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ESA success
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Jobcentres inundated with thank you cards from sanctioned claimants, says DWP boss


Dear Reader,

In this edition of the Benefits and Work newsletter we learn that Neil Couling, a senior DWP manager, told the Scottish parliament that claimants welcome the ‘jolt’ of being sanctioned so much that “jobcentres across the country have been inundated with thank you cards from people who have received sanctions.”

Truly, we’re not making this up.

But, for those of you who refuse to be grateful for the chance of being plunged into even deeper poverty, we’ve now published free guidance on how to reduce the chances of being sanctioned. We also explain how to sue the DWP and work programme providers if you are unfairly threatened with a sanction.

We can also reveal that there has been an unprecedented drop in the number of appeals against benefits decisions. Even we were astonished by the size of the fall . . . and we always expect the worst.

Still with appeals, the DWP have a surprise in store for the first four hundred claimants who attend a PIP tribunal. Though it may be some time yet before any PIP appeals get that far: the DWP are finally telling claimants in a recorded phone message just how long it is likely to take for a decision once you send in your claim form.

Plus, Johnny Void wonders why the DWP has suddenly started promoting a private sector benefits calculation site and we have news of updated attendance allowance and permitted work guides.

Finally, there won’t be another newsletter for three weeks because of the bank holiday and half-term in a fortnight’s time – so take advantage of our last membership coupon for some time, whilst you still can.
 

20% OFF ANNUAL MEMBERSHIP FOR CLAIMANTS AND FOR PROFESSIONALS - ENDS MIDNIGHT THURSDAY
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: 9464

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.


THANK YOU CARDS FOR SANCTIONS
Neil Couling, work services director at the DWP, gave what some would regard as outrageous evidence to the Scottish parliament’s welfare reform committee last month. Speaking on behalf of the DWP, he told the committee:

“My experience is that many benefit recipients welcome the jolt that a sanction can give them. . . Some people no doubt react very badly to being sanctioned—we see some very strong reactions—but others recognise that it is the wake-up call that they needed, and it helps them get back into work.”

The Deputy Convener then asked rather sarcastically:

“So, jobcentres across the country have been inundated with thank you cards from people who have received sanctions.”

To which Couling replied:

Yes—that is not so remarkable.”

Mr Couling also denied the suggestion that the DWP has targets for sanctions, dismissing the allegation as ‘absolute nonsense’.

This may come as a surprise to DWP staff who work in Jobcentres. According to a survey of members published this month by the PCS union:

· 23% of members had been given explicit targets for referring claimants for sanctions;

· 36% of members stated that they have been placed on a Performance Improvement Plan for not making enough sanctions referrals;

· 10% have gone through formal poor performance procedures for not making enough sanctions referrals.

In his evidence Couling also denied that there was a link between ‘welfare reform’ and growing use of food banks, claiming:

‘ . . .people will tell you things in order to maximise their economic choices. In the same way as people will tell you, “I am looking for work”, because they know that if they say that they are not doing so there will be consequences and they will get sanctioned, people will tell you things when they present to food banks. It might not be wilful deceit that is going on; it might well be their belief about the situation.”

Other people, of course will “tell you things” that obscure their role in an increasingly ugly and broken organisation which punishes people for being poor or sick by thrusting them deeper into poverty, despair and sometimes suicide.

They “tell you things” because they know that if they say that there are targets for sanctions and that welfare reform forces people to turn to food banks there will be consequences and they may be out of a job. It might not, of course be wilful deceit that is going on; it might well be their belief about the situation . . . but that doesn’t make it any more true.

For those of you who wish to avoid the electrifying jolt of extreme hardship and hopelessness that Mr Couling’s sanctions can bring, we’ve published advice on how to avoid sanctions and what to do if you are threatened with one – including suing the DWP and work programme providers.

The advice is aimed primarily at sick and disabled claimants forced to claim JSA. But most of it applies equally to ESA claimants forced onto the work programme. It’s an ongoing piece of work, so please do email us your tips or post your comments about your experiences.


