DWP despotism – you DO have a right to compensation

Honest appraisal: The national opinion of DWP service is reflected in this comment, delivered direct to Iain Duncan Smith by 'pigeon post'.

Honest appraisal: The national opinion of DWP service is reflected in this comment, delivered direct to Iain Duncan Smith by ‘pigeon post’. (Picture: Kevin Marman)

How many times have we all heard of someone being sanctioned by the Job Centre for failing to turn up at an interview, when they were never even notified that it was taking place?

How many stories have we heard of benefit claims being delayed, causing needless hardship to people who had no other means of support by putting them into debt and under threat of eviction?

How many people have died because the pressure they suffered as a result of mistaken decisions to cut off their benefit, made by DWP officials?

I think we all know the answer to that: MANY.

But the overriding feeling seems to be that there’s nothing to be done about it and the Department for Work and Pensions is a law unto itself.

As it happens, this is not true.

The new ‘Claimant Commitment’, announced by the Department recently, places more stringent requirements on jobseekers, that must be met before they can claim their meagre pittance. The announcement made no mention of any reciprocal commitments on the part of the administrators – but they do exist, and they cover every service the DWP is supposed to provide.

Officials offered up the following after Vox Political submitted a Freedom of Information request:

“In general terms, there is one overriding responsibility: to ensure that the claim is received into an environment where a decision can be made which will be correct from the outset… Parliament and Ministers set the policy; the officers and employees create the administrative processes all claims must go through; decision makers bring the process to a close. Ministerial responsibilities are listed on the Department’s page on the gov.uk website: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-workpensions.

“At individual level, these responsibilities are translated into objectives and personal performance is measured against their effective delivery. There are a range of consequences for individuals failing to deliver, from informal performance improvement plans to dismissal. You then have reputational damage. Whether it is benefit specific or across-the-board under performance, be it perceived or real, this will be picked up by the press and Parliament, with Ministers and senior officials having to defend and explain themselves.

“Ultimately there will be a cost to all this because of the re-work involved in correcting decisions; in overpaying claimants because of official error; in retraining decision makers; in improving processes. That is not good for the department or the country.”

That last sentence is absolutely true. One has to wonder if the offical writing those words was aware that DWP decisions that, for example, cost the country £66 million in a single year in Employment and Support Allowance appeals, have sullied the Department’s reputation to a point where it may never recover.

The letter then points to a document detailing the ways in which people may be recompensed for loss of income as a result of such failure by the DWP, its ministers, officers and employees. It’s at http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/financial-redress-for-maladministration.pdf

This document is 17 pages in length, but you don’t get to the good stuff until page five. This starts by saying: “The Department and its operational businesses aim to provide its customers with a service which is easy to access; treats them well; delivers on time and provides them with the right results.”

Does anybody reading this believe any part of that statement accurately describes the DWP’s service? Is it easy to access, or is the preferred method – telephone – run by a private company that puts claimants on hold for long periods of time unnecessarily, racking up their telephone bill in the knowledge that they have little spare cash to spend on the call, and this will put them out-of-pocket?

Does it treat them well, or do Job Centre staff abuse people terribly – like, for example, the ‘advisor’ who told a woman she had to attend an interview in a town many miles from her home, to take place two days after she had undergone surgery on her leg that meant she could not walk, and refused to reschedule it to accommodate her health?

Or what about the claimant who was told he had failed to attend an appointment and must reclaim his benefit? He had never received notification of any appointment, either by mail or telephone, and therefore had no idea what the ‘advisor’ was banging on about.

Does it deliver on time? I can answer that with Mrs Mike’s experience of her appeal against the Department’s decision to put her in the work-related activity group for ESA. The appeal was submitted in March, after she had received expert advice telling her she had been put in the wrong group. A decision was made, wrongly supposing that she was claiming a deterioration in her condition and that a second work capability assessment was required. She was never notified of the decision and no appointment was ever made for the WCA; in the meantime, the benefit – which only lasts 12 months – expired. She was not contacted to prepare her for this, nor was she told what she could do about it.

This example also answers the final question that arises – does it provide the right results? No, it doesn’t. The decision maker was wrong to say she was claiming deterioration since her original assessment. She was saying the assessment had resulted in the wrong decision at the time it was made. Another assessment can only ascertain her condition on the day it takes place and will be useless in determining her appeal. The correct decision was for the matter to go to a tribunal, and it is likely that, had this happened (and this depends on the DWP telling her when it was happening), the matter might have been resolved, long before the money dried up.

