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Benefits and Work Newsletter: An Unexpected Knock At The Door Is The DWP Rule, Not The Exception

July 30, 2014 1 comment

An unexpected knock at the door. Someone standing there with an ID card claiming they have come to check if you are getting the correct benefits and could they please come in?

What do you do?

You don’t have to be guilty of anything to find the possibility of such a visit very alarming – especially if you have a mental health condition made worse by stress and anxiety.

Last month there was a lot of concern about just such visits, prompted by a change to a page on the DWP websitewhich stated:

You may get a visit from a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) officer to check that your benefits payments are correct.

A Performance Measurement review officer may visit you if you’re claiming:

Employment and Support Allowance
Housing Benefit
Income Support
Jobseeker’s Allowance
Pension Credit

Your name is selected at random to be checked. You won’t always get a letter in advance telling you about the visit.

The concern was the addition of the sentence:

You won’t always get a letter in advance telling you about the visit.

Worries about how to deal with such a visit were posted on various blogs and forums and we received numerous requests from members for guidance on how to deal with these visits.

So Benefits and Work made a Freedom of Information request.

As a result of that request we can now reveal that, in reality, the vast majority of people who get a visit do not get a letter in advance – surprise visits are the rule, not the exception. There’s more on this below.

However, we can also reassure our readers that:

  • you don’t have to let them in; and
  • you can insist on being given proper notice;
  • you can insist on having the interview at a DWP office instead of in your home.

And doing so won’t affect your benefits, though refusing to take part in an interview at all may leave you open to a fraud investigation.

In the members’ area we’ve published the letter we got in response to our request and 62 pages of the guidance document issued to officers carrying out these visits – though there are a large number of redactions to the guidance. You’ll find the documents in the DWP Guides section of the ESA download page in the members’ area.

Only a tiny percentage of claimants receive one of these visits. But the majority who do get one are not given any warning.

In fact, far from ‘You won’t always get a letter’ , DWP staff are actually told:

‘You must make an un-notified visit to each customer, apart from the exceptions detailed in the subsequent paragraphs. If this is ineffective a second un-notified visit must be made.’

If two un-notified visits are made on the same day then another un-notified visit must be made on another day.

After that a letter has to be sent giving you at least 48 hours’ notice of a visit or 24 hours where the letter is hand delivered.

There are also certain classes of claimant who should never receive an unannounced visit, including:

“customers suffering from depression or a medically defined mental illness
customers with an alcohol or drug-related dependency
disabled customers where there is evidence from the preview information that they may be distressed if an MRO calls unannounced. “

However, where the visiting officer suspects, on the basis of your files, that you may be committing fraud they can still carry out an un-notified visit even if you are in one of the categories above.

And it’s important to be aware that one of the things visiting officers will do is look out for any difference between the details given in your work capability assessment medical report and your behaviour at home. The rather bizarre example given is that of a claimant who is up a ladder washing windows when visited, but their incapacity is listed as vertigo.

So, if your condition is a variable one and you’re having a better day, make that very clear – even if you aren’t asked.

 

FINAL DISCOUNT COUPON – 20% OFF ANNUAL MEMBERSHIP – ENDS MIDNIGHT FRIDAY
This is our final discount offer before the summer break – the next newsletter will be in September.

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: 5854

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 NEWS
Campaigner Steve Sumpter has lost his court battle to have the 20 metre limit for personal independence payment mobility component overturned. The judge did not accept the argument that the consultation process was so flawed as to be unlawful.

The judge was scathing about the original consultation, calling it ‘mind-bogglingly opaque’ and said that he had the ‘gravest doubt’ that he would have found it to be fair.

However, the DWP held a second consultation after Sumpter launched his legal challenge. This second consultation, specifically on mobility, was deemed just sufficient by the judge.

