When working in the third sector, it is impossible to escape the fact that benefit sanctions are becoming an increasing problem for benefit claimants. Sanctions lead to crisis and it is often third sector organisations to whom claimants will turn for support.
It is time that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) also moved to a system of supporting rather than sanctioning claimants.
As a front line welfare rights adviser, I took a call one Friday morning from a client with a learning disability. His Job Seekers Allowance had been sanctioned as the Job Centre felt that he had failed to comply with his job seekers agreement.
He had no money for fuel, food or any immediate expenses and unless we could come up with a solution then he would be destitute over the weekend.
All other work was put on hold and contact made with the DWP. Despite being aware of the client’s learning disability, the DWP had not only sanctioned the client but also failed to inform him that he could apply for a hardship payment.
A hardship payment application was submitted and a referral made to a local food bank to ensure that if nothing else the client would have access to food over the weekend. After an anxious wait, it was agreed that a hardship payment could be made giving the client a reduced percentage of an already low income to survive on until his next payment. With immediate crisis alleviated, an appeal was made against the original decision as we felt it was wrong. Nine months later, a legally qualified tribunal judge agreed.
This one piece of poor decision-making meant pressure on the limited resources of an advice service, a government department, a local food bank and ultimately a very expensive tribunal to decide that the client should receive the money he had lost out on.
If these limited resources had been put towards supporting the claimant into employment rather than arguing over whether or not he had done enough to seek work, is it not more likely that he would have moved into employment?.
This one example shows the increased financial and other pressures that sanctions place on us all as organisations and tax payers as well as the stress the threat or experience of destitution has on claimants.
Unfortunately, we do not really know how many sanction decisions are wrong, as so many claimants don’t appeal. Many would rather rely on friends and family or receive assistance from food banks as they are afraid to challenge the Job Centre fearing this will lead to more sanctions in the future.
The sanction culture has created a system of fear rather than support and this has to stop for the benefit of claimants, government bodies, the third sector and also tax payers
With the move from Disability Living Allowance to the Personal Independence Payment expected to result in an estimated 20% cut in expenditure, many members and supporters of ENABLE Scotland are very concerned about how this change might impact on them. And at the moment, a lot of the fear is in the unknown.
Although the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is still a very new benefit the Department for Work and Pensions have released some figures which give us an idea of how things are going so far.
The first noticeable issue is that it would appear to be taking a very long time to reach a decision on claims.
As of December 2013 the DWP had only made decisions on 1 in 5 of the claims made. These statistics would appear to fit with the experience of advice agencies throughout the UK who are reporting concerns that decisions are not being made for significant periods of time.
The second noticeable feature of the statistics is that from June 2013 to December 2013 there appears to be a marked decrease in the percentage of successful claims where the claim does not involve a terminal illness.
Initially, 88% of claims to PIP were resulting in an award but by December 2013 this had fallen to 50%.
So what does all of this mean for claimants?
Whilst the fact that the percentage of successful claims dropped significantly is concerning, it is perhaps too early to draw concrete conclusions from this.
The figures available are for a short time period and we do not yet know how many decisions will be overturned at appeal. What is concerning, however, is the fact that there are significant delays in arriving at decisions.
Delays in decision making will not only hold up the payment of much needed benefit to the disabled person but will also delay entitlement to benefits for carers.
This is because the disabled person will not be in receipt of a "qualifying benefit" which will allow their carer to access benefits.
Those already in receipt of DLA are also at risk as delays in issuing decisions could mean that their DLA entitlement ends before a decision on their PIP claim is made.
Any gaps in entitlement could result in claimants other benefits being reduced as many recipients receive additional money in other means tested benefits which depend on their entitlement to DLA.
Carers Allowance will also stop for the carers of those transferring over where there is a gap in entitlement.
One benefit which won’t be affected if there is a gap in entitlement pending a PIP decision is Housing Benefit. Legislation has been amended to allow DLA related premiums in Housing Benefit to continue until a decision on the claimant’s PIP claim has been made.
It is important to note that this exception will only apply to those who had DLA entitlement and are being moved over to PIP and not to those who are making a brand new claim.
Should you be in the position where a delay in PIP decision making means that you have a gap in entitlement then it is strongly recommended that you advise any other departments of the DWP that make benefit payments to you.
This also the case for parents of disabled children who are in receipt of increased tax credits due to their child’s entitlement to DLA. Any parents in these circumstances should contact HMRC.
