Oct 032017
 

The Mirror are calling for people to share their experiences of Universal Credit. The government intends to increase the amount of job centres administering the benefit despite the numerous problems; an inbuilt delay of 42 days for the first payment, rising rent arrears and soaring food bank usage. No fewer than 15 conservative MPs have called for the benefit to be paused, but their pleas were ignored.

If you (or anyone you know) has been affected by this benefit, please consider sharing your experiences (you can request anonymity) For more information click here: (you need to scroll to the bottom of the screen).

Apr 042017
 

‘The Work Capability Assessment’ is a 30 minute presentation about the WCA, released by DPAC.

The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is the primary assessment for Employment and Support Allowance, the main social security payment for disabled people and those with a long term health condition. In this documentary advocates, lawyers and claimants outline the fundamental problems with the WCA, and the adverse effects it can have on claimants. They show how the WCA not only fails disabled people, but fails on the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) terms; it can worsen people’s health and does not help them return to work. The WCA is carried out by private companies (initially Atos now Maximus). Although some assessments can be carried out smoothly and professionally, others are in buildings that do not have disabled access, require people in pain to sit for hours on hard chairs, and are carried out by assessors who can be rude, and even cruel.

We would like to thank everyone who volunteered their time to talk about the WCA. Some people have requested anonymity, therefore we have either a) used their voice only or b) got actors to record what they said (a lot of claimants are scared of the DWP).

It can be viewed on youtube:

and is available for viewing and download on Vimeo

The Work Capability Assessment from DPAC on Vimeo.

 

Please share this far and wide!

Jul 152013
 

We are reposting our list of advice and legal resources with some additions- please contact us if you know of others that would be useful to add or any that are no longer working because of this Government’s cuts to legal aid

DPAC receive a large number of requests for advice and information on cuts and the WCA . We cannot give advice, but direct to web resources that we know.

We also have a DPAC Facebook page which includes many people struggling with issues of ESA, Atos assessments and DWP failures –it acts as an advice forum from those that may have been through the issues you might be experiencing it’s at https://www.facebook.com/groups/DPAC2011/418279398228320/?notif_t=group_activity

Useful web sites

http://www.advicenow.org.uk/

http://www.advicenow.org.uk/advicenow-guides/problems-with-benefits/turned-down-for-dla-aa-pip-think-youre-not-getting-enough/

www.benefitsandwork.co.uk

http://edinburghagainstpoverty.org.uk/

http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/

http://www.citizensadvice.co.uk/en/  Northern Ireland

http://www.cas.org.uk/cta/find-your-local-cab Scotland

http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Diol1/DoItOnline/DoItOnlineByCategory/DG_067277 Find your local CAB

http://www.turn2us.org.uk/information__resources/benefits/social_fund/short_term_benefit_advances.aspx

http://budgetingadvance.com/

WCA: how to prepare

http://www.socialworkfuture.org/articles-and-analysis/articles/242-survival-tips-for-the-work-capability-assessment

http://antp.org.uk/wcarules.htm

WCA Appeals: what you need to do

http://www.solfed.org.uk/?q=unwaged-workers/know-your-rights-failing-a-work-capability-assessment

Debt

National Debtline

Free and independent advice on debt

Telephone: 0808 808 4000 (Monday-Friday, 9am -9pm; Saturday, 9.30am-1pm)

Website: www.nationaldebtline.co.uk

Benefits/hardship payments/Short term Budgeting loans

DPAC: https://dpac.uk.net/2013/05/hardship-paymentsbudgeting-loans-and-short-term-advances

Homelessness

Shelter

A national telephone advice line staffed by trained housing advisers.
Telephone: 0808 800 4444 (8am-8pm Monday-Friday, 8am-5pm Saturday-Sunday)

Websites: http://england.shelter.org.uk and http://scotland.shelter.org.uk

Homeless UK

This has an online database search allows you to search, by area, for organisations providing benefits and debt advice.

Website: www.homelessuk.org

DIAL

There are around 120 local Disability Information and Advice Line services (DIALs) run by disabled people and now taken over by the SCOPE charity

For area coverage see: www.scope.org.uk/services/local-groups/dial-uk.

Part 2

Free legal assistance list with thanks to Inclusion London

Bar Pro Bono Unit

Who are they?

