Category Archives: appeal

Tribunal highlights corruption of disability benefit assessments as DWP tries to rely on disgraced assessor’s lies

 

The Department for Work and Pensions tried to use the lies of a disgraced and dismissed assessor as a reason to deny disability benefits to a claimant.

The corrupt and cruel Tory-run DWP tried to prolong a seriously-disabled claimant’s four-year fight for benefits by saying an upper-tier tribunal should accept an assessment by Alan Barham.

Barham was discredited after an undercover investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches in 2016.

Private assessment firm Capita dismissed Barham and he was found guilty of misconduct by a professional standards tribunal in 2017.

But the DWP still argued that a hearing by the upper tribunal should rely on his evidence – this month.

The claimant, previously on the higher rate of both components of DLA, was refused PIP based on an assessment by Barham.

On appeal to the first tier tribunal the claimant was awarded the standard rate daily living only. So the claimant appealed to the upper tribunal.

The DWP then produced a new assessment report dated 2017, which was still based in part on the original report by Barham.

The DWP argued that, if the upper tribunal sent the case back, it would be a up to a new tribunal to decide what weight to attach to the report.

Fortunately, our legal system is staffed by intelligent people, and the judge dismissed that DWP’s demand, saying it was

not good enough, because the criticisms of Mr Barham meant that his purported observations and purported examination could not be relied upon.

The judge ended up telling the DWP there was “a wealth of evidence” already in the papers from other health professionals and if that wasn’t enough for the DWP they could order a new assessment.

There was no reason for the case to go back to a new tribunal, the judge said, so either the DWP should come to an agreement with the claimant or the judge would decide on an award.

The DWP climbed down, and the claimant was awarded 11 points for the daily living component, giving them the standard rate, and 12 points for the mobility component, giving them the enhanced rate. The award runs for 10 years from the date of the original decision.

The problem is that the DWP will have absolutely no qualms about trying the same dodge, using material by the same discredited assessor, next time it has the opportunity.

There is no penalty applied to the DWP when it tries this dodge to get out of paying people the benefits they deserve, so there is no disincentive to stop it being used.

And the difference in the stakes is enormous. For a benefit claimant, the difference between no benefit award and an enhanced rate of PIP is often the difference between life and death; for the DWP it is just another day at the office.

This case ended well; the claimant got what they deserved. What happens if the next claimant doesn’t? And when will the DWP take responsibility for the injuries its decisions cause?

Source: DWP slammed by judge for trying to rely on evidence of disgraced Capita assessor

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Was online appeal system just another way to delay payment of disability benefits?

Tribunal: before anyone comments, I know that UK courts don’t use the gavel. This is for illustrative purposes.

A bid to decide some appeals against refusal of Personal Independence Payment benefit applications online has been closed down by HM Courts and Tribunals service.

The intention was to give claimants and the Department for Work and Pensions an idea of the verdict they were likely to get at appeal. If both agreed with it, then the appeal was completed. If not, then the matter went on to a normal appeal hearing.

You can probably see the problem with this.

For many, it would cause another delay before they had a chance of seeing any cash – and we all know that the DWP already puts far too many hurdles in the way of people with disabilities.

This seems to be borne out by the disappointing take-up. The process – known as COR (Continuous Online Resolution) was originally set for trial with 1,000 appellants in the Midlands, Sutton and North-West Tribunal Panel area.

But only 254 claimants accepted the invitation to join the pilot and, of these, only 145 cases were considered suitable.

Ultimately, 69 cases were resolved by an online panel and all but one of these increased the DWP’s award.

According to Benefits and Work, claimants involved in the pilot had mixed feelings:

Those who got a decision they were happy with from the online panel were positive about the experience. Those who had to go through the online process and then on to a normal appeal were frustrated and disappointed.

Some appellants said they accepted a preliminary decision that they were not happy with simply because “they felt they had waited long enough already and did not want a further delay caused by waiting for a face-to-face hearing.”

This fits the thesis that the scheme delayed justice rather than helping it.