As part of ENABLE Scotland’s AGM in November 2013 our members were given a presentation on the changes to the benefits system and then given the opportunity to take part in a video diary where they were able to give their experiences and opinions on these changes.
The footage from the video diary has now been sent to the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee as part of the “Your Say” call for evidence from people with long term disabilities and can be viewed here http://youtu.be/RurdqtI_xaM or via the Scottish Parliament website http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/gettinginvolved/68298.aspx
The message coming out of the video diary is clear. People with a learning disability are very concerned about the process of welfare reform and some have already seen negative impacts with one member having to attend an Employment and Support Allowance tribunal and another having to move house due to the Bedroom Tax.
A particular area of concern for our members is the future of the concessionary travel scheme (or buss pass as it’s more commonly known). They worry that the scheme could end or that future benefit changes might mean that they are no longer entitled to their bus pass.
The concessionary travel scheme allows pass holders free nationwide bus travel (some can also have a carer accompany them for free) as well as discounted rail and ferry travel.
This is a particularly important point for the Welfare Reform Committee as although the vast majority of benefit changes are decided by the UK Government, the concessionary travel scheme is different with the Scottish Government having the power to stop the scheme or limit or extend its eligibility criteria.
ENABLE Scotland are aware of the huge importance of access to public transport for people with a learning disability and would like to see the Scottish Government extend the eligibility criteria to include the lower rate of the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance.
We are also campaigning for better to access to public transport through our Help Us Be Spontaneous campaign (more information on the HUBS campaign can be found here http://www.enable.org.uk/HUBS/Pages/default.aspx)
The Bedroom Tax, one of the most unpopular aspects of the welfare reform programme, was introduced to tenants in local authority and registered social landlord housing in April of this year.
The ‘Bedroom Tax’ is not strictly a tax but instead a reduction in the amount of Housing Benefit that claimants can receive if they are thought to be ‘under-occupying’ their homes. Under-occupation is decided by the allocation of a number of rooms that claimants need based on their circumstances, and then matching this to the number of bedrooms in their homes.
Those who are thought to be under-occupying by one room will have their Housing Benefit reduced by 14 per cent and those who are under-occupying by two bedrooms or more will face a reduction of 25 per cent.
There may, however, be an argument that will assist a small number of claimants that will mean that the Bedroom Tax will not apply to them.
This argument applies to current Housing Benefit claimants who became entitled to the benefit prior to 1st January 1996 and have been entitled to Housing Benefit continuously (with a limited number of exceptions) since then. Claimants must also have remained in the same property.
This argument may be successful as, prior to the 1st January 1996, the piece of legislation used to decide the amount of maximum Housing Benefit that a claimant could be entitled to, is different from the law that is used to identify maximum Housing Benefit from 1st January 1996 onwards.
The argument that the Bedroom Tax should not apply to pre-1996 claimants is that the Bedroom Tax legislation only refers to the law post 1996 and, therefore, the Bedroom Tax does not apply to those who had claimed Housing Benefit before this date.
It is important to stress that it is early days in the progress of this argument but at this stage there would appear to be merit in claimants who can use this argument to lodge applications asking the Local Authority to look at their Housing Benefit claim again.
A standard letter to request a review of Housing Benefit is available and can be requested by emailing email@example.com Emails must contain your name, full address, date of birth, national insurance number and telephone contact number.
You will need to complete the letter with details of the local office that administers your Housing Benefit claim.
Should the Local Authority reject the argument put forward in the letter you will have the right to appeal against that decision (appeals should be lodged within one month of the refusal to review your Housing Benefit).
ENABLE Direct will be able to advise you on local advice agencies that can assist with your appeal. ENABLE Direct can be contacted on 0300 0200 101.
The white paper on Scottish independence has created much debate, discussion, and disagreement since it was released. There are many important discussions and decisions to be made between now and referendum day, and one key issue for our members will be what the welfare state might look like in an independent Scotland.
It is important that our members and supporters engage in the debate to help inform how they might vote on referendum day.
Chapter 4 of the white paper outlines the vision of the welfare state in an independent Scotland and contained three ideas that may prove popular with ENABLE Scotland members and supporters.
1. Abolish the Bedroom Tax
2. Halt the roll out of Universal Credit
3. Halt the roll out of the Personal Independence Payment.
The bedroom tax has been strongly criticised by many organisations, ENABLE Scotland included, as an unfair policy that will push many of Scotland’s disabled into poverty.