A charity that helps to find pro bono legal assistance from volunteer barristers for individuals and organisations who cannot afford to pay and who cannot obtain public funding (legal aid).

What do they do?

The Unit matches barristers prepared to undertake pro bono work with those who need their help. The office itself does not give advice.

The volunteer barristers can provide advice, representation and help at mediation; representation in any court/tribunal; give legal advice on any subject; and draft documents such as skeleton arguments.

How do you access the service?

  • They cannot accept applications unless they come via a referrer (generally, an advice agency such as the CAB or a Law Centre, or a local MP)
  • Visit the website www.barprobono.org.uk
  • For more information if you are an individual needing help Click Here
  • Submit a query via contact form Click Here

Community Legal Advice

Who are they?

A free and confidential advice service in England and Wales paid for by legal aid.

What do they do?

Provide free help or legal advice over the phone. They can help with family, debt, housing, employment, education, welfare benefits and tax credits problems.

They will check to see if you are eligible for legal aid and put you in touch with a specialist legal adviser, or refer you to other agencies of you do not qualify for their services.
Has a free translation service available in 170 languages.

How do you access the service?

  • Telephone 0845 345 4 345 (Open Monday to Friday 9.00 am to 8.00 pm. Saturday 9.00 am to 12.30 pm. Calls cost 4p per minute from a BT landline; cost from mobiles will be more)
  • Request a call back 

               -Via online form Click Here

               -Text ‘legalaid’ then your name to 80010 (Call back within 24 hours)

Disability Law Service (England and Wales only)

Who are they?

A national charity run by disabled people, which specialises in free legal advice and information for disabled people, their families and carers.

What do they do?

They provide free legal advice and representation (e.g. in complaints, using the Ombudsman, tribunals and courts), specialising in Welfare Benefits; Community Care; Disability Discrimination in Employment, Access to Goods and Services; and using the Equality Duty to challenge public authorities.
They run a free legal advice line, open Mon-Friday, 10am–5pm, with an answering machine service for out of hours calls.
They run an Employment Law drop in at their office in Tower Hamlets, where a member of their legal team will assess whether you are financially eligible for legal aid under the Legal Services Commissions (LSC) Legal Help scheme.
They also have factsheets available to download on key areas of the law, such as Community Care; education; employment; goods and services; and welfare benefits. The factsheets are available for download in different formats – regular, large print, text only and audio file.
They commit to responding to telephone enquiries within 24 hours, and written enquiries within 7-10 days.

How do you access the service?

Free Representation Unit (FRU)

Who are they?

A charity that provides free legal representation for the public and advocacy experience for junior lawyers.

What do they do?

Provide legal advice, case preparation and advocacy in employment tribunals (and appeals from decisions of the employment tribunals); social security appeals in the first-tier tribunal (and appeals from such decisions); and criminal injury compensation cases.

How do you access the service?

  • *Do not accept cases directly from members of the public – all cases must come through a referral agency. For a list of referral agencies, Click Here
  • Visit the website www.thefru.org.uk

LawWorks

Who are they?

A charity that works with law firms and legal professionals to involve them in delivering pro bono work.

What do they do?

Aim to provide free legal help to those who cannot afford to pay for it and who are unable to access legal aid.

Services to individuals include free Legal Advice Clinics, free mediation to settle disputes out of court, and free casework assistance if you need more than one-off advice.

Who are they for?

Individuals

How do you access the service?

ProBonoUK.net

Who are they?

A charity that run a website for the promotion of pro bono legal work.

What do they do?

Act as a resource for news andinformation about pro bono work for individuals, advice workers and lawyers wishing to offer help.

How do you access the service?

RAD Legal Services:   BSL

Who are they?

A dedicated legal advice service for Deaf BSL users provided by the Royal Association of Deaf People (RAD).

What do they do?