And it seems it was even a burden to HMCTS, which stated: “A substantial admin resource was required to support COR in selecting, sifting and onboarding cases, as well as carrying out time-consuming tasks which were not automated by the COR system.

“This therefore had resource implications for any scaling up of the pilot on a national basis, particularly given the low levels of suitable cases.”

HMCTS said it will continue to look for ways to carry out appeals online.

Let us hope the next attempt will speed matters, rather than worsening delays.

Source: Online appeal system scrapped before it begins

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Tories are attacking disabled people again while we’re looking the other way

The Conservative government has changed its assessment process for disability benefits to make it harder for people to get a correct decision on their claim – it seems.

The Tory miniser for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, revealed details of the secret change in a letter to the Commons Work and Pensions committee, after its chair, Stephen Timms, raised the issue on behalf of claimants.

It has been usual practice for claimants to request and receive a copy of their assessment report within days of the report being submitted to the DWP.

They have been able to request a copy of their report, check it thoroughly, raise any issues with the assessment providers and receive responses before they have received the decision.

In a fair, sane system, this is appropriate. So of course the Tories have changed it.

In a letter dated September 16, Tomlinson MP wrote:

“The department does not share assessment provider reports with claimants before they have been considered by a DWP Case Manager.”

This is because:

“Providing the report to claimants immediately after the assessment and before the Case Manager has made their decision could therefore give a false impression on the outcome of their claim.”

This will make it much harder for claimants to demand the mandatory review that the Tories insist they have to endure before appealing against a wrong decision.

It can take up to 15 weeks for claimants to receive the decision. Once they do, and if they disagree with it, they will have about three weeks – or less – to make a request for a mandatory review. 

The 30+ page assessment report is a key part of the process and it will take about 10 days from requesting a copy to receiving it.

This leaves very little time for them to see the recommendations made, to analyse the report, to check it for accuracy, to see if there are any errors, and to prepare and send a request for MR if necessary.

Many people with disabilities are very weak, due to their condition, and do not have the strength of will needed to push through a dispute with the government that has a short time limit.

You can be sure the Tories had this in mind when they secretly made this cruel change.

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Tories have wasted £120m in two years trying to tell people they’re not disabled

Habitual cruelty: if you thought the Tories stopped persecuting people with long-term illnesses and disabilities during the Covid-19 crisis, think again.

What a waste of time and money.

Over the last two years, Conservative governments have spent more than £120 million in taxpayers’ money fighting disability benefit claims – despite losing three-quarters of tribunal appeals.

That means automatic wastage of £90 million – but it is likely that the quarter of claimants who lost their appeals also had valid grounds to claim Personal Independence Payment and/or Employment and Support Allowance but were outflanked by a prejudiced system.

The increase in expenditure is far greater than the 13 per cent increase in applications would suggest. And it is happening at a time when the country can ill-afford to waste any cash at all. There can only be one reason for it: sick cruelty – the Tories are enjoying torturing sick and disabled people to death.

And why are there so many applications for disability and sickness benefits in the UK? Do conditions here – especially working conditions – cause illness and disability?

The new figures are further proof that the Tories’ convoluted appeal process has nothing to do with saving money from fraudsters and everything to do with starving people with disabilities – to death, if possible.

It is now well-documented that claimants initially have to go through an internal appeal process within the Department for Work and Pensions called mandatory reconsideration.

The courts only recently ruled that a Tory regulation forcing claimants to go without any benefit payments, and therefore without any income, for the period of a mandatory reconsideration – no matter how long that may be – was illegal.

Only after the DWP rules that a claim should be rejected can the sick or disabled person take their case to a tribunal.

And it is at tribunals that 76 per cent of PIP claims, and 75 per cent of ESA claims, are upheld.

This means the Tories have needlessly and cruelly deprived these people of their means of survival for the number of months – years in some cases – that these claims have been disputed.

We all know that there is hardly any fraud in disability benefit claims – the last recorded number This Writer saw was somewhere in the region of one or two per cent of claims.

