17 June 2008
Through shameful ignorance or wilful disregard of the law, DLA decision makers continue to prevent claimants from getting the money they desperately need to live on, according to confidential bulletins obtained by Benefits and Work.
Work and DLA
Decision Makers Exchange (DME) is a monthly bulletin sent to all DLA decision makers to remind them of how regulations should be applied and inform them of any changes in the law, policies and procedures. Benefits and Work has obtained and published editions of DME from October 2007 through to April 2008. These detail an astonishing catalogue of errors.
Last August DLA decision makers were warned that it was ‘unacceptable’ that they were stopping claimants DLA just because they had started work (See: DWP says stopping new workers DLA 'unacceptable').
Yet just four months later, the December edition of DME once again carries an article warning decision makers that:
‘DLA can be paid whether the customer is in or out of work or training, providing they have a level of care or mobility needs which meet the entitlement criteria. If information is received that a customer has started work, it is important to know that this is not something that needs to be reported for the purposes of DLA/AA and to review a customer’s benefit purely for this reason would be wrong.’
It is hard to believe that so many years after the introduction of DLA, decision makers still do not understand, or are unwilling to accept, the most basic facts about who can claim it. That they need to be reminded twice in four months that you can work and claim DLA suggests that a significant number of claimants have had cause to regret finding employment.
The cooking test has been around since DLA was introduced and yet decision makers still needed to be reminded in March of this year that:
‘. . . the main meal test is a hypothetical test. When deciding if a customer satisfies this test the DM must take into account all the actions that are involved in cooking a meal on a traditional cooker. This was confirmed by the House of Lords in Moyna v Secretary of State'.
The types of facilities or equipment available, such as the use of a microwave or eye level oven, are not relevant to the test. Actions such as reaching up, bending, lifting, gripping, planning etc must all be considered together with any other activities which use the same bodily functions normally used in making a freshly prepared cooked meal for one on a daily basis.’
This is such basic information that the most raw and recently trained CAB volunteer would be aware of it. Yet some DLA decision makers, apparently, are not.
Lower rate mobility component
In February of this year decision makers had to be told that children aged between 5 and 8 years old can claim the lower rate mobility component of DLA:
‘There appears to be a common misconception that children aged between five
and eight cannot qualify for the lower rate mobility component as all children of
that age need supervision out of doors. As Commissioners have pointed out, if
this was correct there would be no point in giving younger children access to the
lower rate mobility component!’
If this was a common misconception amongst members of the public that might be understandable. But that decision makers need to be told such a basic fact is, once again, astonishing. The issue with young children is whether they need substantially more guidance and supervision than other children of the same age who do not have a health condition or disability - as our newly trained volunteer could have told us.
Basic principles of decision making
In April of this year, decision makers had to be reminded of the most basic element of decision making, which is that when they make a decision:
‘it is necessary to establish the facts and circumstances relating to the individual case. Decision Makers must not make assumptions unsupported by facts.’
That decision makers have to be told that you shouldn’t just make a decision based on hunches, prejudice or how late you are for lunch tells us a great deal about why so many DLA claimants have to go to appeal to get the correct award.
In the same edition, an article about the basic principles of decision making has been included at the insistence of the Quality Manager of the Disability and Carer’s Service.
Decision Makers are told in the article that they must rely on official guidance, such as the Decision Makers Guide and Customer Case Management medical guidance, because they are acting on behalf of the Secretary of State and not as an independent officer.
They are also told that there are two main principles of decision making:
“These are applying the law to the facts of the case and applying natural justice when doing so, in an informed way.”
Judging by the content of recent DMEs, many decision makers are finding the first five words of that sentence beyond their abilities. Moreover, instead of natural justice, it’s hard to escape the suspicion that they are applying personal prejudices: ‘people shouldn’t be allowed to claim DLA if they’re well enough to work’; ‘parents should supervise young children properly outdoors without expecting the state to pay them for it’.
The result is that disabled claimants are refused their rightful awards of benefits, tribunals have to deal with cases that should never have gone to appeal and the taxpayer has to bear the cost of putting matters right.
And yet it’s skills training for disabled claimants that the government is now considering making mandatory.