People stripped of benefits could be charged for challenging decision

Reposted from The Guardian

You couldn’t make it up could you …..

David Cameron in action

David Cameron has been blamed for creating a ‘national crisis’ because of ‘punitive sanctions’ and other DWP failures. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA

People who have been stripped of benefits could be charged by the government for trying to appeal against the decision to an independent judge.

Critics said the proposal, contained in an internal Department for Work and Pensions document leaked to the Guardian, would hit some of the poorest people in Britain, who have been left with little or no income.

In the document about the department’s internal finances, officials say the “introduction of a charge for people making appeals against [DWP] decisions to social security tribunals” would raise money.

Other ideas include selling off child support debt to “the private sector to collect”, though civil servants remark that the government would be unlikely to raise more than 5-7p in the pound from the £1.4bn currently owed to the DWP. The department currently collects arrears.

Earlier this week figures showed that in the past year nearly 900,000 people have had their benefits stopped, the highest figure for any 12-month period since jobseeker’s allowance was introduced in 1996. In recent months, however, 58% of those who wanted to overturn DWP sanction decisions in independent tribunals have been successful. Before 2010, the success rate of appeals was 20% or less.

One welfare legal adviser said the number of appeals being lodged at independent tribunals would be decimated if the government introduced a charge.

Last year the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) which sets policy in the area,brought in charges for employment tribunals of up to £250 to lodge a claim, depending on the kind of case being brought. The union Unisonasked judges to review the policy, saying the number of claims had dropped by more than half after fees were introduced. High court judges declared the policy lawful this month.

In the DWP Efficiency Review, which is marked “restricted”, it says the proposal for charging for social security tribunals is already “under investigation” by the MoJ and officials “intend to revisit it” in the wake of the Unison court challenge decision.

However, the 80-page document points out, the policy will “entail no revenue generation nor efficiency for the [DWP] per se” but will however generate income for the justice department.

The policy proposal leak comes as the prime minister and senior religious leaders clash over the benefits system. In a letter to the Daily Mirror, 27 Anglican bishops blamed David Cameron for creating a “national crisis” in which hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to survive on the charity of food banks because of “punitive sanctions” and other DWP failures. It followed similar criticisms from Vincent Nichols, the highest ranking Catholic in England and Wales, that the government was stripping away the welfare safety net – a charge dismissed as “an exaggeration” by Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister.

The justice minister Shailesh Vara said: “The government has made clear that reducing the deficit is our top priority. It is right that the Ministry of Justice looks at all opportunities to bring down the cost of our services to the taxpayer.

“We believe that it is right to consider whether those who use tribunals should make a greater contribution to their costs, where they can afford to do so, which is why we introduced fees for employment tribunals last year.

“We will continue to keep the position under review, but we have no current plans to extend fee charging into other tribunals.”

Rachel Reeves, shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “When government’s own figures show a staggering 58% of appeals against Department for Work and Pensions decisions to dock jobseeker’s allowance are upheld, it’s clear the system is broken. Rather than penalising thousands of people by charging them to appeal, ministers need to ask why they are presiding over a broken system which is making so many bad decisions, which are overturned on appeal.”

Steve Winyard, head of policy and campaigns at the Royal National Institute of Blind People, which is threatening the DWP with legal action over sanction failures, said: “Every week RNIB receives complaints about DWP failing to provide correspondence and other benefits information in Braille or other accessible formats.

“As a result, these people are at direct risk of sanction and a number have had the benefits they rely on to live withdrawn. To now say that these individuals will not even be able to appeal the inaccurate DWP decision without paying for it is a disgrace, It’s a ‘computer says no’ approach that locks people out and leaves some with no help whatsoever, many becoming reliant on food banks as a result.”

Neil Bateman, a long-serving welfare rights lawyer, also described the policy idea as a disgrace. He said: “Stopping people from challenging bad decisions actually strikes at the heart of our democratic arrangement.” He said many of the people he had successfully represented over the years at tribunals would not have got justice if they had been made to pay a fee and that even £5 would be too high a charge for them.

Bateman said that from his experience, a very high proportion of appeals were caused by mistakes and poor-quality decision-making by the DWP. He said this had risen in recent years because the department had got rid of experienced DWP decision-makers, social security law had become more complex and attitudes had changed.

“Under this government there is an attitudinal issue in terms of evidence of increased DWP staff antipathy towards clients and that all results in decisions which are wrong which eventually get turned over at appeal,” Bateman said.

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5 Responses to People stripped of benefits could be charged for challenging decision

  1. untynewear says:

    I’ve been challenging my Jobseeker’s Agreement, just lost the first round (DWPs own decision maker, so no suprise there). Will ask for reconsideration, especially as new information has come to light, but that’s the DWPs own man again !

    If that fails I can proceed to the independent decision maker, and feel I have a good case. BUT I’ve been told that if I do that, all benefits may be stopped until a decision is reached. If true, another tactic to put people off appealing.. I’ve made plans and will go for it anyway, but how many potentially sucessful appeals never happened because people couldn’t afford to take the risk ?

    Like

  2. untynewear says:

    Reblogged this on UNEMPLOYED IN TYNE & WEAR and commented:
    UK 2014 – everything’s for sale…

    Like

  3. It’s disgusting. As I understand it, you can claim about £20 – £40 per week from the hardship fund whilst awaiting reconsideration (which could take months)
    What we need is something like the miners had during the strike. Miners and their families and anyone else who wanted to, would make a small donation, whatever they could afford. This would then be distributed amongst the miners, with those most in need receiving more. If we had a “strike fund” or “awaiting reconsideration fund” it would be a kick up the ar*e for IDS & DWP because people would be more likely to be prepared to await the result of the reconsideration because of having that safety net.
    Personally, I think that the DWP leaving people without their benefits is illegal under EU law, which trumps any domestic law. I just wish some lawyer out there would take the government to court over it and sue the bastards!

    Like

  4. theprojectsofmichaelpugh says:

    Reblogged this on The Projects of Michael Pugh.

    Like

  5. A6er says:

    Reblogged this on Britain Isn't Eating and commented:
    And now, just in case you may have a few pounds left in your pocket after having been forced to work for free, paying your own expenses to get to that Workfare placement, make sure you NEVER RECEIVE A SANCTION.
    If you do get a sanction, then you will lose those last few pounds, and most likely have to borrow hundreds more more from Wonga, as this “moral” govn is now bringing in a charge if you want to lodge an appeal.
    For more details read on

    Like

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