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Dear [fname],

On Monday we broke the news that, due to a growing backlog at Atos, current employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants will be left on the benefit, without further medical checks, until another company can be found to do repeat work capability assessments (WCAs).   

Since then the story has been picked up by the press, including the Independent, the Mirror and the Daily Record.

The issue was also raised by Stephen Timms, shadow employment minister in a commons debate yesterday (column 173). He appears not to have received a response, however.

So we're now we’re asking a question of the minister for disabled people, Mike Penning:  did you deliberately mislead the Commons on 24 February when you failed to tell them about the decision to end repeat assessments, which had been made over a month earlier?  Debbie Abrahams MP, who sits on the Work and Pensions Committee has agreed to pursue the matter.

In the meantime, we have now received information from a credible, but unverified source, that all those who are affected by the issue - those who were due to be referred to Atos on or after 20 January, will get a two year reprieve before they are looked at again.

Staying with Atos, we look more closely at the news that Atos wants to end its contract for carrying out work capability assessments.  We also reveal just how cheaply PIP medicals are being carried out and we announce our latest resource for members:  50+ ways to Challenge a PIP Medical report.

Finally, in this edition we have the shocking news that the government are considering making claimants pay to appeal a benefits decision.


ESA NEWS
First the DWP leaked documents  suggesting it was planning to ditch Atos as the provider of WCAs. 

Then Atos announced that it had actually been trying to negotiate an early exit from the WCA contract, due to end in 2015, for months anyway.

Now comes the news that Atos is no longer being allowed to do repeat ESA assessments.

It's beginning to look like the acrimonious end of a long-term relationship. But as Atos and the DWP turn on each other, claimants are being dragged into the row, accused of hundreds of episodes of abuse and assaults against Atos staff in the course of a single year.

It's a claim that we've never heard before and about which we're highly sceptical.  It's also one that Atos are so far refusing to answer any of our questions about.

But then they may be too busy to talk to us whilst trying to set up two new companies, OH Assist and Performe Health, in an attempt to salvage something from what appears to be the wreck of their healthcare reputation and leave the name of Atos far behind them.


20% OFF ANNUAL MEMBERSHIP FOR CLAIMANTS AND FOR PROFESSIONALS - ENDS MIDNIGHT FRIDAY
If you’re not already a member, join the Benefits and Work community before midnight on Friday and you can get 20% off the cost of your annual subscription.

Just type the following code into the coupon box when you pay:  3872

Claimants and carers get an annual subscription for £15.96, down from £19.95.  Professionals get an annual subscription for £77.60, down from £97.00.

PIP AND DLA NEWS

PIP award
"We have just received out first decision on a PIP application. Awarded enhanced for daily living and mobility, backdated to date of application. All down to your guide so many thanks. However, it is almost 7 months from application to decision."


In our last newsletter we revealed that almost two out of three PIP claims are being turned down flat.  In this edition we can reveal that the people carrying out the assessments are being paid at what many would consider bargain basement rates.

An advert by Capita for qualified Nurses, Paramedics, Occupational Therapists and Physiotherapists reveals that health professionals are being paid just £40 to create a PIP report, rising to £60 if it is good enough to be a grade A or B report.  This payment also has to cover travel within a 20 mile radius, reading all the paperwork, carrying out the assessment and writing up the report afterwards.

Given that even physiotherapists will normally charge £30-£45 for a 45 minute session, payments at these rates may not attract the brightest and best medical staff.  They may also not encourage assessors to spend a minute more than they absolutely have to interviewing claimants.

So, our latest members only PIP resource, ‘The Best possible ways to challenge a PIP medical report’ is probably going to prove a very useful one.  The 22 page document  goes through the different sections of the medical report, looking at what should be in each and at ways to challenge inaccurate and incomplete evidence.  It also looks at more general challenges, such as interviews that are too short, too long, at the wrong time of day or in an inappropriate place.  In all, there are over 50 grounds of appeal for you to consider.

If you’re preparing for a PIP medical, or if you’re one of the almost two thirds of claimants who has had their PIP claim refused, this guide may make all the difference.

Members can download the new guide from the PIP section.

Finally, we’re still keen to receive copies of PIP medical reports and are paying £10 to cover your costs.

BEDROOM TAX NEWS
The Court of Appeal has handed down its judgement on Bedroom Tax legislation and ruled that the Government has not acted unlawfully: disabled people are not being discriminated against.

The main reason given for this ruling? The government has put Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) into place to cover the additional costs that disabled people face because of the reduction in their housing benefit.

