be going out for lunch afterwards.

Everyone is welcome to join them. Details will be posted in due course.

GMWRAG running out of original ways to say…

… that the next meeting of the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group will take place on Friday the 25th of November 2016 at 9.30am for a 10:00am start. Their pages already told you this along with the fact it will be at the usual venue at Manchester Central Fire Station.

More details to follow nearer the time but as we’ve now managed to restore the Search functionality on the site you shouldn’t have much trouble finding out about the venue etc.

What their pages don’t tell you is that the speaker for the next meeting will be Stuart Erskine, Personal Budgeting Support Adviser at Stockport Council.  Stuart is on secondment to Stockport JobcentrePlus to work with Universal Credit claimants.

NAWRA submission re: the abolition of Attendance Allowance.

NAWRA has submitted a response to the “Self-sufficient local government: 100% business rates retention consultation” voicing their concern at the proposal that Attendance Allowance will no longer be a cash benefit in England and Wales when responsibility for it transfers from the DWP to each local authority’s social care budget.

If you didn’t realise that the abolition of AA was a real thing then please refer back to our previous items on this

One of the biggest reallocations of public resources in 25 years, and

More information on the abolition of Attendance Allowance as we know it.

Always keep in mind some people said Universal Credit would never start!!!

The submission is available on the NAWRA website. The deadline for submissions has now passed.

Thanks very much to Julie Henry (Durham County Council) for drafting it.

Universal Credit widget

GMWRAGs friends (yes, GMWRAG has friends) at Rightsnet towers have alerted us to the new widget/thingumabob from our slightly more distant friends at LASA (much bigger towers) and the LITRG (no idea if they have towers. They do tax so, presumably a bunker!). Together they have produced a new and simple way to check the current state of play regarding Universal Credit in your area. Can you claim? What are the gateway conditions? Indeed what ARE the gateway conditions?

This new whatchamacallit is actually called http://universalcreditinfo.net and you will notice it’s very big and very green. We like one of these things. The idea that “green for go” could ever be associated with Universal Credit seems lacking in credibility and has amused us no end. It’s a sad sign of the times that it simply hasn’t occurred to DWP to do anything this competent. Instead you could use this!

No, we thought not…

There is also the enticingly titled “widget”, which allows you to post some “code” on your web site and have a tiny version of the site and the post code search appear on your site. Sadly, we couldn’t get it to work on our site! If you want to be better than us then you can find that at http://universalcreditinfo.net/about/widget.

NB: Those nice peeps at Rightsnet have since made it clear that, because the widget uses an “iframe” then we are techically “stuffed”. Well, that’s not exactly what they said but… being a blog platform hosted by WordPress means that we can’t show you the widget.

We are immensely gratified that the WordPress spell checker accepted “whatchamacallit” without question by the way! This augers well for future flippancy.

CPAG Welfare Rights Conferences 2016 – Universal Credit: Next Steps.

CPAGs 2016 Welfare Rights Conference focuses on the challenges facing families as the roll out of Universal Credit accelerates.

The next few years will bear witness to a huge change in the welfare rights environment, with the full Universal Credit service set to be rolled out to over one hundred local authority areas during 2016-17, and across all 381 local authorities by June 2018.

Increasingly, families and the advisers working with families will need to understand how Universal Credit is supposed to work, who wins and who loses, and the lessons to learn from the early implementation of the new system.

With expert speakers, a range of focused workshops and the opportunity to network and share ideas with welfare rights workers, policy workers and other advisers from across the country, the conference is not to be missed. With both conferences expected to sell out, please book early to avoid disappointment.

For more details on the planned workshops and programme, together with instructions on how to book your place, please see below.

Programme

09.15 – 10.00   Arrival, registration, coffee and exhibition stand viewing

10:00 – 11.15    Host welcome and keynote speakers (tbc)

11.15 – 11.30    Refreshment break and viewing of exhibition stands

11.30 – 12.45   Workshops – morning session

12.45 – 13.30   Lunch and viewing of exhibition stands

13.30 – 14.45   Workshops – afternoon session

14.45 – 15.00   Refreshment break and viewing of exhibition stands

15.00 – 16.00   Panel discussion and Q&A

Workshops

You can attend two workshops from the list below.

Universal Credit Housing Costs
David Simmons, Welfare Rights Worker at CPAG

Universal Credit Digital Roll-Out
Simon Osborne, Welfare Rights Worker at CPAG

ESA ‘Substantial Risk’
Dan Norris and Nizam Ahmed, Welfare Rights Workers at CPAG

Human Rights Challenges
Sophie Earnshaw, CPAG Trainee Solicitor and Martin Williams, Welfare Rights Worker at CPAG

Venue

Our Manchester venue is the University of Manchester Innovation Centre, Core Technology Facility, 46 Grafton Street, Manchester, M13 9NT.

Our London venue is Resource for London, 356 Holloway Road, London, N7 6PA.

Exhibition Space

We will have an exhibition space at both conferences hosting exhibitors showcasing their work, products and services. If you are interested in exhibiting at our conference, please email Sebastien at sclark@cpag.org.uk.

Booking a place

Delegate tickets, which include a choice of four expert workshops, teas, coffees, buffet lunch and conference materials, are

  • £130 for a voluntary organisation and
  • £175 for statutory and lawyers.

The Early Bird booking price – valid before the 11th of July 2016 – is

  • £115 for a voluntary organisation and
  • £150 for statutory and lawyers.

To book place(s) please complete our online booking form here.

Please note that bookings cannot be processed until you have selected your workshops, and workshops will be filled on a first-come, first-serve basis.

  • North (Manchester) Thursday the 8th of September 2016.
  • South (London) Friday the 16th of September 2016.

BOOK NOW

Public Accounts Committee progress review inquiries into Universal Credit and Benefits and Tax Credit Fraud and Error.

The Public Accounts Committee has announced two “progress review inquiries” with a very short-deadline for responses to both of them of Tuesday the 12th of July 2016.

The first inquiry will look at progress on the six recommendations made by the committee in February 2015 in relation to Universal Credit and

  • improving transparency around costs and progress;
  • developing contingency plans; and
  • strengthening accountability to get better value for money for taxpayers

Further information can be found on the PACs web site.

The second inquiry seeks views on how HMRC and the DWP have addressed problems of overpayments and underpayments identified in its last report

In a previous report on fraud and error in October 2015, the Committee made a number of recommendations including

  • HMRC should set regular targets for reducing fraud and error in Tax Credits during the move to Universal Credit;
  • the DWP must set out how it will target the causes of fraud and error remaining after welfare reform;
  • both departments need to improve understanding of why claimants make mistakes, and use this to develop better preventative measures; and
  • both should set targets for reducing underpayments.

Again, further information can be found on the PACs web site but please bear in mind those exceptionally tight deadlines.

If you want to watch the progress of these inquiries live then check out Parliament Live TV.