Case Study: Transition from DLA to PIP

Having come from a background in frontline support work before starting with Z2K in July, I was already aware of the systematic challenges faced by claimants claiming sickness and disability benefits and the inaccuracies of the DWP’s assessment process. Notwithstanding this, it is still shocking to see the volume of cases we take on at Z2K of people whose health conditions have been completely overlooked at their assessments.

One of my own first cases has been helping “Hannah”.  She and her mother had approached Z2K for support with appealing a benefit decision when Hannah was awarded 0 points in her Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment. Prior to this, Hannah had been in receipt of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) since the age of six.  As required, when she turned eighteen she had to transition from DLA by assessment to PIP.

Diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes since the age of six, Hannah had also developed Retinopathy a condition related to her diabetes that affected her eyesight.  Coinciding with these, Hannah was diagnosed with depression and was a patient under a psychiatric team for the past two years.  Medical evidence provided to us that was also submitted with her initial claim for PIP detailed the extent of Hannah’s condition and her battle with managing depression.

Notes form psychiatry sessions outline numerous disclosures of self-harm, suicidal ideation and difficulty with managing day-to-day activities.  Furthermore, medical notes from the diabetic team included real concern over Hannah’s reluctance to comply with diabetic treatment which was linked to her ill mental health.  Hannah’s mother is her carer and legal appointee.  In her initial questionnaire, Hannah clearly stated the level of support she requires from her mother with managing her diabetes.  This was affirmed in medical letters which mentioned the need for family to monitor her condition.  Despite the extent of medical evidence and Hannah’s own admissions during her face-to-face assessment, she was awarded 0 points in the health care professional’s report. Following this decision her DLA benefit was stopped.

Besides the loss of income for expenses such as travel to medical appointments and dietary needs probably the biggest impact was that Hannah could no longer afford to pay for a glucometer that automatically monitored her glucose levels, a task she avoided doing. At a cost over £90 per month it was too much for her family to afford to purchase despite recommendations from the diabetic team.

With our representation at her Tribunal this week, Hannah’s appeal was allowed.  She was awarded enhanced rate in the daily living component with reassessment after three years.  The effect of this decision means that not only can Hannah start to use the glucometer again, she can also consider going in to further education in the knowledge that as a recipient of PIP she will be able to access learning support.

In the advice sector, it is almost accepted now that the Mandatory Reconsideration stage won’t change a negative decision and it will have to go to Tribunal.  This defunct process is unnecessarily costing the public money.  Recent stats published show the DWP alone spent £39 million defending decisions at tribunals in 2016.  However, 66 per cent of PIP appeals alone were allowed in 2016.  These figures highlight the growing disparity between the Government’s savings-driven agenda for welfare reform and cost of defending bad  decisions.

Despite clear evidence the assessment process is failing, DWP refuses to make the changes that are needed, and so I’m really pleased to be part of a team offering such vital representation for those vulnerable clients appealing these terrible decisions.

 

Press Release: Z2K Slams Hackney’s Plans to cut Council Tax Support

London-wide anti-poverty charity, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (Z2K), today attacked Hackney council’s plans to increase its tax on the Social Security benefits of the borough’s poorest residents.  The plans, which were announced in a consultation launched last week, include a proposal to increase the charge for disabled and unemployed residents from 15 per cent of Council Tax to 20 per cent.

Responding to the consultation’s announcement, Z2K Chief Executive, Raji Hunjan, said:

“It is absurd that Hackney Council should consider increasing its Council Tax charges for those on Social Security benefits, when all the evidence points to the fact that many of those already living in poverty cannot afford the additional tax burden.”

“While we understand that Hackney, like all London boroughs, has lost significant grant funding, we do not accept that this should impact disproportionately on those who are already living below the poverty line.  All the evidence shows that hiking Council Tax charges for those on benefits increases the danger of those households falling into problem debt.”

“Hackney’s original decision to charge has already left tens of thousands of local families and vulnerable single people facing a choice between eating, heating and paying its poll tax.  Thousands of those have been sent into a spiral of unsustainable debt or harassed by bailiffs.  Increasing that tax by a third next year risks tipping thousands more households into the arms of payday lenders or worse.”

