GMWRAG out of lockdown. Online GMWRAG GM UC Forum meeting announcement.

GMWRAG hopes all our members; their family; friends and co-workers remain safe and well. 

GMWRAG has quietly watched as NAWRA and PLP and all these new kids on the block steal our thunder (well, our Friday meeting times) and run online meetings via Zoom. Well, it’s over now kiddies!

GMWRAG is back and bigger and badder than ever. Or something like that! That roughly translates as “please come to our meeting too”.

Attendees at the last GMWRAG meeting will be aware we had a tentative proposal that the sole agenda item for the next GMWRAG GM UC Forum should be “Deductions From UC”. This has taken some time to pull together but we’re pleased to say this session is now a reality and we have agreed it will take place on

Wednesday the 22nd of July 2020 between 2:30pm and 4pm.  The meeting will be hosted by Microsoft Teams as a video meeting and admission is of course free.

We know those of you already used to getting drunk with family and friends on Zoom may be disappointed by this but both DWP and several local authorities do not currently allow access to Zoom so Teams (which is replacing Skype for Business) is the solution which securely allows the largest number of attendees from both sides.

We can confirm that in addition to our usual array (is that the word?) of JCP Partnership Managers, DWP have secured the attendance of reps. from both Debt Management and Strategy (Universal Credit and Employment Policy) which should facilitate an in depth discussions of current and past issues with UC deductions. This leaves a number of outstanding issues:

How do I join the GMWRAG GM UC Forum online meeting? In order to attend the meeting you will need to be a GMWRAG member. You know who you are!

You will then need to email us to indicate your intention to attend. We can be contacted at GMWRAG at Hotmail Dot Co Dot UK

NB: Please email us with the email address you intend to use to attend the meeting as we will be emailing out an Outlook meeting request.

Do I need Microsoft Teams or a Microsoft Teams account? You do not. You will need an internet browser compatible with Teams (Edge, Chrome; Safari; that sort of thing) and a Gmail or Hotmail address or similar.

When you accept our meeting request (and you will won’t you!) it will hopefully put the meeting in your calendar. On the day, open the calendar item and click the “Join Teams Meeting” link. That will take you into Teams where the chair will leave you in a “virtual lobby” until we spot you and admit you to the actual meeting asap.

If the meeting request doesn’t go into your calendar then, after you’ve finished berating your IT support, just retain the email in your inbox and you should be able to join on the day from there. 

This is however all a little smoother if you have the Teams app and your own login. It’s available for desktop or mobile from https://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/microsoft-365/microsoft-teams/download-app

Is there a limit on the number of places? Places are limited by overall bandwidth and speed of response. We would not expect to host substantially more attendees than a usual GM UC Forum but equally we need attendees to indicate their attendance really quickly as we don’t want to spam inboxes sending out updated meeting requests every few days. Bearing this in mind, we’d ask all who wish to attend to indicate this by email no later than Wednesday the 15th of July 2020. If all goes smoothly you should receive no more than one initial invite and maybe one update after that.

Can I ask questions about deductions in advance? We think it will help give the session a sharper focus if questions are submitted in advance. We appreciate we’re on a short time scale here but we will give DWP every opportunity to come to the session knowing the areas in which we have an ongoing interest or concern. 

When you email us re: attendance please include any questions you have in the email. Where issues or questions overlap we reserve the right to butcher your question and give it a completely different meaning amalgamate questions as best we can to reflect the general area at issue. 

This of course won’t prevent questions on the day. We shall attempt to balance the two as best we can. 

Is there anything else I need to know? Yes, online meetings can be plagued with all manner of technical and practical issues. You can help the meeting go smoothly if you could kindly:

  • use appropriate real or virtual backgrounds if using video.
  • recognise not all users may wish or be able to use video for cultural or other reasons.
  • mute your microphone when not speaking. 
  • raise your “virtual hand” when you wish to speak. This will be acknowledged by the chair and you’ll be invited to speak as the moment arises. 

Owt else? Yes, please familiarise yourself with Teams as best you can if you’re not already familiar. Whilst the meeting will be on video there will also be a chat channel available for all attendees and there is a facility to share screens; presentations etc. if needed. 

We look forward to seeing and hearing you all on the day. 

