Government withdraws proposal for single member tribunal panels

In September last year the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) published a seemingly innocuous consultation entitled Transforming Our Justice System. Contained within it was a proposal to abolish the existing requirements for tribunal panel composition and make panels consisting of just a judge the default position for all tribunals. This would have meant that for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) appeals it would no longer be mandatory for the appeal panel to have a medical expert, or a medical and disability expert in the case of PIP. We were highly concerned by these proposals as, in our experience representing appellants, the non-legal experts often play a key role in ensuring the tribunal reaches a correct decision. Continue reading

Westminster and the mysterious case of the missing Housing Benefit over payment

One of the most common issues Z2K assists clients with is housing benefit over payments. A common cause of rent arrears, the first time a client normally realises they have been overpaid is when they receive an over payment notice and realise their housing benefit has been suspended.

When a client comes to Z2K having been told they have been overpaid housing benefit the priority will be getting their housing benefit back into payment, if it has been suspended, and then appealing the decision or if that is not an option asking for an underlying entitlement. The decision letter sent to the client is crucial in alerting the client about what has happened and allowing us to act on their behalf. This is especially true when the scales are tipped so firmly against claimants in over payment cases. Claimants are liable to repay over payments even if an official error has occurred, unless they can prove that they could not have known an over payment occurred. Councils set that particular bar very high, essentially viewing every claimant as a maths genius moonlighting as a benefits claimant. Continue reading

DWP flip flops on Universal Credit & DHP guidance

There’s so much that’s wrong in principle with the Government’s Benefit Cap on Social Security that we sometimes overlook the way it is being implemented.  But with roll-out of the lower £440 a week cap (for families in London) now complete, we are beginning to see the harsh realities.

Last week, I met a lone parent served with a Notice of Seeking Possession by her local authority landlord after falling into rent arrears because of the lower cap.  Her benefits were already capped at £500 a week, leaving her to pay nearly half her rent of £120 a week.  Since 7th November, she has been required to pay £105 a week – an impossible ask.  Hopefully, possession proceedings with be withdrawn and a Discretionary Housing Payment awarded to help her meet this shortfall.  Continue reading

Westminster renews its drive to shift homeless families out of London

Not for the first time, Westminster City Council hit the headlines last week for the way it is dealing with homeless people.  In a report to the outgoing Cabinet Member for Housing, Regeneration, Business & Economic Development, officers requested authorisation for a new Private Rented Sector Offers Policy, and Accommodation Procurement Policy and an Accommodation Placement policy – all to be implemented with effect from 30th January.

Taken on its own, the second of these three new policies is relatively anodyne – most London boroughs are having to source temporary accommodation (TA) out of their areas.  However, the first envisages a significant increase in Westminster’s use of its power to discharge its duty to statutory homeless households through the offer of accommodation in the private rented sector, and the third creates three bands for TA: Continue reading

Council Tax Support changes in 2017/18

As the 30th January deadline for amending Council Tax Support (CTS) Schemes for 2017/18 draws near a number of London councils are still going through the process of deciding whether to change their schemes for the new financial year. As we have previously outlined the changes being proposed in London range from the restoration of 100% support in Camden to Redbridge increasing it’s minimum payment up to 20%. But the best news is that two boroughs which previously announced proposals to cut support have significantly reduced their planned cuts.

In Tower Hamlets the Mayor initially consulted residents on abolishing the boroughs 100% support scheme and introducing a 20% minimum payment. However, following a petition against the changes from over 500 residents and representations from a number of charities, including Z2K, the Child Poverty Action Group and Toynbee Hall, he has announced he is ‘minded to retain the 100% support for working age households’. While this is undoubtedly a huge win for Tower Hamlets’ poorest residents there are still a number of proposed cuts on the table that could amount to significant losses of support for some claimants. Continue reading