Z2K has also disclosed statistics from Freedom of Information requests that reveal Hackney still has one of the harshest enforcement regimes in London.  In the past four years, it has issued a court summons against nearly 25,000 households in receipt of Council Tax Support who had fallen into arrears – increasing their bill by another £100 in the process.  Worse still, it has instructed bailiffs against more than 5,000 of those households – doubling the debt again.

Hackney’s consultation comes at a time when other nearby London boroughs have decided against taxing the Social Security benefits of their poorest residents.  Last year, Camden scrapped its own 8.5 per cent charge completely after realising it was simply driving its poorest residents deeper into poverty.  And earlier this year, neighbouring Tower Hamlets Council dropped its plans to introduce a 20 per cent tax after huge public and political outcry in response to a consultation.

Summarising Z2K’s opposition to Hackney’s plans, Raji Hunjan concluded:

“The Government’s localisation of Council Tax Benefit has been an absolute disaster from day one – reintroducing the discredited Poll Tax by the back door.  We urge Hackney councillors across the political spectrum to reject these dreadful plans and encourage local community groups, advice agencies and individual residents to respond to the consultation.”

ENDS

Notes for Editors:

 

  1. The national system of Council Tax Benefit was abolished by the Local Government Finance Act 2012, and local authorities were required to establish their own local scheme from April 2013 onwards.

 

  1. Hackney’s consultation is available online at:

http://news.hackney.gov.uk/have-your-say-on-proposed-changes-to-hackneys-council-tax-reduction-scheme/

 

  1. Analysis of the impact of “localising” Council Tax Support in London has been conducted by Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (Z2K) and the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).  Our most recent research report is available at:

 

http://z2k.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/StillTooPoor_web_update5Oct16.pdf

 

  1. The total number of court summons issued against households in receipt of Council Tax Support in Hackney between 2013/14 and 2016/17 was 24,795 made up of the following annual figures – 7,502 (2013/14); 6,231 (2014/15); 6,036 (2015/16) and 5,206 (2016/17).

 

  1. The total number of households in receipt of Council Tax Support who had bailiffs instructed against them by LB Hackney was 5,069 made up of the following annual figures – 1,874 (2013/14); 1,115 (2014/15); 1,210 (2015/16) and 870 (2016/17).

 

Vacancy: Caseworker

We are looking for a caseworker to join our Casework Team.

Responsible to: Senior Casework Manager
Hours of Work: 5 days a week (35 hours)
Salary: £26,000 to £28,000 per annum (depending on experience)
Holidays: 24.5 days plus bank holidays and Christmas closure.This is increasing to 28 days in 2018 plus bank holidays.
Location: Office in Victoria and Office in Queens Park
Duration: Permanent

To apply

Please download the following documents. Instructions on how to apply is found in the Cover letter and job description.

  1. Cover letter and job description
  2. Application form
  3. Equal Opportunities Monitoring Form

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A new “Tsar” for Social Housing?

There’s a lot of really good stuff in the Mayor of London’s draft Housing Strategy, which was published for consultation yesterday. Z2K will take a closer look at the detail over the course of the next few weeks as we put together our own response. But a story in Wednesday’s Evening Standard meant my own eyes were quickly drawn to a small section towards the end of the 236 page document entitled “listening to the views of social housing tenants and leaseholders”.

The strategy identifies an urgent need to put residents’ concerns back at the heart of decision-making by local authority landlords and housing associations. This is clearly in the context of the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower and the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea’s inept response. But the accompanying analysis of the problem and the solutions proposed indicates there has been some serious thought about this issue in City Hall.

The strategy first concludes that the current mechanism for residents to escalate complaints to the Independent Housing Ombudsman is unnecessarily complicated as they have to do this through a “designated person” (an MP, local councillor or tenant panel). It says the Mayor will call on ministers to restore the previous position whereby residents could go straight to the Ombudsman themselves once they have exhausted their landlord’s internal complaints process.