RAD Legal Services currently has three projects: a Discrimination Advice project, a Webcam Advice Project and a Money Advice Service project.
Discrimination Advice gives free specialist legal advice on discrimination issues in the areas of employment, housing, education and goods, facilities and services.  This is provided by a Deaf solicitor, and can be delivered face to face, via webcam, email, telephone or instant messaging software.
Webcam Advice is the BSL version of the Community Legal Advice Helpline, and is available free of charge to people eligible for legal aid in the areas of welfare benefits, debt, housing and employment.  As well as webcam, they can also provide advice via instant messaging software such as Windows Live Messenger, ooVoo, etc.
Money Advice Service has a qualified Money Adviser giving free, clear and ‘jargon-free’ Money Advice money advice to D/deaf and hard of hearing people who live in the South East. The Service covers the savings and investments; borrowings (credit cards, loans and mortgages); retirement planning and pensions; redundancy; tax and tax credits; insurance; debt; starting a family; and budgeting.

How do you access the service?

Other links

Advice Guide

Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) online advice resource.
www.adviceguide.org.uk

Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB)

The website of the national advice agency, including Search for your nearest CAB.
www.citizensadvice.org.uk

Law Centres Federation

The umbrella organisation that supports and promotes UK Law Centres. For a list of London’s Law Centres, visit
www.lawcentres.org.uk/directory/location/London

Legal Adviser Finder

Find legal advisers or solicitors near you
http://legaladviserfinder.justice.gov.uk/AdviserSearch.do

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Download the list of Legal firms: Public Law Specialists

Download list of Legal Firms: Community Care specialists

 

 

 

 

Sep 152011
 

After all the fuss of the Welfare Reform Bill in the house of lords yesterday I wasn’t expecting much for a couple of weeks when it will reach committee stage. However, I woke up today to find that the government had tabled a motion in the lords to send the bill to the grand committee, held in a side room.

This is in fact the normal procedure for legislation moving through parliament. The committee stage is where the bill is examined line-by-line and objections from the debate at the second reading turn into amendments to the bill before it goes back to the house for the report stage and the third reading. Parliament’s own web page states:

Any Bill can be referred to a Committee of the whole House but the procedure is normally reserved for finance Bills and other important, controversial legislation.

So you can see, controversial bills are supposed to be debated by a “committee of the whole house” rather than a “grand committee.” As one lord stated in the debate today, no one can argue that this legislation is not controversial. The peers have stated over and over again during debate that they have been inundated with letters, emails, and phone calls from people concerned about this bill. They show surprise at the scale of concern shown to them. Unfortunately, despite a heated debate this afternoon in the end the lords voted 263 to 211 to pass the motion and move the bill to the Grand Committee. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats voted for the motion, and Labour voted against it. Some of the reasons given were that it would block up the chamber and delay the passage of other bills, and that too many people would want to speak in the debate and it would take too long. (Yes, really! Democracy apparently takes too long.) One lady stated that several of the bills going through parliament are really three bills in one, and that of course it would take longer. (As an aside, I would urge you to look up Shock Doctrine for reasons as to why changes are being made so quickly.)

The difference between the two options for committee stage are quite important, I think. Here’s the official description of the committee stage:

Line by line examination of the Bill

Detailed line by line examination of the separate parts (clauses and schedules) of the Bill takes place during committee stage. Any Member of the Lords can take part.

Committee stage can last for one or two days to eight or more. It usually starts no fewer than two weeks after the second reading.

Before committee stage takes place

The day before committee stage starts, amendments are published in a Marshalled List – in which all the amendments are placed in order.

Amendments on related subjects are grouped together and a list (“groupings of amendments”) is published on the day.

What happens at committee stage?

Every clause of the Bill has to be agreed to and votes on the amendments can take place.

All proposed amendments (proposals for change) can be discussed and there is no time limit – or guillotine – on discussion of amendments.

What happens after committee stage?

If the Bill has been amended it is reprinted with all the agreed amendments.

At the end of committee stage, the Bill moves to report stage for further examination.

Here is the critical part though:

Grand Committee

The proceedings are identical to those in a Committee of the Whole House except that no votes may take place.

As compared to:

Committee of the whole House

In the House of Lords the committee stage of a Bill usually takes place in the Lords Chamber and any Member can take part. The Committee may choose to vote on any amendment and all Members present can vote.

So you can see, apart from being in a less-accessible room, with space for far fewer peers to discuss the bill and no public gallery, sending a bill to the Grand Committee also means that the amendments cannot be voted on individually. I think, on the whole, this can be viewed as a bad thing. Even worse, though; in the Committee Of The Whole Chamber, voting on amendments would enable a majority vote to fix some of the worse points. Instead, the Grand Committee must agree unanimously on an amendment which means that just one person siding with the government can block any attempt to fix this bill.