However, a clear admission was made by the DWP in documents disclosed as part of the hearing that they are aware that PIP will cause suffering to disabled claimants:

“ In developing the PIP assessment we were aware that the vast majority of recipients of DLA were individuals with genuine health conditions and disabilities and genuine need, and that removing or reducing that benefit may affect their daily lives…”

Sumpter’s legal team are considering whether they can continue the fight.

 

ESA NEWS
The flaws in the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) system are so grave that simply “rebranding” the work capability assessment by appointing a new contractor will not solve the problems, the Work and Pensions Committee has said in a new report.

Meanwhile a report commissioned by the DWP into benefits sanctions, which saw a fourfold increase for ESA claimants in 2013, has found that the way in which the DWP communicate with claimants is legalistic, unclear and confusing. The most vulnerable claimants are often left at a loss as to why their benefits were stopped and frequently not informed by the DWP about hardship payments to which they are entitled.

However, the report only looked at the way sanctions are communicated, not into whether the system is fair in the first place.

Debbie Abrahams, an MP on the Work and Pensions Committee, has repeatedly called for an independent inquiry into sanctions. She did so again this week, following an inquest into the death of a diabetic ex-soldier who had his JSA sanctioned for missing an appointment and subsequently stopped taking his insulin.

According to the Mirror:

“When David died he had just £3.44 to his name, six tea bags, a tin of soup and an out-of-date can of sardines. His electricity card was out of credit meaning the fridge where he should have kept his insulin chilled was not working.

“A coroner also found he had no food in his stomach.

“A pile of CVs for job applications were found near David’s body.”

The Mirror is reporting that David’s sister has launched a petition calling for an inquiry into sanctions.

You can sign the petition here.
OTHER BENEFITS NEWS
IDS is still fighting desperately to prevent the publication of four reports which would show just how badly universal credit is failing and whether the DWP knowingly misled parliament about problems with the new benefit.

So far, the DWP have lost every stage of the battle to prevent the reports being published under the Freedom of Information Act. But with an unlimited amount of taxpayers money to throw at legal challenges and a vested interest in stringing the process out beyond the next election, losing at every stage is not a reason for concern.

And the true cost to the taxpayer will probably never be known, as the politics.co.uk website points out, because the DWP refuse answer Freedom of Information requests on the issue – on the grounds that they don’t bother keeping a tally of costs.

 

MORE NEWS ON THE SITE
Council tax rises hit Britain’s poor hardest

York University releases research report for DWP on early PIP claims

Right-wing thinktank calls for jobcentres to be privatised

Bedroom tax bites as low-income tenants choose between ‘heat or eat’

 

GOOD NEWS FROM THE FORUM
Many thanks to all of you who have kept the good news coming. We really do appreciate it.

ESA Support Group success
“The dreaded brown envelope plopped through the letter box on Saturday morning, and it felt so thin I was sure it was a “no way Jose” letter…… BUT ESA success and placed in the Support Group without a medical !! OMG…. Thank you to all at B&W !”

ESA Appeal victory
“Thanks to the fantastic advice from the people on this site my sister has just won her ESA appeal. Thanks to everyone for all their help.”

ESA Support Group
“Received my ESA forms in May this year, have been put into the contribution based support group, really pleased about that …Thanks to this site and excellent advice help I don’t know how I would have coped with it all…Thanks to a great team”

IB to ESA success
“just renewed my membership for another 365 days thank you benefits & work sure helped me with my incapacity benefit to esa this site is great value for your money and covers every topic”

PIP success
“Huge, huge thank you…Well ive been crying with relief for an hour now, Thank you so much for your brilliant website and knowledge, I had my PIP decision today…low rate care and High rate Mobility. I can’t thank you enough. Wonderful, just wonderful”

Transfer from IS to ESA with a cancelled medical
“I had a call from the Job Centre stating I had full ESA and placed in the support group and a letter would follow …All this in a matter of 3 weeks… So the real reason for this is to thank the Benefits and Work for their help with my claim with the information which is provided on this web site.”