The new systems of Universal Credit and the Personal Independence Payment have attracted much criticism for being impractical and unresponsive to the needs of many people who require the support of benefits.
One major change that is perhaps likely to attract less attention, however, is the proposal to ensure that benefits and Tax Credits increase in line with inflation. This is a significant departure from current UK Government policy where two recent decisions have reduced the real terms income of benefit recipients.
In 2010, the UK Government changed the method used for calculating the annual increase in the rate of benefits from the retail price index (RPI), to the consumer price index (CPI). At the time of introduction, this meant that benefits were uprated by the CPI rate of 3.1% rather than the RPI rate of 4.6%. This move was criticised at the time by the TUC who called the move “insidious”.
In 2014/2015 and 2015/2016 this change will be compounded when many benefits are subjected to a 1% uprating cap. To put this change into context, it was estimated by the Department for Work and Pensions that the 1% cap would affect 30% of all households in the UK, and that the majority of households receiving benefit would be affected.
The DWP went on to estimate, that the average loss for each household would be £3 per week, but also, that those who have the least income would not only be more likely to be affected, but would be likely to have higher than average losses.
Whilst disability benefits and disability related elements in means tested benefits have been protected from the 1% cap, it is worth remembering that these will still be uprated by the traditionally lower CPI rather than RPI.
It would seem then, on welfare reform at least, that the proposals are positive; but are there negatives?
Critics of the white paper have argued, that the proposals in the paper are unaffordable and made based on assumptions of the outcomes of negotiations that would have to take place should Scotland vote yes.
It could also be argued that the white paper is a missed opportunity. Whilst the proposals would bring some popular changes, it would still see the welfare state remain largely unchanged. The Work Capability Assessment, poor standards of DLA decision making and sanctions are just some of the issues that would remain in place.
Whilst the welfare state will be just one of the man y issues that voters will have to consider, it does raise a fundamental question about our welfare state whatever the outcome of the referendum. Do we really want to see more of the same, or do we want to see radical change to the social security system?
ENABLE will shortly be responding to a Scottish Government consultation on the future of the welfare state, and we would be keen to hear the opinions of our members and supporters on their vision of a future welfare state in both an independent Scotland, and a Scotland which remains part of the UK.
Does the welfare state need reform, and if so what should those changes be?
Any comments or opinions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You’re probably not aware of it, but the Government has drastically altered the terms and conditions of the contract between you and the welfare state.
If at this point you are wondering what contract you have with the welfare state, it’s a pretty fundamental one.
The National Insurance Act 1911 was the starting point of a national system where the population would pay in, safe in the knowledge that there would be a system of support in place should they need it at a later date.
Clearly things have moved on in the welfare state since 1911 but this essential principle has remained. People pay into the welfare state system and should expect assistance themselves should they ever need it.
As the welfare state developed, this link between contributions and entitlement has remained in the creation of “contribution based benefits” i.e. benefits where your entitlement depended on what you as an individual had paid in.
One common event that would see individuals requiring the support of the welfare state would be if illness or disability meant that they became unfit to work.
This need led to the creation of benefits such as Incapacity Benefit and the more recent Employment and Support Allowance. These benefits are paid to claimants based on their national insurance contributions, irrespective of most other types of household income.
From April 2012, however, this social contract has been brutally altered.
Under the new sickness benefit Employment and Support Allowance claimants are split into two groups:
• those currently unfit to work but who may benefit from some type of assistance to overcome their health problems (this assistance is called work related activity); and
• those who are so ill that they will not be required to take part in work related activity (these people are placed into the support group).
Those who are placed into the work related activity group will have their sickness benefit limited to one year, where as those in the support group will be able to retain their benefit as long as they remain in the support group.
Those who currently remain on Incapacity Benefit and other forms of sickness benefit will eventually be transferred to Employment and Support Allowance over time, with their 365 days beginning from the date they are moved over.
This means that claimants who are part of a couple and fall ill could be left with no source of income at all should their partner be in full time employment.
Paid at a rate of £100.15 per week, this small source of income makes a crucial difference to some of the lowest income families in Scotland
Much is made in the media and in Government of the need to target “skivers” and those who “malinger on benefits” but, as well as rejecting these ideas as myths, it is important to note that this is a change that will impact on people who have actually passed a strict capability for work examination and who have paid into the system.