Unfortunately, these payments have to be applied for on specific forms and under separate rules to housing benefit. Any payment awarded is not covered by legislation and, as many councils will consider DLA to be “disposable income” (i.e. they will not accept that this money should be ring-fenced to cover the costs of having a disability), many applications for such DHPs are refused. There is no right of appeal to a tribunal in these circumstances, although it may be possible to challenge such decisions, particularly via judicial review.

Additionally, the government’s contribution to Local Authorities to cover DHPs is due to be reduced next year by £15 million.

Fortunately for the five claimants who have brought the cases, the two law firms involved have vowed to continue the battle on their behalf.

 
OTHER BENEFITS NEWS
A leaked DWP document shows that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is considering charging claimants to lodge an appeal as a way of raising cash. 

The MoJ has already done this in relation to employment tribunals, charging up to £250 just to lodge a claim and an additional £950 for a hearing.  The result has been an overall fall in the number of employees taking their case to tribunal of 56%, rising to 88% in poorer parts of the country, such as Wales.

Such a move in relation to benefits would give the DWP, and the companies it employs, free rein to ignore even the most basic rights of claimants.  We’ll keep you posted if this story develops.

Elsewhere, a Tory MP is being investigated by the police for alleged housing benefit fraud.

Meanwhile, entirely legally, another Tory MP is raking in £625,000 a year in housing benefit payments whilst complaining bitterly about the ‘something for nothing culture’.  And he’s not the only one by any means.

Finally, the Mirror has featured the tragic news of a claimant who had to be removed from his WCA in an ambulance – after waiting an hour - and died soon afterwards. 

BLOG ROUNDUP
Claudia Wood writes for Demos, a cross party think-tank. In her blog ‘Should Welfare be a moral mission’ she discusses the language used by Cameron and questions whether the PM has properly scrutinised what the DWP has been up to these past few years, giving numerous examples of welfare policy which do not instil hope.

The Atos story would be incomplete without some personal views and accounts of the day of demonstrations against Atos. Jayne Linney describes her day at the Leicester demo and Mike Sivier describes the delights and disgraces of the day of action after his attendance at the Powys demo with a reminder that spreading the message to the public is one of the positive impacts of taking action.

For a recent analysis on the impact of welfare reform, Simon Duffy demonstrates how the cuts target people in poverty and disabled people in his paper ‘Counting the Cuts’

 

CAMPAIGN NEWS
This petition on sanctions laws makes the fair point that the presumption of innocence is not applied when sanctioning and the campaigner states that the doubt should be looked at before the sanction is put in place and the person given a chance to explain the circumstances.

On Thursday 27 February, MPs will take part in a debate on a motion relating to the effects of welfare reform on sick and disabled people.

This debate was scheduled by the Backbench Business Committee following representations from John McDonnell and Grahame M. Morris. Michelle Maher from the Wow campaign has asked us to tell you that the Wow petition page will link to all the details for the vigil at 10.30 outside the House of Commons in Old Palace Yard onwards and links to watching the debate if you wish to join them.

 

TWITTER FEEDBACK
Much of the blogs and campaigns news comes from Twitter and we continue to attract new followers daily. In the world of twitter, news and opinion gets shared fast. Manchester CAB has tweeted that it's conducting a survey into how much doctors charge for medical evidence. The findings should be interesting, so please share your experiences if you can.

We are always interested to read the views and insight of @dr_wood_wca to shed light on latest news about Atos and @imajsaclaimant on how he is dealing with the jobcentre and the mandatory work activity.


FACEBOOK FEEDBACK

Amazing! Facebookers have viewed posts over 29,000 times since the last newsletter & over 9000 people like our Facebook page! So we have 5 free membership subscriptions for Studio Pookini to give away as a thank you!

Watch for a post on the Facebook page for how to enter to win one!

Jeanette at Studio Pookini, who publishes and maintains our Facebook page for us, has her own reasons for volunteering and keeping the Facebook page running.

Jeanette says:

“I wanted to give something back to B&W for their excellent advice when my husband had to leave work. We didn't know where to turn, had no experience of the benefits system at all and received very little help from anyone. After failed DLA claims, I found Benefits and Work in an internet search.

"I joined Benefits and Work, which, I have no doubt, helped me in making successful claims for my husband's DLA on my first use of the website & guides. I just hadn't realised how to set out the information,  ensuring it was as complete as it could be and also learnt the importance of gathering good evidence.  From our own experiences during this difficult time we are able to empathise with those in similar situations and wanted to support the work of B&W in some way.

"I wrote to ask if I could help Benefits and Work, since then I have been volunteer photo editor, graphics maker and have now created and run the Facebook Page in my spare time. As I run a small home studio producing prints & cards for a few local artists, this type of work is something I am familiar with. I am honoured to be involved in an organisation such as Benefits and Work who work tirelessly to produce such comprehensive and helpful advice to the many of us who can find ourselves within the benefits system. The B&W Facebook page is my way of saying thank you to B&W and helping to spread the word so others can find the support as we did.