All of these examples serve to support the next part of ‘Financial Redress for Maladministration’: “Unfortunately, we don’t always get things right first time. The term “maladministration” is not defined, but is sometimes used to describe when our actions or inactions result in a customer experiencing a service which does not match our aims or the commitments we have given. It applies to situations in which we have not acted properly or provided a poor service. For example: wrong advice, discourtesy, mistakes and delays.”

Wrong advice, discourtesy, mistakes and delays.

Have you fallen foul of a DWP sanction? Was it due to any of these four reasons? If so, then you could be entitled to compensation. The Department describes this as redress, which usually comes in four forms: a “sincere and meaningful apology”, which is nice but doesn’t pay the rent; an explanation of what happened and/or went wrong – ditto; putting things right, “for example a change of procedure/revising published material”, which will help others in the future but does not solve any financial problems suffered by the claimant; and a special payment, known as financial redress.

You can make them pay.

Here’s where it gets tricky, though – there is no statutory framework for making such payments; they are discretionary, a matter of judgement – and the judgement is made by a DWP decision maker.

The difficulty with this should be clear to everyone – if they can’t make a correct decision on a simple benefit claim, they certainly shouldn’t be trusted to administer compensation payments for their own wrong decisions!

Still, there are guiding principles that can help with a case. The very first of these states that “Individuals should not be disadvantaged as a result of maladministration” – so, if you have lost benefit and this has put you into dire straits financially, you have a strong case.

“The purpose of the Special Payment Scheme is, wherever possible, to return the individual to the position they would have been in but for the maladministration”, the document says. In other words, anyone wrongly sanctioned should be able to get back all the benefits they have not been paid, plus any payment to cover, say, overdraft fees incurred as a result of the wrong decision.

It’s a really interesting document. I strongly advise you to look it up.

And, if you have suffered at the hands of these people, I strongly advise you to make a claim.

That goes for relatives of claimants who have died after adverse benefit decisions by the DWP. In fact – especially for them. If their relatives are unaware of this, tell them about it.

The only measure this government and its ministers understand is money.

Make them pay.

*If you have found this article useful, you may wish to consider picking up the book, Vox Political: Strong Words and Hard Times. The site is not professional and receipts from the book are its only means of support. Its 350 pages contain a great deal of information that should be just as useful as this article, and it may be bought here, here, here, here and here – depending on the format in which you wish to receive it.

36 thoughts on “DWP despotism – you DO have a right to compensation

  1. hugosmum70

    i am constantly hearing of claimants who won their appeals , being told 1.they have to go for interviews still every so often to determine whether their med problems have got better and 2. when they receive their back pay they dont get the full amount. the latter practice seems to be gathering momentum. one of my relatives recently got their back-pay 100 quid short. what i want to know is, where does that money go to , that is rightfully the claimants?

  2. daun hammond

    I had my money sanctioned for approx 12 wks after informing them I wouldn’t be able to attend the meeting with my advisor as I haf just suffered a nasty miscarrage apparently losing an unborn child is not a good enough reason. Would I be able to put in for this?

  3. jaynel62

    Having attempted to access the ‘Special Payment Scheme’ I can advise you that in my case the claim was submitted in Jan 13 for repayment of bank charges as a result of them “unlawfully and without reason” stopping my benefits for weeks.

    It took 3 months, countless phones calls and 2 letters from my MP before I was told they “needed further information”; this required screen shots of the terms & conditions from my bank.

    8 weeks later I had a further letter stating they needed ‘more information’, this turned out to be a different officer failing to understand how my bank worked out the charges? So after a trip to the bank,& the (costs of 2 taxis) I sent precisely same information in the form a leaflet.

    A month after that I received a second letter telling me I was ‘timed out’!

    In my case it just wasn’t worth the hassle to try and claim back the £25.00 – it had cost as much trying to get it

    If you do put in a claim be prepared to present an EXACT breakdown of the costs incurred, all in Simple English & get a response within 6 months!!

    1. Mike Sivier

      This seems possible. Part of the point is tying them up in knots sorting out the problems that they have created for themselves, though, so I don’t think it’s pointless.
      And you could always put in another demand for compensation, relating to your ORIGINAL demand for compensation!