Z2K would wholeheartedly agree with that. When it was introduced a few years ago, the “designated person” stage was promoted as a chance to encourage the resolution of complaints locally, to enable the Ombudsman to focus on the worst cases. In practice, however, neither MPs nor councillors have the resources to process complaints, and few of London’s bigger housing associations about whom most complaints are being made, seem inclined to respond positively anyway. It has simply further delayed complaints getting into the Ombudsman’s long queue for a proper independent investigation.  We hope this proposal can be picked up by MPs in the Public Service Ombudsman Bill.

Secondly, the strategy identifies some of the serious weaknesses with the regulation of the social housing sector. The current Social Housing Regulator at the Homes & Communities Agency (HCA) is obliged to monitor “consumer” standards like repairs services being provided by social landlords as well as “economic” standards like their balance sheet. In theory, the regulator will take action if the failing causes a “serious detriment” to residents. In practice, however, only 10 of the 1,050 “consumer standard” complaints made to the regulator have resulted in a finding of “serious detriment”. The Mayor reckons that the bar for the “serious detriment” test has been set too high, and so he is calling for ministers to review it to ensure the regulator actually investigates more complaints.

I have a bit of experience of the Social Housing Regulator myself. Last year I made a complaint on behalf of tenants at one of London’s biggest housing associations. For two winters, the gas repairs service their landlord provided was so bad that hundreds of tenants were left without heating and hot water for weeks on end. You couldn’t get a more cut and dried example of “serious detriment”. And yet, the regulator refused to investigate, saying those tenants affected should make individual complaints to the Ombudsman. It was only after the local Member of Parliament raised concerns about the regulator’s stance in the House of Commons six months later that an investigation was begun. It swiftly concluded there had been serious detriment after all and the association was downgraded – too late though to prevent tenants having to endure the same appalling service last winter too.

The strategy’s third proposal is for the Government to establish a Commissioner for Social Housing Residents modelled on the Children’s Commissioner for England. I guess that kind of watchdog or “Tsar” would be a lot better than nothing, but Tsars have a somewhat patchy record here as well as in Russia.  My own preference would be a return to the kind of regulatory regime overseen by the Tenant Services Authority (TSA), swept away in the Coalition Government’s “bonfire of the quangos” back in 2010. Of course, I can’t say for certain the TSA would have ensured Kensington & Chelsea responded properly to the concerns of Grenfell Tower residents about the cladding being hung around their block. But I doubt very much the current Social Housing Regulator would have done so.

Whether its Sadiq Khan’s new Commissioner or the old TSA, the restoration of effective regulation of social housing is desperately needed.

Vacancy: Tribunals Co-ordinator and Caseworker (maternity cover)

We are currently looking for a full-time Tribunals Co-ordinator and Caseworker (maternity cover)

Responsible to                                 : Senior Casework Manager

Hours of Work                                 : 5 days a week (35 hours)

Salary                                                 : £26,000 to £28,000 per annum (depending on experience)

Holidays                                            : 24.5 days including Christmas closure plus bank holidays.  This is increasing to 28 days in 2018 plus bank holidays.

Location                                            : Office in Victoria and Office in Queens Park

Duration                                            : Maternity Cover to April 2018

Closing date for applications: 9:00 a.m. on 21 September 2017, Thursday

First round interviews planned for: 25 September 2017, Monday and 26 Septhember 2017, Tuesday

Second round interviews planned for: 28 September 2017, Thursday

The post is subject to an enhanced DBS disclosure.

About the Role

You will be responsible for the co-ordination of our social security tribunal representation work in the field of disability benefits – Employment Support Allowance, Personal Independence Payment and Disability Living Allowance.  Primarily, you will co-ordinate the allocation of tribunal cases to pro bono lawyers across our partner law firms, and as part of a busy casework team, you will also assist clients in lodging appeals following a refused application for disability benefits.  You will also be expected to provide representation on occasion.

You will be supported by a highly skilled senior casework manager who has developed policies and a casework database system that enables all caseworkers to handle a fast moving but manageable caseload.  You will also take the lead in capturing and analysing data to contribute to all our work, including campaigning and policy.  At Z2K, all staff work as part of a wider team to ensure that we are meeting our wider goals and objectives.

To apply

Please download the following documents. Instructions on how to apply is found in the Cover letter and job description.

  1. Cover letter and Job Description
  2. Application form
  3. Equal Opportunities Monitoring Form