ESA Support Group without a medical
“Many thanks to everyone at Benefits and Work for all their help, hard work and excellent advice. I followed the ESA guides while completing my ESA50 and was delighted that …I was placed in the Support Group without a medical.”

ESA Support Group with no medical
“I’m so pleased that I have been put into the support group without having a medical and I want to say a massive thank you to Benefits and Work as I doubt this would have happened if I hadn’t had followed your fantastic guide when completing the application form a year ago! …it is a gigantic weight off my shoulders.”

ESA Support Group without medical
“Just had to say thanks yet again to this site. I have been reassessed for ESA and have been awarded support group again, this time without having to attend medical. I have been awarded Support group for a further two years. Once again, thank you for this site”

Thank you for PIP help
“…may I thank everyone at this site. The help from here has been immensely valuable to me particularly with regards the nightmare that is PIP.”

 

FINAL DISCOUNT COUPON – 20% OFF ANNUAL MEMBERSHIP – ENDS MIDNIGHT FRIDAY
This is our final discount offer before the summer break – the next newsletter will be in September.

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: 5854

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.

 

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

Benefits and Work Newsletter: New ESA And PIP Dirty Tricks Campaigns

July 16, 2014 1 comment

ESA NEWS: SANCTIONS
In the last newsletter we revealed that ESA sanctions had increased fourfold in the space of a year, up to December 2013 and are particularly targeted at claimants with mental health conditions . Whilst we had no doubt that the reason for this was to cut the cost of ESA we had no evidence to support this.

Now, however, the first shred has appeared with Polly Toynbee claiming in the Guardian that she has had discussions with an anonymous jobcentre manager:

“She told me how the sick are treated and what harsh targets she is under to push them off benefits. A high proportion on employment and support allowance have mental illnesses or learning difficulties. The department denies there are targets, but she showed me a printed sheet of what are called “spinning plates”, red for missed, green for hit. They just missed their 50.5% target for “off flows”, getting people off ESA. They have been told to “disrupt and upset” them – in other words, bullying. That’s officially described, in Orwellian fashion, as “offering further support” . . . In this manager’s area 16% are “sanctioned” or cut off benefits”

Members can download a detailed guide on how to prevent and overturn ESA sanctions from the ESA section of the members area – it might be a good idea to have a quick look through it in the near future, particularly if you are in the WRAG.

The manager also claimed that:

“Tricks are played: those ending their contributory entitlement to a year on ESA need to fill in a form for income-based ESA. But jobcentres are forbidden to stock those forms. These ill people’s benefits are suddenly stopped without explanation: if they call, they’re told to collect a form from the jobcentre, which doesn’t stock them either.”

Although we have found copies of the ESA3 form online, there does not appear to be a downloadable version of the current form, suggesting that the DWP is indeed making it as hard as possible for people to make a claim.

These targets and tactics come as no surprise. What Toynbee claimed that was new to us, however, was the manager’s allegation that:

“As all ESA claimants approach the target deadline of 65 weeks on benefits – advisers are told to report them all to the fraud department for maximum pressure.”

The idea that all ESA claimants are now being reported to the fraud department when they have claimed for 65 weeks seems preposterous and almost inconceivably discriminatory. Yet the ugly lawlessness that now characterises the DWP’s attempts to cut claimant numbers means that an accusation like this has to be considered seriously.

We are now working to try to establish the truth of this claim – we’ll let you know what we discover.

Meanwhile, we’ve begun compiling a collection of ESA sanction examples taken from various online sources to illustrate how easily, and unfairly, ESA claimants can be sanctioned.

 

ESA NEWS: MANDATORY TREATMENT FOR WRAG CLAIMANTS
Even more troubling than any of the issues above, however, is the report that the DWP are now considering changing the law to oblige ESA claimants in the work-related activity group with mental health conditions to undertake treatment or have their ESA sanctioned. Reports in the Telegraph claim it will be part of the next Conservative manifesto.

