Over 300 People Supported to Access Justice
In the first quarter of 2023, our advice service provided help to 324 people with social security and housing problems.
In collaboration with our pro-bono partners, we won 89% of appeals heard at Social Security Tribunal. Our casework helped our clients to secure £505,089 in financial gains, plus an additional £538,842 in estimated future financial gains, totalling more than £1,000,000 in just 3 months.
Disability Benefits & Universal Credit
Disability benefit disputes remain our biggest area of focus. We continue to see people who had been receiving the higher rates having their benefit terminated after being reassessed, despite their circumstances not having changed. An article in the i newspaper set out how we helped our client Hassan. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) tried to take away his disability benefits after he turned 18 even though his health conditions had not changed, so we took the case to tribunal and he was awarded the maximum possible rate of Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
We have also continued to see people facing a variety of issues with universal credit, such as the housing cost element being reduced or stopped, administrative errors leading to people being underpaid, and people being faced with excessive sanctions.
Through our housing casework, we continue to help people living in highly unsuitable conditions exercise their rights to find alternative accommodation. We have had several successes in increasing our clients’ priority for rehousing and securing offers of suitable social housing. We are also increasingly seeing severe delays and maladministration when it comes to local authorities and housing associations processing applications for rehousing and have had some successes in getting our clients compensation as a result of these delays.
An individual with significant mental health conditions approached us for help. She was facing a bailiff eviction scheduled for the following day after her landlord gave her a section 21 notice. She had approached her local authority for emergency accommodation, but they refused to provide this and wrongly said she was not eligible for help. Our client was in extreme distress because she had nowhere else to go after the eviction.
Our housing caseworker intervened, writing a robust email to the council about how they had breached their legal duties. This led the council to reverse its position and provide emergency accommodation, sparing the client from the ordeal of having to sleep on the streets. We are now supporting our client to access settled accommodation.
Latest in Campaigning & Policy Influencing
We’ve been very busy since the turn of the year, with lots of big developments in disability benefits and housing…
On the same day as the Budget in March, the Health and Disability White Paper was published. Whilst it did contain some changes to PIP that we’ve been calling for, we’re very concerned about proposals to scrap Work Capability Assessments in the future. Read our response and briefing to hear more.
We’re very concerned that these proposals would make PIP assessments even more high stakes, prevent people who can’t get PIP or are refused from getting extra Universal Credit, and mean that Jobcentre staff decide whether someone is well enough to work. We know government isn’t going to introduce legislation any time soon – and we will continue to challenge these proposals.
On the plus side, the White Paper did contain some changes to PIP that we’ve been calling for, including trialling sharing an assessment report with a claimant before a decision is made, and better matching of claimants with an assessor with a specialism closer to their main condition.
In May, the government also finally published the Renters (Reform) Bill. This will finally end Section 21 evictions (“no-fault” evictions), which was a promise made way back in the 2019 Conservative Party Manifesto. We’re one of more than 20 charities making up the Renters’ Reform Coalition, and we’ll be working with as the legislation goes through Parliament.
Z2K in Parliament
At the start of the year, we held an event in Parliament about the need for fundamental reform of disability benefit assessment, sponsored by Marsha de Cordova MP. The MPs, researchers, and other organisations in the room heard from two of our experts by experience about their interactions with the system, as well as from Marsha, our chief executive Anela, Svetlana Kotova from Inclusion London, and the Shadow Social Security Minister Karen Buck MP. Jim Widdowson, one of the former Z2K clients who spoke at the event, has also published a blog about his story here.
There have been two important Select Committee reports recently that cited our evidence. The Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee published a report into the private rented sector, and the Work and Pensions Select Committee published its long-awaited report into disability benefits. Both of these directly referenced our evidence, and the Work and Pensions report made several recommendations that we had encouraged them to make!
We’ve also submitted evidence to a recent Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry into benefit levels. We can’t share our response until the Committee publishes it, but we pointed out that current benefit levels guarantee poverty – and too many people are unable to access what they’re entitled to.
As well as this, we’ve been at events in the House of Lords and House of Commons, and directly briefed senior MPs on our views about the Health and Disability White Paper. And we raised concerns with the Work and Pensions Select Committee about data suggesting the DWP routinely “rubber-stamps” PIP assessors’ recommended point scores, which led to the Chair of the Committee writing to the Minister.
Z2K in the Media
We’ve had lots of great media coverage recently: the Big Issue quoted us in an article about the Health and Disability White Paper, and on the same day we commented on a Byline Times article about how much the government wastes by challenging disability benefit appeals that it then loses.
We were also quoted in an Open Democracy article about MPs increasing the rent they claim on expenses despite Local Housing Allowance being frozen – and when the government published research on the impact of the Benefit Cap, we reacted quickly and were picked up by the Press Association. That meant lots of other newspapers ran the story with our quote, including The Independent.
Finally, we spotted some interesting data published by the government showing 200,000 people got no PIP at all until they challenged a decision. We worked with the i paper (possible paywall!) to highlight this, as well as providing a really shocking case study of someone who got nothing at all until Tribunal, where they received the highest possible award.
Our Work in the Westminster Borough
We have two participatory projects within Westminster that will produce recommendations for what the council can do to improve the experiences of people in different types of housing. One is about privately rented accommodation, and one is about Temporary Accommodation. Our next step is to recruit experts by experience to be a part of these projects and really get things moving!
Our Chief Executive Anela has also been a part of the Fairness and Equality strand of the Future of Westminster Commission, and the final report and proposals will be published soon.
In other news…
In February this year we said goodbye to Marc Francis, our Director of Policy and Campaigns, who has been part of the Z2K team for nearly ten years. That’s a long time to work in the anti-poverty sector during a very difficult period, and Marc wrote a blog reflecting on his experience of campaigning for change.