ESA NEWS
ESA Support Group success
“I filled in my transfer from incapacity benefit to ESA form about 6 months ago and got my answer this Monday. ESA support group with no medical. Thanks to the guides here I included a lot more of how my daily life is affected. So, a big thank you and well done.”

There has been a dramatic drop in the number of benefits appeals, especially in relation to the work capability assessment appeals. According to tribunal president Judge Robert Martin, giving evidence to the work and pensions committee earlier this month:

“The figures have just fallen away remarkably. In March 2013, in a single month we had something like 37,000 Work Capability Assessment appeals. In March this year, from my enquiries of regional judges, we think probably less than 1,000 is our estimate.”

The judge suggested that the reduction was due to the reduction in the number of cases going to Atos and also to delays in the assessment process.

Judge Martin also had a lot to say about the what he called the ‘dubious’ and ‘regressive’ mandatory reconsideration and appeals regime.

We also have news of the claimants forced to make an 88 mile round trip for a WCA because their local assessment centre isn’t accessible to disabled people.

Finally, we now have an updated version of our guide to permitted work in the ESA claims section of the members area, which includes a completed PW1 form .


PIP AND DLA/AA NEWS
Thank you for PIP success
“Hello team…I rang DWP today just on the off chance for an update and been told I have got the enhanced rate for care and Mobility…I could not thank you enough for all the help and support you have given me, just thank you so much. Your guides were absolutely fantastic and without you I think I may have totally lost it lol…Thank you again and god bless.”

The DWP are finally coming clean about how long it takes to process a PIP claim. Claimants calling the PIP enquiry line on 0845 850 3322 now get an automated message telling them that:

“It could take up to 26 weeks from the time you claimed to when we write to you with our decision.”

Though even this may be an over-optimistic forecast judging by some of the accounts we have had from members about their attempts to claim PIP.

If you have made a claim for PIP and had a medical and/or a decision we’d be very grateful if you’d complete our brief online PIP questionnaire to help us learn more about what’s really happening to PIP claimants.

We’re also still very keen to see more copies of medical reports – not decision letters but actual Atos or Capita reports. We’re paying £10 to cover your costs if you send us one. You are most likely to have a copy of a medical report if you are challenging a PIP decision. Find out more here.

If you are currently challenging a PIP decision then you may still be one of the first four hundred to appear before a tribunal. If this is the case then you are likely to have a DWP presenting officer at your hearing as the DWP have agreed to send staff to the initial 400 PIP hearings

According to, once again, Judge Martin:

“For the first 400 PIP appeals we are going to do, the idea is to send a presenting officer to explain the Department’s decision and the reasoning, see what the tribunal makes of it, go away and learn some lessons, but, again, it is very piecemeal.”

Currently presenting officers are almost never seen at appeals – their presence could be good news or bad news depending on the role they choose to adopt.

Lastly, we have now published an updated guide to claiming attendance allowance on both physical and mental health grounds in the DLA section of the  members area of the site.


BEDROOM TAX
The Rutherfords take their case to the High Court today, Wednesday. They are the grandparents and carers of a very severely disabled boy of 13 who needs round-the-clock care. They have to pay the bedroom tax because they have a ‘spare’ bedroom which is used by overnight carers twice a week, in order to give the Rutherfords a little respite.

CPAG are bringing the judicial review on behalf of the Rutherfords, in a case first begun by our own Sangeeta Enright, who will be attending the hearing.

For a round up of all the bedroom tax news and tribunal decisions visit Giles Peaker's Nearly Legal blog.


BLOGS AND CAMPAIGNS
Johnny Void’s blog has highlighted the disappearance from the .gov website of the Benefits Adviser on-line tool which allowed visitors to check their benefits entitlement.

Instead, the government website now refers visitors to the private sector website EntitledTo rather than, say, the voluntary sector calculator at Turn2Us

Johnny Void claims that visitors are only able to make two benefit checks before being asked to pay for further calculations and tells readers:

“What entitledto have done for this free advert on a busy government website is unclear. It will certainly generate them a tidy sum in google advertising revenue. Entitledto is run by a former DWP economist Dr Phil Agulnik.”
 