The paper quotes a Tory source as saying they hope to reduce the number of claimants with a mental health condition in the WRAG by 90% with this measure.

We’ll keep you posted about any developments with this shameful idea, which would no doubt involve bargain basement group CBT sessions provided by some multinational outsourcing company.
PIP NEWS: MOBILITY GUIDANCE CHANGED
The DWP have also moved the goalposts for PIP mobility to make it much less likely that claimants with mental health conditions such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder or agoraphobia will qualify for any award at all if they are able to go out, provided they have someone with them.

Guidance issued to Atos and Capita at the end of May in the PIP Assessment Guide instructs health professionals that claimants who need accompanying by another person when following the route of a journey, because of a mental health condition, are covered solely by descriptor 11 (b). ‘Needs prompting to be able to undertake any journey to avoid overwhelming psychological distress to the claimant’.

This descriptor scores just 4 points, not enough for an award of PIP mobility to be made.

The higher scoring descriptors 11(d) and 11(f) will not be awarded ‘to claimants who require someone with them for support only, as this is covered by descriptor B. The accompanying person should be actively navigating.’ for these descriptors to apply.

We are now hearing in the forum from people who are being caught out by this changed interpretation of the law.

But the guidance appears to be at odds not only with the actual wording of the regulations, but also with detailed undertakings given by the DWP when they finalised the text of the PIP descriptors.

We have published a written submission in Word format in the PIP appeals section of the members area that anyone affected by these issues can make use of at appeal stage. It sets out the grounds on which we believe the guidance given to assessors is wrong and why relying on the assessment will lead the decision maker to commit an error of law.

Clearly we can’t guarantee that the submission’s conclusions will be accepted by any given tribunal. But they are definitely worth arguing and will at least give you the possibility of appealing to the upper tribunal and getting professional support via the legal aid scheme if you are unsuccessful.

 

OTHER BENEFITS NEWS: DVLA’S ‘SNOOP ON YOUR NEIGHBOURS’ SERVICE
Just after the last newsletter went out we reported that a new vehicle check service on the DVLA website allows anyone to find out whether their neighbours are receiving the higher rate of the mobility component of disability living allowance (DLA) or either rate of the mobility component of personal independence payment (PIP).

We urged our visitors to complain to DVLA and the information commissioner if they were unhappy with this situation – and it seems that many of you did.

Whilst DVLA refuse to back down, the information commissioner’s office is investigating the issue and has received so many complaints that they are now saying that they are no longer looking at individual concerns and people should watch the DVLA website for news.

Meanwhile, a national expert in data protection has supported our argument that DVLA is breaching the rights of disabled claimants, calling our analysis ‘excellent’ and adding ‘I hope the DVLA will rethink.’

We’ll keep you posted.

 

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

Real Life Reform publishes fourth report

Government in court over disability benefit changes

Legal aid cuts cause benefits appeals to fail

Treasury has not signed off on Duncan Smith’s universal credit, MPs told

Assessing the Assessors

Benefits and Work Newsletter: Thank you cards for sanctions

May 14, 2014 2 comments

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 ourbrief 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.”

Benefits and Work Newsletter: Revealed, Truth About Atos Death Threats

April 30, 2014 12 comments

ESA NEWS
Benefits and Work has obtained documents via the Freedom of Information Act that may undermine claims by Atos that its staff were the subject of nearly two thousand episodes of assault or abuse, including death threats, by claimants in 2013 alone. Atos used the claim to justify wanting to exit early from the contract to carry out work capability assessments (WCAs).

This was, by any standards, a very serious accusation.

Characterising thousands of sick and disabled claimants as violent thugs that Atos could no longer expose its staff to is likely to have increased the level of prejudice against benefits claimants. It may even have contributed to a rise in the number of violent hate-crimes committed against disabled people.