However, please keep sending your messages to peers. They have noticed our objections, and we can’t let up now. Details are on my blog.

Jul 082011
 

By Steven Sumpter

In two weeks I have to undergo a Work Capability Assessment which will determine whether or not I will continue to receive Employment and Support Allowance while I am ill. I will be placed into one of two groups: the Support Group, who are judged sick enough to be left alone to receive ESA, or the Work Related Activity Group, who are thought able to attend several Work Focused Interviews and eventually to be able to work if pushed enough. If by some miracle I am suddenly cured, I could be declared fit to work and moved on to Job Seekers Allowance and classed as unemployed.

That all sounds OK, you might think. It sounds reasonable, we have to make sure that sick and disabled people receive support, and the the work shy are sent back to work. But there’s a problem. It isn’t my GP that will carrying out this assessment. Nor is it any hospital specialist. It’s not even the Department of Work and Pensions that will carry out this test, even though they requested it. No, instead of any of these, it is a French IT company called ATOS that will decide if I am fit to work or not. Specifically, a division of ATOS called ATOS Healthcare that has been contracted by the DWP to carry out these assessments and provide “medical advice” at a cost of £100 million a year. “That’s absurd!” you may say. What does an IT company know about health? Well, that doesn’t matter, according to ATOS. They have developed a computer system called LiMA that records the patients answers given in an interview, and makes the decision based on points. It’s all very straightforward. What could possibly go wrong?

Well obviously something has, because ATOS is the subject of strong protest. On twitter and on blogs anger against ATOS has been obvious, cropping up again and again. In the physical world campaigners have held extensive protests outside ATOS buildings, with signs and slogans like “ATOS kills” and “ATOS don’t give a toss.” ATOS recruitment fares have been targetted too. When sick and disabled people are scared and angry enough to picket a company, wheelchairs and crutches and all, there might just be something wrong. A commons select committee has been investigating the Migration from Incapacity Benefits to Employment Support Allowance, and while questioning senior executives from ATOS healthcare MP Stephen Lloyd said that Atos was “feared and loathed probably in equal terms” by the families and friends of disabled people. Lisa Coleman, a senior manager at ATOS, said that “fear and misunderstanding” could be blamed on claimants “not really understanding the role that Atos plays”.

So what is the problem with ATOS? Well, for a start, the computer can only work with what it is told. And what it is told is keywords. The examiner asks questions about things such as walking, reaching, communicating and controlling the bowels. The answers don’t really matter much, because the examiner stares fixedly at the computer screen and picks keywords and numbers from a list as they are mentioned and the computer assembles them into a sentence and fills in the gaps. This has often resulted in some absurd and misleading statements. Some genuine examples include “usually can do light gardening for 1 minutes” and “The client’s Amputation of Upper Limb is mild. They have seen a specialist for this problem.” Another claimant stated that she pottered about all day; it was recorded as “Customer does pottery all day.” After the questioning is complete there is usually a very short physical examination. The claimant may poked and prodded and instructed to stand up, raise their arms, pick something up, or make other movements. It is all very rushed and does not leave time or scope for much useful data to be gathered. In addition the examiner records observations about the patients ability to walk and talk while at the assessment.

This assessment is flawed for several reasons. Firstly, the data gathering process is inaccurate and rushed. Staff carrying out the assessment have strict targets and are expected to get through five assessments in a morning or afternoon session, which allows about 45 minutes per assessment at most. People that have been through the process complain that the examiner spent their time looking at the computer rather than paying attention to them.

Once the examination is over the examiner produces a report that may bear little resemblance to the patient’s actual condition. The reports often fail to take into account the variable nature of many illnesses. What the patient can do on one day is by no means representative of what they can do the next, and for someone who is chronically sick or disabled, each task in itself may be achievable but exhaustion and pain can often prevent repetition or moving on to the next task.