      1. Debbie Williams

        Thank God there is people like you who care! I only found your website a few days ago, just wish I had 4 years ago! The only reason i did is because, like so many others I had yet again had the Atos form and nearly became the latest victim of ‘legalised assisted suicide’ and was at the very end! I have suffered chronic social phobia, Agoraphobia, depression, and avoidant personality disorder for nearly 5 years and whilst I will always blame myself, I blame the appalling care from C.M.H.T more!
        Its a very long story but when I finally plucked up the courage to ask for help my referral notes and a complaint letter I sent to the head of our partnership trust were lost and the result was that I ended up waiting 8 months to see a C.P.N who was a complete nightmare, and couldn’t take to. You see I was a qualified nurse for over 25years and the fact I had an opinion, I now know is the wrong thing to have so challenging him made him worry he couldn’t say any old junk to me and i’d accept it, and I didn’t!
        I waited 57 weeks in the end to see a psychologist, who came 3 times then left. I waited another 13 weeks to see the new one who was off sick more than she came so the total amount of times I saw a psychologist in 70 weeks was 8 with just an O.T to come and see me!
        I wasn’t getting better fast enough for them though and they made the decision to discharge me, knowing I had no family near, only two friends and had attempted suicide several times! Then because I was becoming angry, and in my opinion was justified in doing so, the C.P.N I disliked so much stated that if I was rude again to any member of the team he would have to get security advice so in my eyes he.d given me an A.S.B.O! They left me, tjhen had the cheek to state i’d asked them not to come anymore, forgetting my friend (also a nurse) was present on last appts I had with any of them but whilst I have never been rude in my life, I think anybody would have been angry with what i’d endured.
        So, yet another manuscript from Atos only 8 months after the last one nearly finished me. My friend wrote to my G.P a year ago to ask why I had been ‘dumped’ and his reply was that ‘cuts to government funding may be why they had pulled out as money had to be spent on those who were more likely to benefit from it’ but he would write to them again, I trust he did but I never had a reply, neither had my friend who sent the initial letter, and she opens all my mail so neither of us would benefit from lying about it, so that’s it! Actually there is so much more and I have all the letters to back up what I say but you think no-one cares until you chance upon people such as yourself, and if I could give you a medal it would be for instilling a little hope in people who just about to give up and give in so thank you again! if I could help anyone by acting as a test case to be a ‘test case for neglect’ I would as I have nothing left to lose, they took my self respect with them and if you knew me, you would know that was the only thing I had left, apart from my dog who I also lost in may having been more therapy to me in 17 years than they had given me in 2 so I really do have nothing left and I refuse to degrade myself anymore with stupid ATOS forms.
        The full story is a real comedy of errors but if i write it down, i can spell and that really is the ultimate sin!!

  4. Florence

    Yet again, Mike, I think you deeply on behalf of all of us caught in this nightmare. Not one of us should have to go through this, but your blogs, and the other (Void, DPAC, etc) let us know that we are not alone, and hope will turn to anger & action, and provide that most rare commodity now, information, real information that we can use.

    My only regret is that you & Mrs Mike have had to endure this. You shine a light on the way to fight back. Perhaps we need to knock up a pro-forma letter to be handed out at the JC+ to alert people of this & help them take action. I hope Black Triangle can help the way they did with letters for GPs.

  5. Mark Williams

    On signing my Job Seekers alowance agreement saying which types of methods i would use to search for work ie:Ask my old boss,Look in local paper etc.And one of the agreements was to go on 2 certain job search websites 3x a week.Know my computer knowledge is marginal to say the least,& have never done a job search,nor have signed on in the 28yrs of my life.So when i went in too sign on for the first time i,i was told i would be disqaulified from recieving my benefit for two weeks as i had only logged on to 2 of the 4 websites i had agreed on.My problem isnt so much with stopping my benefits,but more to do with my treatment from the staff.I wasnt given a chance to redeem myself,nor asked for a reasonable explanation on why,just told to go over to that table,fill his form out & someone from a different post code will let you know in the near future.
    My reason was,as i pointed out earlier,i wasnt sure what i was doing.There reply was,”Your given reason was not a good enough reason”!
    Is there no leaway,no thoughts on a second chance,or a human being to reason with? Do these people never make an error,or have to go back too correct a mistake,or need to catch up on things they should of done yesterday? NEVER?!,im sure they do.
    In conclusion,i did it again this week,& due to no help on the Job Centres behalf i had my allowance stopped again,resulting in a bank charge from a refused electric bill direct debit.
    My question is,would a complaint about the way iv been treated,do any good what so ever in letting the individual know that i am an equal,& deserved to be treated like one.