Benefits and Work, however, has now obtained a month-by-month breakdown of all the incidents of violence and abuse reported by Atos to the DWP throughout the whole of 2013. It includes:

Staff assaulted. 5 times in the whole year.

Threat made to staff ‐ direct or implied. 110 times in the whole year.

Security called/police called. 215 times in the whole year.

Readers can decide for themselves whether Atos’ claims are justified by reading the whole year’s figures.

In other ESA news, labour has pledged to overhaul the work capability assessment. But without definite information about what is going to change, it’s a pledge that will probably be greeted with a certain amount of scepticism, at least by our readers.

Plus, yet another case of a dying man being found capable of work – in this case whilst he was waiting for a heart transplant.

Finally, we have now heard from three current ESA claimants who have been asked to attend an Atos medical in spite of the decision by the DWP to suspend all repeat referrals to Atos. The numbers seem too small to suggest that the suspension policy has ended already, but we’d be interested to hear from anyone else who has recently been invited to an Atos medical even though their ESA review date was February 2014 or later.

PIP NEWS
Anyone who imagines that Atos is hurting financially following the decision to try to make them produce better quality WCA reports and to suspend referring ESA claimants for reassessment will be in for a disappointment.

Atos first quarter profits are up 1.6% in the UK where “the ramp-up of the PIP contract offset the revenue decrease on WCA.” In other words, what they lost on the WCA roundabout they made up for on the PIP swings.

But while Atos may be very content with the way PIP is panning out, Emma Cross a Macmillan Cancer Support benefits adviser calls it “Heartbreaking, truly astonishing, I’ve never seen anything like this.” She says delays in PIP leave the sick utterly destitute.

“Does anyone know how many people are struggling?”, she asks.

Meanwhile, Dr Stephen Duckworth, the head of Capita’s PIP unit has told the press that disabled people are trapped in an assessment nightmare because of all the tests they have to undergo in relation to benefits. He believes that this has dangerous impacts on their health and personal lives and also increases the levels of prejudice against them.

All of which would be a great deal more convincing if Dr Duckworth didn’t work for the company which is busy selling dodgy lie detector software for local authorities to use on sick and disabled housing benefit claimants.

OTHER BENEFITS NEWS
The Mail on Sunday tried its best to discredit food banks on Easter Sunday. Its reporters lied about being unemployed with families in desperate need of help to con CAB and Trussell Trust staff into helping them.

The vicious stunt backfired spectacularly, however, when thousands of disgusted members of the public made online donations to the Trussell Trust, specifically stating that it was the Mail’s article that prompted their donation.

Only around 250 people had donated to the Trust on their Just Giving page since late January, giving under £3,000. Following the Mail’s ugly stunt, there have now been almost 5,000 donors handing over a total of more than £61,000. The Trussell Trust are delighted, the Mail on Sunday probably not so much.

Others in the media are no longer getting such an easy ride with their claimant hating agenda either.

Channel 4’s Benefits Street is struggling to find a street anywhere in Britain that will let them film a sequel. A disgruntled director claims that someone is getting to potential participants and ‘putting the fear of God into them’.

And finally, the DWP’s attempts to set the internet alight with £31,000 of our money spent on nine Youtube videos has failed as spectacularly as all IDS’ other enterprises. A video on home swapping for bedroom tax victims has, for example, had just 84 views.

Benefits and Work Newsletter: DWP Use Morecambe and Wise To Defend PIP Disaster

March 26, 2014 7 comments

In perhaps the most famous Morecambe and Wise sketch ever, as Morecambe mangles Greig’s piano concerto, Andre Previn protests: “You’re playing all the wrong notes.”

But Morecambe grabs him by the lapels and snaps back: “I’m playing all the right notes . . . but not necessarily in the right order.”

It’s a forty year old sketch. But Benefits and Work can reveal that it was dusted off for use at a televised meeting of the Public Accounts Committee about Personal Independence Payment (PIP) last week.

