Fighting poverty, sharing stories, creating change - we empower Londoners on low-incomes to know their rights and entitlements and support them to fight poverty. We’re really grateful to each person who shared their story with us, so that we can share it with you. Most names have been changed.
Abeo is a 34 year old man who came to the UK as a refugee. He approached Z2K for advice on Universal Credit, but our caseworker identified that he had a number of other needs – he had been a victim of torture and has health problems – so we helped him apply for Personal Independence Payment (PIP). His caseworker also helped him have a Council Tax Support application backdated as he had received a summons for non-payment despite being entitled to full Council Tax Support on account of his low income. Abeo made a homeless application and was placed in temporary accommodation, but he had very few belongings. We therefore applied for a hardship fund to provide him with basics like a kettle, microwave, and some bedding. He found this particularly helpful, saying: “Providing me with the microwave was actually quite key. I do remember them every time I use the microwave. These are little things that you know sometimes can be taken for granted but they do go a long way.”
The process of making a homeless application is confusing and difficult, so throughout he has had our support, explaining each stage along the way. In the end, the Council accepted a duty to house him, and he has now secured permanent accommodation. Getting information was something he really appreciated: “Sometimes it seems like murky waters because you don’t really know what’s available, and they’ve just been able to provide you with the means of getting the right information.”
Abeo wanted to support Z2K’s campaigning work, and so he got involved in our client voice project, Life After Lockdown, recording audio clips of himself and his experiences. He found the project “inspiring” and will continue to be involved in future.
Abeo has hopes to start his own business and has now been accepted onto the New Enterprise Allowance Scheme with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). This scheme provides start-up costs to help Abeo establish his business before he can begin trading. Abeo was really pleased to receive a new laptop from Z2K, thanks to funding from LHA London, as he could not afford to buy a laptop himself but this laptop was integral for him to establish his business. Having received this help, he said: “This is so amazing, I am extremely grateful. I have had a terrible year, you don’t know how much this means to me.”
“Z2K provided me with an invaluable service and I would defiantly recommend Z2K to friends.”
Melissa was referred initially to Z2K a short time before her First-Tier Tribunal appeal was due to be heard. Her severe mental and physical health issues had complicated her claim history. She had been migrated from Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) from Universal Credit (UC) unexpectedly. She was cut off from UC payments altogether for an extended period in 2018, following confusion regarding a telephone appointment. The confusion surrounding her claim history was so great that the Tribunal Judge had initially been unable to determine he subject matter of the appeal.
The appeal was resolved in Melissa’s favour, and she received a substantial back-payment of just under £4,700. We are currently helping Melissa to secure a “transitional severe disability premium (“SDP”) amount” from UC, as someone who was moved from ESA to UC despite an SDP entitlement prior to January 2019.
Many of Melissa’s issues derived from her inability to reliably access her UC journal online. She does not have a computer or smartphone, nor would she be able to use them. She is mostly housebound, and has restricted mobility. She cannot take visitors at her home, due to her mental health issues. We have been able to establish access to her journal, and we continue to explore sustainable long-term solutions to this issue.
Melissa’s case underlines the ease with which vulnerable people fall through the gaps in welfare provision, and the sustained support which is required to rectify the issues this throws up.
“All the staff at Z2K were extremely helpful. They were also on the top of everything and I felt that I knew immediately what to do and say on my behalf which felt very reassuring from the first moment I telephoned them.”
Callum worked in construction, but had to stop and claim Universal Credit (UC) due to a degenerative back condition. At his initial interview with his work coach, he was told he would need to get a doctor’s note to confirm his condition, which he did. The jobcentre wouldn’t accept Callum’s note from his doctor initially, because it didn’t state when he would be fit for work, despite both of them explaining that Callum had a degenerative condition, and that his back will only get worse not better. Callum’s work coach took a very condescending attitude, and implied that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) weren’t there to accommodate Callum’s ‘poor life choice’ of working in construction. At his Work Capability Assessment (WCA), Callum was assessed as fit for work, but was never sent a written explanation to outline why the assessor had made that decision. He challenged the decision – first through the Mandatory Reconsideration (MR) stage, and then by lodging an appeal of this decision.