    1. Mike Sivier

      Honest answer? I don’t know. You could argue that the exact terms had not been properly explained to you and your failure was therefore a result of wrong advice.

    2. Gbarbm

      Why don’t you write a letter to the DWP/JC head honcho and use the following quote;

      I would draw your attention to the “reasonable man” principle established in Blyth v Birmingham waterworks, i.e. would a reasonable person, taking reasonable care when faced with the same circumstances come to the same conclusion.

      The Blyth case was primarily concerned with negligence but the reasonable man (or person to be PC) was a spin off of the case which has been used ad infinitum since it first came about in 1856…it was so good you see it’s never been superseded.

      So would a reasonable person (you) taking reasonable care, when faced with the same circumstances (no help/support/proper advice) come to the same conclusion.
      Well, yes they would!

    3. Tracey Kniveton

      My partner and I are in exactly the same situation. We do not do technology as such and with myself being Epileptic I do not use computer a lot. I have contacted Derby Telegraph and they want a story also I have contacted Chris Williamson my local MP who is willing to write a letter to the jobcentre.
      I was advised by jobcentre NOT to do volunteer work as this would leave me less time to search for a job. Basically dont help anyone just yourself attitude, that says it all.

  6. Gbarbm

    I actually made a compensation claim to the CSA (or CMEC or whatever it’s called this week!) and received financial redress for maladministration. The covering letter was a joy to behold it said;
    ” you contacted us by telephone on [date] [date] [date] and you wrote to us on [date] [date] and on each and every occasion you were proved to be correct”

    Sweet 🙂

  7. elle

    I lost my baby girl and I was on income support at the time, I took in her death certificate to the DWP and asked about a funeral payment to help..A week later I found my money was raised and she was included in our household and I received milk tokens for her….I was distraught….I never got an apology, wish now I’d taken it further, I didn’t want the money it was tainted money….

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  9. kittysjones

    The fact that the DWP have the bare faced CHEEK to call us “customers” never ceases to amaze me.. Anyone would think we had paid for some kind of social security – a support service via taxes for in case we need it….Oh! Hang on…….

  10. A Bradburn

    I have suffered for twenty five years with anxiety and depression but always been determined to work, and against medical advice went to Uni tried teaching and have always worked through it even on tons of medication. I am ow deteriorating and in consultation with my doctor and psychiatrist stopped working because it was making me far worse. I am still ill not working and with medication. They are stopping my benefit on October 2. This makes me feel almost suicidal as it is all I have, as if I don’t feel enough of a failure as it is claiming in the first place. My claim was for contribution based ESA. I was never reviewed by ATOS at six months as I should have been. I was not put in the correct group as I should have been. I wish I could work, I don’t want to be hard up and on ESA. I genuinely have a mental health problem. Nobody wants to know, there is nothing I can do, I have appealed, I wait to hear, I have written three letters to DWP, ATOS and my MP respectively all say they can’t comment. This is killing me. ATOS say there is a national backlog of files for assessment, in other words my file is shelved. This is so wrong. Why aren’t the broadsheets and media not kicking up a fuss for the genuine cases that are being so appallingly treated.

  11. Yvette

    I have been sanctioned for no fault of my own and im appealing this decision. My sanctioning was from 1-6-13 to 14-9-13. I had bn awarded hardship payment for this period. I have attended my appointment while been on hardship n stuck to singing on. I was due to receive a hardship payment todaybit havent. I’ve rang them n theyve stated that my sanctioning is over. Why have I not reciwved any kind of payment? Please please can soneone call me on 07858842440. I’ve no access to internet to read any emails . Thankyou. Yvette walker.

  12. Andrew Gibbons

    I claimed ESA from September to April 2013/14.

    In January 2014 I had a face to face compliance interview at my local Benefits Office, with full financial disclosure – bank accounts and so on.

    Following that interview I got a letter 4th February saying I would get 74.65 a week ESA.

    On April 11th I had a letter saying the same.

    Then out of the blue I had a ‘decision maker’ letter dated 29th April saying I was not a legitimate claimant from December 1st 2013.

    This caused my Housing Benefit to stop, to have no income in May, to have to go to a food bank, and boot sales to raise money from which to live.

    They took two days short of five months to tell me they felt I wasn’t a legitimate claimant…from December 1st 2013!

    Now they want £485.76 back, a debt which I wouldn’t have incurred had they not taken 118 days to tell me.

    You just couldn’t make it up!

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