First Lisa Coleman, senior vice president at Atos, looking opulent in pearls, repeatedly denied accusations that Atos had lied in their PIP tender document about how many assessment centres their partner organisations had made available. References in their bid document to contractual commitments couldn’t possibly be understood to mean that there were any sort of . . . well, contracts, she argued.

Then it was the turn of DWP permanent secretary Robert Devereux, looking dismissive in shirt sleeves, to try to justify the 6-7 month waiting times for medicals.

Devereux was adamant that the neither the DWP nor Atos had got it wrong.

Atos, he insisted, had all the right assessment centres and all the right assessors . . . but not necessarily for the right medicals.

As MPs gaped in astonishment, Devereux explained that “The right number of people have been deployed . . . to do a test which is half as long.”

So, you see, officially it’s nobody’s fault that waiting times for PIP medicals are so enormous.

It’s because no-one could possibly have realised that PIP medicals would take two hours to carry out and write up, instead of the one hour that had been allowed for.

This is the sort of thing that could only be discovered once PIP had been rolled out nationally, not from running a proper pilot, Devereux appeared to argue.

Indeed, he seemed to expect gratitude from the committee because, when he realised that roll-out of PIP wasn’t going quite as smoothly as intended, he had scaled it back to only include every single new PIP claimant in the UK and a lot of others besides.

Like a well-practised double act, Devereux and Coleman were both steadfast in their refusal to admit fault, arguing that it’s early days yet and these utterly unforeseeable medical backlogs will soon be dealt with.

Coleman did reluctantly confess that 40% of Atos’ clients have to travel for more than an hour each way to a medical, rather than no-one at all having to do so, as they had guaranteed in their tender document. But this wasn’t because Atos had failed to provide most of the 740 promised assessment centres. Oh no, it was yet another of those completely unforeseeable things.

Because until PIP was up and running nobody could accurately predict where claimants would be travelling from. Such things are just not possible, apparently.

It was as if Coleman imagined PIP claimants to be some strange hobbity type of creatures, living in underground warrens that are only now being discovered, rather than people on every street in every town.

But there’s no denying that this twenty first century Morecambe and Wise put on a polished performance.

Certainly, anyone hoping for an admission of corporate guilt or a display of appropriate remorse for the misery being heaped on sick and dying people – something the committee heard about from other witnesses – will have been disappointed.

But then one thing we should all have foreseen: for the DWP and for Atos, the disastrous roll-out of PIP doesn’t even qualify as a comedy of errors, let alone a tragedy.

You can download the minutes of the meeting or you can watch the whole Committee meeting on Parliament TV. There’s no sound for the first minute until everyone is sitting comfortably. Atos are on at 10.30am and Devereux at 10.59am.

Or you can do yourself a favour and watch Morecambe and Wise’s original performance instead.

ESA NEWS
IB – ESA success, THANK’S B&W !
“Good news this week, got letter confirming I will be transferred from Incapacity Benefit to ESA Support Group after medical. Can’t thank you enough B&W !, couldn’t have done it without this site, the incredible people on here and the brilliant guides to filling in the forms and the assessment process. THANK’S !”

The latest official tribunal service figures show that there has been a dramatic drop of 61% in the number of ESA appeals lodged following the introduction of mandatory reconsiderations,

Appeal numbers may climb again as unsuccessful mandatory reconsiderations feed through into the tribunal system. But the likelihood is that many people will drop out at various points along the now greatly extended appeal process, leaving the DWP free to claim they have improved the system whilst actually having made it even more unfair.

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: 4452

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 NEWS
PIP awarded
“At last I have been awarded PIP after all this time waiting…Thank to B & W for all your help”

For members only, we’ve now published a collection of sample written submissions to help you create your own if you are involved in a PIP mandatory reconsideration or appeal. As only 37% of PIP claims are successful – excluding terminal illness cases – the probability is that we will be seeing many thousands of PIP appeals in the future. If you are involved in one, as a claimant or support worker, our appeals guide and sample written submissions will give you the confidence to fight unfair decisions all the way to tribunal.