We will post again in advance of the meeting to remind people to register and sort out any issues which arise in the meantime. 

Finally, if anyone would like to chat post meeting we’re sure a number of members will be around for you to do so. In the absence of a GMWRAG meeting at present we are intending that there will be a short AOB session at the end and we’ll be looking to facilitate a GMWRAG social event in lieu of a meeting as soon as possible after this meeting. 

Housing Systems online workshop on “Lost Job? Benefits during COVID-19”.

Sadly, many people have lost their jobs during the Coronavirus outbreak. With changes to the Job Retention Scheme that mean employers will have to contribute more towards their employees’ wages, we may well see even more.

We have already heard that many of those finishing work have lost out financially due to being given the wrong benefit advice.

This interactive case study based Workshop will answer all the key questions:

Is Universal Credit someone’s only option? Is it their best option?
How do the different payments at the end of a job affect benefit entitlement?

What if someone can get New Style Jobseekers Allowance?

The Workshop will use real life examples to investigate the key benefits someone finishing work can claim, what claimants need to do and the problems they may encounter.

By the end of the Workshop delegates will have a better understanding of the different benefits available to someone finishing work, what options they may have and what they should consider when choosing which option is best for them.

The workshop takes place on the Wednesday the 17th of June 2020 between 10am – and 12 noon. It costs £49+vat per delegate. Bookings can be made by emailing Housing Systems at training@housingsystems.co.uk.

They will need:

  • The name of the Workshop you would like to book.
  • The date of your chosen Workshop.
  • The name and job title of the delegate.
  • Their email address.
  • Invoice details ie who to send it to (and any PO number required).

NOTE: Bookings will be taken on a first come first served basis.

Meeting cancellation (sort of) – number 2.

The next GMWRAG meeting was listed for Friday the 15th of May 2020. Previous posts on the meeting can be found here and here.

This included the a.m. GM UC Forum which this time around was to have a focus solely on deductions. Obviously, recent events have rendered this never more relevant but things are moving fast on multiple fronts and the logical thing to do at present is to cancel and reschedule the meeting asap. 

The reasoning for this is as follows:

1 – our full day meetings now clash with a special Covid-19 NAWRA event online with two interactive workshops focusing on the current benefit changes, homeworking issues and dealing with new ways of working. Read the agenda. It’s not obvious how you join (so if someone could tell us, that would be good).

2 – Friday is not ordinarily a working day for a number of GM Partnership Managers and obviously we would like as many as possible in the room.

3 – Taking the meeting online requires finding applications that allows DWP to appear remotely but also allows access forGMWRAG members. That’s not an issue we have fully resolved yet although we’ll be polling members on some options asap to move that forward.

4 – Advance notice of the meeting has (for once) allowed DWP to contact specialist colleagues in Deductions Operations to attend but the latter have been re-deployed to other tasks in the same way as Partnership teams. Thus July would be the earliest feasible time to do this.

GMWRAG will happily apologise for the lateness of the cancellation and would ask all members to complete the various polls on key questions about how we move forward which we’ll post up as soon as time allows.

Stay safe and well.

Leigh Day call for evidence re disabled students and universal credit.

This just in from Leigh Day.

Tessa Gregory and Lucy Cadd from the law firm Leigh Day. are bringing a judicial review challenge to the DWP’s policy which prevents disabled students from making a claim to UC. They are seeking further evidence to support the judicial review (in the form of case studies).

Students are disqualified from making a claim to UC. However, Regulation 14(b) Universal Credit Regulations 2013 provides exceptions to the requirement not to be receiving education. In the case of their client, the relevant exception is that she is in receipt of a qualifying benefit (attendance allowance, disability living allowance or personal independence payment), in her case being PIP. The exception stipulates that she must also have been determined to have limited capability for work (LCW). However, UC will not offer students who do not yet have a LCW determination, a WCA.

Therefore on making her claim for UC, the client was told that a work capability assessment would not be provided for her in order for her to be determined as LCW and her claim for UC was closed.

The Secretary of State’s policy ‘Students: eligibility, conditionality and student income – v 16.0 (2019)’ states that the exception in Reg14(b) only applies to disabled individuals who have already been determined as having LCW and who are seeking to become students. The exemption therefore does not apply to disabled students who attempt to claim UC whilst already undertaking a course of study.