CAMPAIGN NEWS
Citizens Advice have been collating ESA stories from clients as part of their fit for work campaign.

This month they have launched a petition; “Don’t cut off people’s benefits while the Government gives a second opinion on who is fit for work”. Please share and support this petition if you agree that taking people off their basic benefits while they are disputing a decision, that could quite possibly be wrong, is both cruel and unjust.


TWITTER FEEDBACK
12 May was M.E. awareness day and the Benefits and Work twitter feed was full of tweets raising awareness of what it can be like to live with the stigma and this invisible, misunderstood illness.

MORE NEWS ON THE SITE
There are more articles on the Benefits and Work website than we have room for here, including:

Is DWP looking for yet another new chief for Universal Credit?

Commons select committee inquiry into Employment and Support Allowance and Work Capability Assessments

The Biscuit Fund: The band of secret strangers giving crumbs of comfort to needy

 

GOOD NEWS FROM THE FORUM
Thank you, as always, for taking the trouble to post your good news in the forum. We know that many people would have given up their claims or dropped their appeals if it hadn’t been for the messages of success that you share. And it doesn’t half cheer a lot of people up too – including the team here at Benefits and Work.

ESA Support Group Success for second time
“…thanks to B&W for the outcome of my reassessment for ESA. Using the guides & advice from the moderators throughout, I was placed in the WRAG after attending the WCA…DWP confirmed in writing I will not be callled for another ressessment before 3 yrs!! - Yippee!!
The membership fee for B&W has to be the best long term investment I have ever made. Without its expert guides & moderators I would not have had the success I have had …nor with my application for DLA - HRM & HRC for 4 yrs. Anyone who is unsure about the value of being a member - do take the plunge.”


DLA renewal success
“I am delighted, as last time I had to go to appeal. I put it all down to your help and guidance. I have been a member for 4 years now and you have helped me through my ESA transfer to support group for 3 years and now the renewal of my DLA.”

IB/IS/SDA to ESA conversion
“I have been a member for over 6 months now and I would like to say Thank You for all your support that you give to your users. I have learned a lot from reading your guides and from other member’s forum posts and comments.”

DLA renewal success
“…a massive thank you to this website for all the help and support given to help complete these complex and often misleading forms.”

IB to ESA support group
“After receiving a form to change from IB to ESA and sending it back in December I have at last received a letter putting me in the support group of ESA without a medical. Without help from Benefits and Work I do not think this would have happened.

ESA Support Group Success
“Im so greatfull this site and forum has helped me sucessfuly recieve ESA SG contribution based for 3 years, after previously being on IB”

Surprise letter - now in support group
“I was migrated from IB to ESA WRAG group 2 years ago. Last year I was re-assessed and sent the forms in. Today I got a brown envelope from the DWP - they have reassessed me and placed me in the Support Group. The relief is immense. I just wanted to say thank you to everyone here for their help.”

From IB to ESA Support Group without medical
“Hi all, just to say many, many thanks for all the guides. Invaluable! This is the No. 1 site for people like me, cannot thank you all enough.”

PIP awarded
“I got the DWP letter on Saturday…so I'd like to thank this site as without reading through all the advice and fact sheets I doubt I would have even got the mobility.”

Assigned to Support Group
“I've just had a letter informing me that I've been moved from the WRAG into the Support Group without even having to go to Atos for another assessment. I really am incredibly grateful to all staff at B&W for the wonderful service you provide. My heartfelt thanks go to all of you!”

DLA renewal success
“…just to give hope to others I sent my dla renewal form off about 2 weeks ago with no supporting evidence...i used the guidelines from this site…I got a letter confirming my dla for hrm and mrc was awarded for an indefinate period… happy days I wish everybody else a speedy decision. thanx again to the site for the guidelines.”

 

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: 9464

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.

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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