Although there has been an element of discretion built in to this reform, in that those in the support group will retain their benefit, it is worth noting that current figures show that only 30% of claimants were placed into this group (Employment and Support Allowance: outcomes of work capability assessments, Great Britain, quarterly official statistics bulletin, July 2013).
For people who know about this change to the benefits system, their thoughts may begin to turn towards private cover to insure themselves against ill health and unemployment as they can no longer rely on the welfare state to provide them with a secure income in these circumstances.
Is this the route we want to see our welfare state go down?
The news that the Supreme Court has rejected the Department for Work and Pensions appeal against a Court of Appeal ruling that its work schemes are flawed has understandably been greeted with celebration from many quarters.
The work schemes in question force Job Seekers to undertake unpaid work placements or risk having their benefits sanctioned.
But is this victory a hollow one? The DWP and UK Government certainly seem to think so. Minister for Employment Esther McVey has branded the decision a “victory for common sense”.
Esther McVey’s delight at the judgement doesn’t centre on the parts of the DWP argument that were rejected, but on rejection of the argument that the Work Scheme was a breach of Job Seekers’ human rights.
As well as considering the procedural and legal form of the scheme, the Supreme Court Judges were also asked to consider if the overall principle of the scheme breached Job Seekers’ Human Rights by way of article 4.
Article 4 provides:
"1. No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.
2. No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.
3. For the purpose of this article the term 'forced or compulsory labour' shall not include:
(a) any work required to be done in the ordinary course of detention imposed according to the provisions of article 5 of this Convention or during conditional release from such detention;
(b) any service of a military character or, in the case of conscientious objectors in countries where they are recognised, service exacted instead of compulsory military service;
(c) any service exacted in case of an emergency or calamity threatening the life or well-being of the community;
(d) any work or service which forms part of normal civic obligations."
The Job Seeker in this case argued that the Work Scheme meant that she was being forced to undertake compulsory labour. The Supreme Court rejected this argument.
The Government’s argument for the existence of the scheme is that Job Seekers are allowed to gain training and experience that will make it more likely that they will move into employment.
This idea appears to have merit until you consider the fact that in the case under appeal the claimant was already volunteering in a museum and picking up skills and experience.
Despite this, she was forced to leave her voluntary role to go and stack shelves in Poundland. It is unclear what experience she was to get there that wasn’t available in her voluntary role.
Even if we accept the Government’s argument that these placements help Job Seekers to become more employable it begs the question that if companies like Poundland have shelves, those shelves need filled and they need a person to fill them, why they can’t pay someone to do it rather than rely on the unpaid labour of Job Seekers?
Surely this solution would result in one more available job and by extension one less Job Seeker?
None of this, however, is as relevant as the fundamental issue that people should not be forced to undertake work without receiving, at the very least, the already inadequate minimum wage in return for their labour.
People with a learning disability are already far more likely to be unemployed than the general population and face additional barriers when trying to obtain employment and are therefore more likely to come into contact with these types of schemes.
ENABLE Scotland has consistently argued that what people with a learning disability need are real jobs with the additional support in place to make those jobs sustainable.
What they do not need is to have their difficulties gaining employment exploited in order to provide free labour.
It is extremely disappointing that the Supreme Court has not agreed with this but there must remain hope that the European Courts would take a different view should the issue come before them.
We also call on the UK Government and employers to reject schemes which require Job Seekers to work without pay on the fundamental principle that it is wrong.
The introduction of the “bedroom tax” means more people than ever are struggling to pay their rent.
Many people who had their full rent paid by Housing Benefit have now been told they have a shortfall to pay from their other benefits.
This can be a devastating blow leaving you worrying about how you will manage to pay your rent, buy food and heat your house
Thankfully, you may get help to pay your rent from your Local Authority by applying for a Discretionary Housing Payment.
What is discretionary housing payment?
The UK government has given each Local Authority a pot of money to help people who have a difference between their Housing Benefit and their rent.
This money is not just for those affected by the bedroom tax but for anyone who has a shortfall in their rent money.
You may, for example, have recently lost your job and be in private rented accommodation. In circumstances like this you could apply for DHP to help you pay your rent up to the end of your tenancy whilst you look for somewhere else to live or allow you time to get back into work.