The extraordinarily long waits for PIP medical assessments have prompted Disability News Service to begin a series of stories entitled ‘Life in the PIP queue’ which reveal the human misery behind the failure of Atos, Capita and the DWP to do their jobs at all competently.

Case studies include a family losing their motability car because of PIP delays, a man waiting for a liver transplant who cannot afford the food he needs and a claimant with learning difficulties who hasbeen waiting since August to hear from Atos.

 

OTHER BENEFITS NEWS
It’s been revealed that you are five times more likely to have your benefits cut than you are to find long-term employment if you are forced onto the work programme.

A shockingly small 48,000 work programme participants have been placed in jobs that lasted two years or more – just 3.2% of the total participants In the three years since the scheme started.

But figures already released by the DWP show that in the 12 months up to October 2013, no fewer than 242,973 sanctions were handed down for alleged failure to participate in the work programme

And to make it even harder for claimants to meet their commitments – and even easier to sanction them – the DWP is removing all the free telephones from Jobcentres. It’s a viciously cynical move which has aroused deep anger, but it’s going ahead anyway.

Meanwhile, it has been revealed that Universal Jobmatch, the jobs site that claimants are forced to use, is so riddled with fake and fraudulent opportunities that the DWP is not planning to renew the contract with Monster to maintain it. Monster are currently demanding a fee of almost a million pounds to remove all the fraudulent ads.

The site is just one example of failures in the DWPs partnership with the private sector which has led MPs on the public accounts committee to warn that the entire department is on the verge of meltdown.
BLOG ROUNDUP
The benefits cap has been in the news constantly following the Budget and continues to cause difficulties for the Labour party . Emsyblog has an interesting take on it. She explains in “The Tories: Making Children Pay” that the policy will push more children into poverty and it will punish children for the acts of their parents whilst punishing parents for not being able to access resources they need.

Following last month’s news that Atos wanted to end their contract delivering the Work Capability Assessments needed to receive ESA, it was revealed the day after the Budget that they were set to co-deliver the new childcare scheme.

The £2000 scheme which will replace childcare vouchers will be run partly by Atos, who will not be responsible for assessing eligibility. Jayne Linney and Mike Sivier have written blogs on the story.

Still on the subject of outsourcing, this blogger is ‘keeping an eye on a company whose business is government contracts’ and discusses the problems with procurement in Work Programme stats, and the PAC
CAMPAIGN NEWS
If you live in the Chesterfield area you might want to get down to the Market Hall, Assembly Rooms in Chesterfield on Saturday 29th March between 11am-4pm for a meeting organised by the Unite Community membership. They ask: How can we restore dignity to disabled Welfare Benefits? Speakers include Kate Green MP and Debbie Jolly from Disabled People against Cuts.

Back to Atos again. It seems that the tarnished company is also associated with the Commonwealth Games to be held in Glasgow this summer, by becoming an official sponsor, perhaps in a bid to salvage any reputation they have left.

The working class man blog explains why so many are against this and how you can add your name to the “Petition Demanding ATOS to be Dropped as Commonwealth Games Sponsors”.

 

TWITTER FEEDBACK
Following the ‘life in the PIP queue’ series of articles by John Pring featured on our site, we were sent a tweet by Liam with his own #lifeinthepipqueue post. He claimed PIP in May 2013 and was finally awarded it in November 2013, but had to appeal anyway as there was no award for Mobility.

Finally, to spread a little hope, Sue Marsh, disability campaigner and writer, is performing a bit of magic every Monday. She says; “Magic Mondays is a way of trying to convince others – people who may not be familiar with the many social security myths – that things are not as they seem. If we could all just persuade one person a week, we would have made a very significant impact by the 2015 election.” Read the full post here and perhaps think of one person who could be convinced by telling them the real stories behind welfare reform.
FACEBOOK FEEDBACK
Our Facebook page, run by volunteers, is thriving with lots of regular discussion on our news stories. Tweets are also regularly shared there and you may find it a place to discuss news and to seek support from others dealing with similar benefits hurdles.