An ATOS examiner might note that a person can sit at a computer, walk to the shops, cook a meal, and wash themselves. What they fail to note is that it might well only be possible to do one of those things on any given day! Being fit to work in an office, for example, involves a series of tasks – washing, dressing, commuting, sitting, talking, thinking, typing, holding the telephone, holding a pen, making decisions, defending those decisions, and much more. I could do any of those things, sometimes, maybe, but I could not do them all together, and I certainly could not make any guarantees about when I could do them or how long it would take, or even guarantee to do them at all. ATOS cares not. If you say that you can ever manage a task, it is assumed that you can do all of the tasks all of the time. They may well assume that because I could write and record this article, I could write for a living. They don’t see that it took me several days to write including many hours of frustration as my body left me in too much pain or fatigue to think or type.

Another flaw is that the ATOS assessment process can often be harmful in itself. For example, I could usually raise my arm above my head when asked. It would result in pain and fatigue which the examiner would not see. It would also be harder to do a second time, and after a few goes I would be unable to do it at all. The ATOS examiner would simply note that I could manage it the first time and would take no account of whether or not I could do it again or what price I paid for doing it.

More problems occur because at least a fifth of ATOS medical centres are not wheelchair accessible. Only one third of the centres have onsite parking, while visitors are required to walk from car parks several minutes away for other centres, and just one has a parking space for disabled people. 30 of the centres are not on the ground floor some don’t even have lifts! Considering that people only visit these buildings when they are sick or disabled and a huge number of them will be using walking sticks or wheelchairs, this is ridiculous.

For many people, just getting to the ATOS medical examination centre can be a major challenge. In a letter sent out to notify me of my impending assessment I was helpfully sent a suggested journey plan. It included bus, train and 17 minutes of walking. I do understand that the journey plan is a standard item sent out to all claimants, and this is why they have suggested that I walk despite them being fully aware that I cannot stay on my feet for more than a couple of minutes.  But I can’t be the only one that would have trouble with that journey. In fact, I would suggest that a majority of  people that claim ESA would find it difficult. Whether that be through inability to stand or walk, or pain, or fatigue, or because of a lack of accessible buses, or through mental health problems that get worse when around other people or attempting a task such as travelling. The problem is that many people will attempt and complete the journey at great cost to their own health, purely because they feel that they have to. Again, ATOS would merely note that the journey had been completed, and not what it cost in terms of pain, fatigue and recovery time.

It is not just the people subject to the tests that are unhappy with the situation. As I mentioned above, a commons select committee has been investigating the Migration from Incapacity Benefits to Employment Support Allowance.  In February, Dr Margaret McCartney attended a recruitment evening with ATOS Healthcare and reported back in the British Medical Journal. She noted that apart from doctors, ATOS also recruit nurses and physiotherapists for the same role, and that patients often would not be examined by anyone with knowledge of their health conditions. She reported that ATOS said “You are not in a typical caring role. This isn’t about diagnosing.” and “We don’t call them patients . . . We call them claimants.” She said that “Throughput is a clear focus” and that “from the recruitment evening it was clear that the medical examination consisted of a computerised form to be filled in by choosing drop down statements and justifying them. For example, you could say “able to walk with ease” if you witnessed this or the patient told you this.” Even Professor Paul Gregg, who was involved in designing the test has said “The test is badly malfunctioning. The current assessment is a complete mess.

Since ATOS have taken over the assessments for ESA, both ESA and the contract with ATOS originating from our last government, by the way, the number of people being judged fit for work has risen substantially but high numbers of those go on to appeal with a 40% success rate at overturning the decision. That rises to 70% of cases overturned when representation is provided. This has caused alarm to a great many people with groups such as Citizens Advice Scotland reporting “Our evidence has highlighted the cases of many clients with serious health conditions who have been found fit for work, including those with Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, terminal cancer, bipolar disorder, heart failure, strokes, severe depression, and agoraphobia.” In fact there have been several recent cases where people have died soon after being judged fit for work and while waiting for their appeal. In one case the patient died IN the ATOS building after his assessment. On the day of the funeral his family received a letter notifying them that he had been declared fit for work.

Clearly, the Work Capability Assessment needs a rethink. Actually, the whole system by which benefits are controlled needs a rethink. Government insist that GPs can be trusted to take over administration and budgeting of the NHS from Primary Care Trusts, and yet they do not trust GPs and specialists to say whether or not their patient is capable of work or needs to rest at home.  The current arrangement for ATOS to assess patients does not and cannot provide for accurate assessment and proper care.

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