You do have to be receiving some Housing Benefit to qualify for DHP so if this is not the case, you will not be able to apply. We recommend though that you get a full benefit check to see if there are any benefits that you might be entitled to.
How do you access a DHP?
If you have a shortfall your next question is likely to be ‘How can I get access to this fund?’
The answer is to contact your Local Authority and apply. In most cases, the department which deals with your Housing Benefit claim will also deal with Discretionary Housing Payments.
Your Local Authority may ask you to apply in writing, by telephone or by visiting one of its offices. It will want a lot of information to decide if it should give you a payment from the fund.
Because the DHP fund is limited, your Local Authority needs to make a decision based on your circumstances. It will want to know what benefits you get, who else is in your house, and may even request some receipts to show how you currently spend your money.
Is it worth applying?
The answer is a definite yes!
Due to the impact of the bedroom tax, the UK Government has significantly increased the amount of money available to Local Authorities for this fund. You have a better chance than ever of being granted a payment as, quite simply, the Local Authorities have more money to give out.
Remember - if no one applies this money will simply go to waste!
Getting a DHP can mean more money to spend on day-to-day living expenses and stop you falling into rent arrears so ask yourself - Can you afford not to apply?
How long does it last?
DHP is not seen by the UK Government or Local Authorities as a long-term solution to shortfalls in your housing benefit.
Generally speaking, your Local Authority will only award you DHP for up to 6 months at a time and it could refuse your application. Because of this, if your housing benefit is not enough to pay your rent, we strongly recommend you seek further advice about your housing options to allow you to make long-term choices about where you live.
If the application process worries you remember there are advice agencies that can help you and also make sure that you get all the benefits you are entitled to.
Your Local Authority may have a Welfare Rights unit or there may be a Citizens Advice Bureau or similar advice agency in your area that can assist you.
You can also contact ENABLE Direct on 0300 0200 101 who can signpost you to a service in your area.
As someone who has worked at the front line of benefit advice work, if you asked me to give context to the above headline for this article I could give you many stories.
I could tell you of the many carers I have met who go to extraordinary lengths to maintain their loved ones’ quality of life. I could tell you of the many people with disabilities who use their benefits to help them overcome those disabilities and the barriers society puts in front of them, often whilst maintaining full time employment. I could tell you of previously fit and healthy people who have contracted serious illnesses and have had to deal with the bureaucracy of the welfare state whilst undergoing treatment.
All of these people, and others like them, should be proud of themselves. We as a society should also be proud that we have a system that helps others and, should it ever be needed, will help us as well.
For some reason though, many within government and the media don’t see it that way.
Channel 5 decided to run a “documentary” which sought to exploit the prejudices about benefit claimants that the media and Government have been promoting for some time now.
A small section of benefit claimants were wheeled out in front of the camera in order to make the general public furious with their statements about how they choose to be on benefits and the wonderful lifestyle they have because of this.
This type of documentary is exploitative, cynical and does nothing to properly inform a debate about a national system that we are all likely to use at some point in our lives.
These programmes and others like it are the modern day equivalent of the stocks. The public are invited to pour scorn on the participants and to finish up with the feeling that our economic problems are the fault of people on benefits. All that’s missing is some rotten fruit.
Recently the BBC trust ruled that a programme broadcast in October 2011 entitled The Future of the Welfare State with John Humphrys had breached the rules of the BBC on issues of impartiality and accuracy.(more details here http://www.cpag.org.uk/content/bbc-programme-welfare-reform-broke-rules)
We congratulate the Child Poverty Action group on their determination to see this complaint through. We are also backing the CPAG campaign 'People Like Us'. The campaign calls for the rejection of misleading stereotypes of benefit claimants and for a debate around benefits that reflects the needs of ordinary families.
If we want to live in a fair and just society we must all join the fight against the move to demonise benefit claimants. Find out more at http://www.cpag.org.uk/scotland/people-like-us?dm_i=5MH,1WT97,AUTRMA,6UW2X,1
The recent report produced by Strathclyde Business School in conjunction with the Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland raised some very interesting issues around how the Voluntary Sector is adapting to the introduction of Self Directed Support (SDS).
The report, ‘Public sector austerity, personalisation and the implications for the voluntary sector workforce’, does highlight the positive approach that the voluntary sector is taking to the implementation of SDS, stating that "voluntary organisations were enthusiastic about the values and goals of personalisation and felt it fitted with their overall organisational mission and values."