They would be very interested to hear of others who are in a similar position to their client. If there are people you have represented who have been in the same or similar situation they would be extremely grateful if you could provide a short summary of their situation to us (gaining their prior authority to do so). They are seeking supportive case studies for the judicial review.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you require any further information. Our contact details are Tessa Gregory – tgregory@leighday.co.uk and Lucy Cadd – lcadd@leighday.co.uk.

An update from our friends at Leigh Day.

GMWRAG was doubtless amongst many who received a recent update from Leigh Day. This is a timely reminder of how strategic casework might never be more relevant. However, as the email began with “Alright…” some editing was in order 🙂

They think we are going to have a lot of work on unpicking the government response to Coronavirus, in particular in relation to the administration of benefits. A lot of people are going to become reliant on benefits for the first time and potentially for an extended period of time.

They have one JR already in relation to the requirement for ‘self-employed’ workers to claim UC rather than get SSP or benefit from furlough payments (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/mar/22/rishi-sunak-under-pressure-to-bail-out-self-employed)

They are looking at the failure to raise legacy benefits in line with what has been done with UC. If GMWRAG members know of any rare person who is entitled SDP and self employed and also on legacy benefits they would be perfect for this but anyone impacted could potentially claim.

They would also be interested to know if any JCP’s are sanctioning people for failing to comply with conditionality at this time.

Welfare benefits advisers are going to be the first people to see the impact of any issues the changes made are having on the benefits system. If you spot anything you think is particularly grim and/or widespread and worth a challenge and want to talk it through please do let them know.

It’s been a long time comin’ but I know a change gonna come!

GMWRAG is only mildly ecstatic to bring to your attention to the launch of an inquiry by the Work and Pensions Committee into the five week wait for the first payment of Universal Credit. Putting aside our only slight incredulity that it’s taken them this long in the face of such overwhelming evidence of there being a fundamental problem based on a fallacy about the frequency with which people get paid and the way in which people budget… GMWRAG welcomes the inquiry and urges all GMWRAG members to make a contribution. This really is a “put up or shut up” moment. Indeed, it could be argued that most of the work has been done already.

“Five weeks too long” by the Trussell Trust.

“We need to end the five week wait” by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

“Five week wait must go” by Citizens Advice.

We could go on, and we will (this is the but we always thieve from Rightsnet).

Many claimant support organisations have concluded that the five-week wait must be reduced or eliminated entirely so the Committee summarises some of the suggested options for change, including making advances non-repayable; offering non-repayable advances to some claimants, such as those with a vulnerability; allowing more flexibility to backdate claims; extending run-on payments to cover all legacy benefits; substantially reducing the repayment rates for advances; and paying universal credit two-weekly.

With the aim of helping the government ‘better understand’ the upsides and downsides of these options, and to explore other possible solutions, the Committee seeks views on the following questions –

  • to what extent have the mitigations the government has introduced so far (such as advance payments) helped to reduce the negative impact of the five-week wait?
  • what problems do claimants still experience during the five-week wait?
  • what is the best way of offsetting the impact of the five-week wait?
  • is it possible to estimate how much this would cost the Department?
  • is it possible to estimate any costs or savings to third parties (for example, support organisations)?
  • are different mitigating options needed for different groups of claimants?
  • are there barriers or potential unintended consequences to removing the five-week wait – either for claimants or the Department? How can they be overcome?

NB – responses must reach the Committee by Friday the 17th of April 2020.

Commenting on the inquiry, Committee Chair Stephen Timms said –

‘It’s now widely recognised that the lengthy wait for a first payment of universal credit is causing real difficulties for people—so it’s hugely welcome that the Minister is open to looking at how to fix it. The Committee wants to look carefully at all the possible solutions, and work out which are the most practical, affordable, and likely to make a meaningful difference to people’s lives.’

For more details see New Inquiry: Universal Credit: the wait for a first payment from parliament.uk.

If anyone would like to share their responses with GMWRAG we will be more than happy to publish them both as a repository of suggested good practice and to inspire those of you so overwhelmed with anger and cases you don’t know quite where to start.

“Fighting Together For Free Access To Justice” event at Greater Manchester Law Centre..

GMWRAG is not one for fighting but on this occasion we’ll make an exception.

