Half-price professional membership – but don’t hang about!
18 months ago we offered organisations half-price membership in return for allowing us to add your name to a list of past and present professional members of Benefits and Work. More than 80 organisations, including advice agencies, solicitors, disability charities and law centres signed up.
Now we’re making the same offer again – a full year’s subscription for £48.50 instead of £97.00. What’s more, your agency is eligible even if you’re already on the list. And any existing professional members can accept the offer and have the extra year added on to the end of their current subscription.
But don’t take too long to decide – this offer ends soon. More details here.
Firstly, we’d like to apologise if the Benefits and Work site is too busy to access when you click on links in this newsletter? We upgraded to a faster server at the weekend, but we won’t know until this edition goes out whether that has solved the problem of desperately slow page opening times when thousands of people all try to read an article at once.
If you can’t get through now, please try again later – it will quieten down eventually. This newsletter goes out to over 80,000 people and that number is increasing every day, hence the strain on our server.
At the risk of making the server even more unhappy, if you are currently challenging an ESA decision or helping someone else to do so, then please download the latest edition of the ESA appeals guide from the members area.
Given the increasing difficulty claimants have obtaining medical evidence, we’ve made some suggestions as to how you might make use of the tribunal judge’s power to issue directions. This could be in relation to documents you think should be before the tribunal or evidence you think the DWP should obtain. We’ve included a sample letter asking for a judge to order the DWP to contact your consultant for medical evidence. We don’t know if it will work but it’s certainly worth a try. The same tactic could be used for DLA appeals too. You’ll find it in the ‘After the appeal is lodged’ section of the guide.
We’ve also updated the text we suggest you use for your appeal form, to take into account the fact that decision makers are now more likely to telephone you if you lodge an appeal. In addition, we’ve included information about options for dealing with a decision maker’s call.
Professor Harrington’s second report (Members only) was published whilst we were compiling this newsletter, so we haven’t had time to study it in detail. First impressions are, however, very disappointing with claimants being asked to trust that important changes have been made to the way DWP/Atos work –they just haven’t filtered through yet. Sadly, Harrington is looking increasingly like a DWP/Atos apologist rather than a claimant’s champion.
Elsewhere, Dame Carol Black, the noble lady who invented the Orwellian ‘Fit Note’ to replace the sick note, has been at it again.
In a new report for the coalition, (Members only) the disastrous Dame is recommending that GPs should no longer have the power to sign people who are in work off sick once they’ve been ill for four weeks. Instead, the decision will be put in the hands of an Atos type organisation and there will almost certainly be no appeal process, just as there isn’t with your current GP’s decisions.
Black has also recommend the abolition of the assessment phase of ESA, with the effect that sick and disabled claimants would have to claim JSA until they had actually been found eligible for ESA by a decision maker or an appeal tribunal.
We also have details of how likely it is that your ESA will be sanctioned (Members only) – and so far, compared to JSA, the news is good.
Plus, we have the DWP’s explanation for why the time allowed to return your ESA50 form (Members only) has been slashed.
The DWP have now published the points that each descriptor in the new Personal Independence Payment (Members only) is likely to score when it replaces disability living allowance in 2013. Unfortunately, they still haven’t said how many points you’ll need in order to get an award, so we’re not really any the wiser. Nevertheless, we’ll be updating our PIP guide in the next few weeks.
As many readers will have discovered to their cost, the average time it takes for an appeal to be heard (Members only) is increasing rapidly for both DLA and ESA.
The long waiting times have led to press reports that the whole appeal system is on the brink of collapse (Members only) .
That may or may not be true, though there are undoubtedly some in government who would relish an excuse to replace the appeals system with something similar to the social fund’s Independent Review Service. What is undoubtedly true, however, is that where you live in the country (Members only) can make a difference of up to two months in the length of time you will wait to have your DLA appeal heard.
Meanwhile, Ian Birrell – a former speechwriter for David Cameron – has accused the government of mounting a ‘nasty campaign’ (Members only) in the press against DLA claimants as part of the softening up process for the introduction of PIP.
Birrell is angered by the latest DWP statistical assault, this time on DLA claimants. The department have published figures which claim that “only 6% of new DLA claimants last year (January to December 2010) had a face-to-face assessment with a healthcare professional.” As always, the figures are deeply misleading and relate to issues entirely outside the control of claimants. But also as always, they will increase both tabloid and actual physical attacks upon sick and disabled people. And, equally as always, the DWP know this perfectly well.
Meanwhile, disabled members of the NUJ have called on fellow members to stop vilifying disabled people (Members only). It is a call likely to be entirely ignored by newspaper proprietors and hacks across the UK, particularly whilst the DWP continues to drip feed them the raw materials for manufacturing hatred and prejudice.
MORE NEWS THAN WE CAN PRINT
You can read all the news published on the site (Members only) since the last newsletter, much of which we don’t have room for here.
Many thanks to everyone who has sent in news stories over the last fortnight, including: Beverley Hymers, Jima1, Mark Sutton, Crazydiamond, papasmurf, pete17971, Milly, pata1.
If you’d like to contribute, there’s information on how you can submit a news story here.
Thank you to all those professional advisors who have so far completed our online survey about working as a freelance. We’ve kept the survey open, so if you haven’t completed it yet there’s still time.
The topic of how to fund advice in the future is one that is being discussed more widely as legal aid cuts loom ever closer. You can read an interesting article on the issues around charging for advice written byPhil Jew, head of Policy & Campaigns at AdviceUK and Head of Policy at Action for Advocacy.
An example of freelance help that already works is Benefits and Work co-founder Holiday Whitehead’s employment law advice service for employees.
Holiday charges almost two thirds less to employees compared to employers and takes on a small number of cases via a very simple, pay-in-advance PayPal button on her website.
Holiday limits the number of clients that she takes on for this service, something which is easy to do simply by removing the PayPal button whenever things get too busy. If you’re an employment advisor facing redundancy it’s certainly something worth considering – complete our survey and leave an email address if you’re interested.
GOOD NEWS FROM THE FORUM
Finally, as usual, we have a selection of good news from the forum to sugar the generally bitter pill of benefits news.
From WRAG to Support Group within 10 minutes
“Being a member of B&W helped in more ways than can be expressed”
From no award to DLA high rate care and low rate mobility on reconsideration
“Thank you benefitsandwork for all the advice. I would never have come so far or had the will or know-how to appeal without you.”
IB to ESA Support Group following medical
“Would like to thank all on site for guides that helped me with filling in forms and general questions and answers”
From WRAG to Support Group on appeal
“Thank you B&W for the comprehensive guides which meant we understood the complex way in which DWP assesses claimants.”
DLA low rate mobility and high rate care awarded without medical
“Before I say anything else I have to say thanks Benefits and Work - you are literally a life saver.”
From IB to ESA WRAG
“Thank you to everyone on here, the support is tremendous!”
ESA Support Group after discussion with decision maker
“This site with the detailed information has been so helpful and it really pays to follow the advice given.”
Success at DLA appeal
IB to ESA support Group after medical
ESA and DLA success: Support Group for ESA and DLA middle rate care and low rate mobility
Indefinite award of high rates mobility and care & without a medical
From WRAG to Support Group prior to appeal
High mobility and middle rate care DLA without medical
IB to ESA support group without medical
DLA low rate care and mobility despite Jobcentre saying not eligible
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