"So feel free to pop on the page...please keep it clean, but most of all have your say! Good luck everyone. Jeanette"

MORE NEWS ON THE SITE
As always, there's lots more news on the site than we have room for here, including:

Whistles, ripples... and a giant inflatable rat, as Atos faces day of action 

Tight lips among Atos staff as protesters tell them 'enough is enough'

More than 100,000 disabled people had benefits 'sanctioned'

RNIB threatens DWP with court action for failing to cater for blind

Record number of sanctions made against benefits claimants in 2013

27 bishops slam David Cameron's welfare reforms

David Cameron defends 'moral mission' on welfare

Welfare state presides over 'culture of fear', charities say


GOOD NEWS FROM THE FORUM
Please keep your good news coming - it means a great deal to our readers to hear something cheery.

IB to ESA Support Group
"I used your guides to fill in my ESA form and I have been transferred from IB to support group, no medical. Thank you very very much."

Appeal won
"Thank you so much for your advice about ESA Appeals."

ESA Support Group and wanting to work!
“I had my ATOS medical 4 weeks ago and expected to be put in to the WRAG (if any group at all!) as I expressed the desire to do some work but explained that I cannot work full-time and cannot do just any job. I seem to be in the minority as most people seem to want to be in the support group!
Imagine my surprise this morning when I called the DWP to chase the decision to be told it had just been made (after only 4 weeks!) and, I was being put in the Support Group!
I have to thank this site too as I read all the information before completing my application and also with regard to the ATOS medical! So many thanks to you all!”


ESA Tribunal Success!!
“If it had not been for this site I would not have known what to do or what to be using for reference.
I am pleased to say I went from WRAG to Support Group at the Hearing, the Doctor and Judge scored me 27 points, 12 more than DWP's pet 'Doctor'!
The stress has been very hard to handle, so once again my grateful thanks and best wishes to all, both contributors and readers.”

ESA Support Group
"Hi my hubby had phone call from DWP, he has been put in support group for 3yrs thankyou for the support you gave to me"

Tribunal Success!!
“I wanted to let you know that, following my unsuccessful transfer from IB to ESA in October, 2012, I eventually had my tribunal hearing yesterday,…and [was put] in the SG, with a prognosis of 2 years..
I discovered this excellent site only after having completed my ESA50 but I have been an avid member ever since. I cannot thank you all enough for the information, support and encouragement offered to me, and indeed all the other claimants, undergoing this protracted and shameful process. As a direct result of this site, and its guides, I shall be able to face my reassessment…with more confidence and less foreboding than this first time around.
My best wishes go to everyone at B & W…”


Thank You!!
“I just want to say a big THANK YOU to everyone involved in bringing this site together and helping us users to understand how the whole benefits system works and helping us to retain or indeed get the help we need. The help and advice I have found and had from the forum moderators is second to none. With the help, I have been successful in retaining my DLA (due to the dates I was on it, I still qualified for DLA rather than transfer to PIP) at the middle rate care and higher rate mobility indefinitely. I have also successfully moved from Incapacity Benefit to ESA and been placed in the support group. The money spent joining this site has been money well spent…So, THANK YOU all for your help, I really appreciate it.”

ESA TRIBUNAL FROM WRAG TO SUPPORT GROUP
“…I would like to thank you for the resources you provide as I feel they helped a lot in preparing for Tribunal….I was in WRAG in February last year without a medical and appealed to be transferred to Support group, eventually went to Tribunal… who thankfully found in my favour… It was recommended I am in Support group for two years”

IB to ESA transfer
"I've successfully been transferred from IB to IRESA without a medical! Without your site none of this would have happened - Im absolutely sure of that. I would and have advised anyone and everyone to become a member and have the same unlimited access to the help, advice and support only found on this site. Once again Thank you!"

ESA success
"My transfer from Incapacity to ESA had been a success! I relied heavily on the guides from this website, both for mental and physical illnesses, as well as info from the forum, and the DWP have put me in the Support Group! I really couldn't have done it without you. I found the guides and site very supportive, as well as knowledgeable and informative, and that 'added ingredient' was so important and much appreciated. So thank you all so very much"

Join the Benefits and Work community now and discover what a difference we can make.

And do remember:  you're welcome to republish part or all of this newsletter, provided you credit Benefits and Work

Good luck,

Steve Donnison, Sangeeta Enright and Karen Sharpe

The Office Team
Benefits and Work Publishing Ltd
Company registration No. 5962666

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