On Saturday the 21st of March 2020 Greater Manchester Law Centre are hosting an event titled “Fighting Together For Free Access To Justice”. The more eagle-eyed amongst you may notice that this has in fact been their strap-line for some time. Anyway…

The event will discuss

  • Combating Universal Credit.
  • Supporting and enforcing workers’ rights for those in the Gig Economy and on zero hours contracts.
  • Promoting and demanding the right to decent, affordable housing that provides secure homes for everyone.

All three bouts appear to be reffed by some bloke called Jeremy Corbyn MP. We’ve provided a link in case you need more information on who he is.

As with all good fights spaces are limited and things will (ahem) “kick off” at 12:45pm for a 1pm start with the last man standing to be declared around 2:45pm so you can wander off to the football and kick off all over again.

Please RSVP to developmentworker@gmlaw.org.uk confirming your attendance.

For more information, please call 0161 769 2245.

And just like that… more GMWRAG meetings.

GMWRAG is pleased to confirm that our next meetings can already be confirmed as definite. This magnificent piece of organisation comes to you largely courtesy of people talking across other people and mumbling stuff during last weeks first post millennium trip to Bury. This may also explain why we’ve managed to announce the next meeting without actually getting notes written up from the last one as yet. Fear not. We’re “on it” whatever “it” may be.

The next GMWRAG UC Forum and GMWRAG meeting will both be hosted by Manchester and will take place on Friday the 15th of May 2020 at Greater Manchester Law Centre. Instructions on how to get as lost as several of us did in Bury will follow in due course.

The UC Forum will commence at 9:30 for refreshments/networking for a 10am start with a 12:30pm finish. The agenda has already been defined as follows:

1 Apologies.

2 Minutes of the last meeting and matters arising.

3 Deductions from Universal Credit.

4 Messages around mixed age couples.

There is plenty of time available for this agenda to accommodate additional items but we’re planning on asking for someone from Debt Recovery and the UC Service Centre to attend in service of item 3 and someone from the Pension Service in respect of item 4 so that might be more than enough to be going on with.

Nevertheless please Contact GMWRAG through the usual channels if you wish to do so (or we forgot something).

The main GMWRAG meeting will start at 1:30pm for refreshments/networking for a 2pm start and a 4pm finish.

Our speaker will be Ryan Bradshaw, Associate Solicitor from Leigh Day. At present the likely topic will be “Challenging welfare benefits decisions using the European Convention on Human Rights and the sorts of compensation that might be awarded.”

Again though, things move on quickly in the magical world of welfare rights so this is a movable feast and there may be something Ryan could do which might be more pertinent to the timing of the meeting depending on what happens over the next couple of months.

The rest of the agenda is up for grabs so if you have a suggestion for other agenda items or even a second speaker then, again, please Contact GMWRAG through the usual routes.

The notes/minutes of the last meeting will be available as soon as enough of us have pooled resources/spoken to each other to remember what might have happened. That’s two months advance notice that you can print your own and bring them with you by the way!

NAWRA in Wales.

GMWRAG used to be really good at notifying you all about NAWRA meetings. Indeed we used to make our web site do clever things like count down to the day of the meeting but then… well then we just got too busy. So here we are with 3 days left to go to the next NAWRA meeting and we can probably no longer refer to them as “our friends in NAWRA” as we keep messing this up. Anyway…

All NAWRA members are invited to attend their quarterly conference.

Date: Friday the 6th of March 2020.
Time: 10.00am – 16.00pm (registration from 9.30)
Location: Swansea Civic Centre, Oystermouth Road, Swansea, SA1 3SN

Guest speakers will be Fran Bennett of Oxford University on recent research about universal credit and couples followed by Lisa Reese, a tribunal judge, on the role of representatives.

There will be participatory workshops on mixed age couples in UC, conditionality in UC and public law remedies, support for disabled people in UC, and assessing mental health for PIP.

Download the agenda

NAWRA meetings are only open to members.  There’s no need to book a place.  Please let them know if you have any accessibility needs.

GMWRAG has fond memories of their first visit to NAWRA being a trip to Swansea approximately 30 years ago in the back of a some kind of van with people from Flintshire Welfare Rights. Nowadays there would be a hashtag attached to that and some kind of legal action! Nowadays we think the train may be an option.