Callum came to Z2K requesting assistance with representation at his appeal at the First-tier Tribunal – we took his case on and represented him. It took 18 months from Callum being assessed as fit for work at his assessment, to attending his tribunal. At the tribunal the original decision was overturned and Callum was placed in the Limited Capability for Work (LCW) group. It took two years for DWP to acknowledge what Callum had told them in the first fifteen minutes of his UC interview.
Despite the extra costs associated with Callum’s health condition, Callum did not receive any additional financial assistance to help with these and the fact he is unable to work, he was left with around £135 to live off each month after paying for bills. Following his tribunal, we advised him to apply for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which he did and is now in receipt of, helping his financial situation.
Having experienced first-hand the stigma and injustice prevalent within the Social Security System, Callum specified in his case closure form that he would be happy to speak to Z2K’s Policy and Campaigns team so that his experience and insights could feed into our work. We contacted him in Feb 2020 which led to a conversation around Callum’s experiences and thoughts on where UC is failing people, and what changes would help improve the system. This insight directly fed into our recent UC report. We also invited Callum to our workshops where we focused on providing clients with digital campaigning skills.
“I’ve learned how the system has exploited other people, not just me. Being in a group can really be helpful not just for me but for others, and the more people are part of something and the more people can hear you, is very helpful as well…it got us to do things we wouldn’t do. Our stories aren’t just sad events, they can be put to a useful outcome. For those of us who are camera shy to put us into a video to allow us to say things – that’s really good.”
“I have received help and a chance to access the right benefits .It feels less difficult because of Z2K.”
Gino started working with Z2K in September 2019, he and his family had been evicted from their private rented flat due to rent arrears. Gino was affected by the benefit cap and did not receive enough Universal Credit to cover his rent, eventually his local authority accepted a duty to house Gino and his family but they were placed in temporary accommodation in outer London. Gino is now working with a housing solicitor to complete a suitability review in the hope he can be placed nearer his mother who he has caring commitments for as well as his children’s school.
Our caseworker started working with Gino again during the Covid-19 pandemic, Gino had had to stop his self-employed work in the hospitality sector, he was struggling to pay for essentials for the family with all 3 of his children at home and was worried that he would be benefit capped again and face arrears in his temporary accommodation. We arranged for help from a hardship fund to pay for supermarket vouchers and an outstanding phone bill for Gino. We then liaised with the Housing Benefit department in Gino’s local authority, because Gino was living in temporary accommodation the Housing Benefit used to pay for this would not be used to calculate his overall benefit for the purposes of assessing the benefit cap. This meant that Gino’s benefits would not exceed the benefit cap and he would continue to receive Universal Credit without deductions.
We then started looking at Gino’s Universal Credit statements, Gino was having deductions taken out for advance repayments and gas and electricity monthly payments and arrears. We realised that Gino was having too much deducted from his Universal Credit award each month to pay back his advances, we got in touch with the DWP debt management department to amend Gino’s Universal Credit account to reflect the true balance he needed to pay back, spreading payments over 12 months so they were more affordable. Gino told our caseworker that the money deducted for gas and electricity was for the property he’d been evicted from, Gino was still making monthly payments for this as well as arrears repayments despite no longer living in the property. We got in touch with Gino’s old gas and electricity supplier to stop the deductions and reimburse Gino for any overpayments.
Gino raised several other issues with us, his washing machine had stopped working and he was finding it incredibly hard to home school his three young daughters without access to laptops. We applied for a local support payment with the local authority which had housed Gino to pay for a replacement washing machine, this application was successful and the washing machine was delivered within a week of the application being made. We also managed to source 2 new laptops for Gino’s daughters from the Children in Need Family Fund and through funding Z2K was provided by the London Hostels Association for digital inclusion. Anna is continuing to work with Gino as he challenges a Work Capability Assessment decision via Z2K’s tribunal’s project. Gino is hoping to secure more work through self-employment in the hospitality sector now that the economy is reopening.