It’s also a place where people can share their thoughts about Benefits and Work.  As one recent entrant in our Facebook subscription competition told us:

“I like benefits and work because their advice is so well presented and I can find my way around their website etc easily. it has really helped me to find out my entitlements and rights and it also cheers me up to see the testimonials from people that have got through the battle of the benefits system and won. its great that they are on fb – I share posts all the time with friends I know are struggling and will find what they need to know there.

So please consider joining us there too.

MORE NEWS ON THE SITE
As always, there’s more news on the site than we can squeeze into the newsletter, including:

MSPs suggest five changes to Iain Duncan Smith on improving the Work Capability Assessments

Urgent action needed on PIP, say MPs

Changes to benefits announced in the Chancellor’s Budget statement

MPs criticise DWP for ‘spin’ on official statistics and benefit claimants

Credit check plan to crack down on benefit cheats

GOOD NEWS FROM THE FORUM
Thanks to everyone who has sent us their good news.  It cheers us up enormously  in the office and we know it means a great deal to our members.  So please keep it coming.

Support Group renewal
“Thank you and everyone who has given their support to me over the last year. Without you giving your time to help when you are also ill yourselves is remarkable. I have been put in the Support Group again…Thank you all so much for your help.”

Support Group
“Just to give some hope to all those waiting months to hear from DWP with reassessments.
After 8 months I finally heard that they have kept me in the support group – and no medical either.
Many thanks to B&W for the excellent guides.”

ESA appeal success
“Thanks for all the info / support that your site offers! Got the letter today, I won my appeal.”

IB to Support Group success
“I would never have been able to fill the forms in without your help and Wonderful Guides and Knowledge ,I know I only posted a couple of questions for help but the answers I got helped me a great deal but I come on here every day to read up and keep up to date and read other peoples queries and this is the best money I have ever spent and I will continue to be a member of B&W for many years to come … once again thank you all very much and good luck to every body else who is going through this”

Son won appeal after two year wait
“..(my son) had appeal heard for previous claim and was put into support group, this is mainly due to your guides and help once again a big thank you. just have to wait and see what atos say about new claim he put in in jan. Thank you again”

ESA appeal won!
“… just won my appeal from wrag to support group of esa and its all your advice and support over the past few months that helped me through this nerve racking … b and w is a must for all people on benefits and i will be renewing my subscription thats for sure thanks again for being there when i needed some support”

ESA success
“Well, if I had a hat I would take it off to you guys…. thanks a million, couldnt have done it without you, and I will remain a member for life, thats how important this site is, in my opinion. Fantastic job you guys are doing, next stop PIP for me so I will be keeping an eye on things here every day that I am able to. Thanks again all, you are superb!”

IB to ESA transfer
“I was transferred from Ib to esa support group, which took seven months in total. Many thanks to B&W for your help, you gave me confidence to both fill in the form and attend my medical knowing I had a fair chance of success.”

Thank you
“a big thank you to the mods on this site…after a mandatory review using the info off this site I have been moved up into the Support group (2 years)…thank you”

DLA appeal success
“HI I have just had my DLA appeal today and I have been granted high rate mobility and low rate care which is being backdated to 6/3/2013 It helped enormously reading your papers so thank you so much”

Advice re PIP
“Again, many many thanks to you guys for all ur info and insite, this website is awesome!..”

ESA Tribunal success
“I attended my ESA Tribunal yesterday and won!..Thank you to those of you at the B&W website for all this wonderful information.”

ESA50 completion
“I would never have been able to make detailed replies to the descriptors by myself, so I want to thank B+W for their fantastic guides.”

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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