So the huge proportion that the Tories refuse – and the amount of time and money wasted in the appeal process – can only mean one thing:

The Tories hate disabled people and want them to die.

Why isn’t this a national – if not international – scandal?

Source: Government spends £120m in taxpayer money fighting disability benefit claims in two years, figures show | The Independent | Independent

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Covid lockdown and Tory PIP assessment cruelty made woman attempt suicide

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Lockdown cruelty: if you thought this image had been retired for the duration of the Covid crisis, it seems you’re to be disappointed because the Tory government had other plans.

The incompetent – or just plain cruel? – Tory government’s failure to make adequate provision for us all during the Covid-19 lockdown has been worst in the cases of disability benefit claimants, this story shows.

Cambridgeshire Live has published the story of Katy (not her real name), who said the stress caused to her by the Department for Work and Pensions’s assessment for Personal Independence Payment drove her to attempt suicide.

It seems she was put through an assessment interview with an employee of private contractor Capita – and it followed a traumatic pattern that readers of This Site should by now understand well.

Initially offered as a face-to-face interview, the assessment was rescheduled to be on the phone because of the pandemic – and rescheduled three times at the last minute, ensuring that Katy’s mental health support worker could not participate, despite that having been agreed.

The call was pleasant enough but – long-term readers of This Site will know what’s coming – the report that came back was riddled with “gross inaccuracies”.

Denied the benefit, she was forced to file a complaint about the assessor and request a mandatory consideration to receive the funds she deserved.

As a result she was pushed into debt.

In addition – in lockdown and isolated – she had to handle the “incorrect documentation” of a psychiatric assessment.

These symptoms of incompetence by the authorities could not help but exacerbate her condition, which forced her to cope with he side effects of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including nightmares and flashbacks, and limiting her from carrying out daily tasks like washing or shopping.

It all became too much and she tried to take her own life. Fortunately – and all-too-unusually – the attempt failed.

Now – after Katy’s case was taken up by her MP, Disability Cambridgeshire and Cambridgeshire Live, and may therefore be considered to have become a public relations problem – the government has granted her the highest rate of PIP.

Funny how that happens when there’s a whiff of bad publicity, isn’t it?

Both the DWP and Capita have offered the usual arse-covering soundbites about using all the information available and changing the decision when new facts come forward.

But the fact is that a woman was driven to take her life because of the cruelty of a so-called benefit system that the Tories have perverted into a death-by-deprivation scheme.

This Writer has been campaigning against this deadly policy for years, and the fact that there is now uncontradictable proof that the DWP has been driving people to suicide is welcome.

But I fear I know what will come of it: Absolutely nothing.

Source: PIP payments: ‘The disability benefits assessment made me want to end my life’ – Cambridgeshire Live

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DWP crashes to another court defeat over sickness benefits

The High Court – also known as the Royal Courts of Justice – in London.

The High Court has just ruled that a rule allowing the Department for Work and Pensions to force some benefit claimants to wait – unpaid – for a mandatory reconsideration before they can appeal against refusal is unlawful.

The system previously demanded that, if a claim for income-related Employment and Support Allowance was refused, claimants would have to wait for a “mandatory reconsideration” of their case to take place before they could appeal.

This could take weeks, and has often taken months, in which the claimant – who is claiming because of serious illness, remember – has no income on which to survive.

Mr Justice Swift ruled that the demand that a mandatory reconsideration must take place before a claimant can appeal is a “disproportionate interference with the right of access to court” – in some cases.

This case was brought by law graduate Michael Conner, with crowdfunded aid from the website Benefits and Work – and represents a considerable victory for the claimant, the website, and crowdfunded legal proceedings in general.

Mr Connor had been forced to wait 18 weeks while the DWP carried out a mandatory reconsideration of his ESA decision. During this time he had no right to claim ESA.

If he had been able to lodge an appeal, he would have been paid ESA on a probationary rate, dependent on the provision of medical evidence by his doctor.

The judge said that after his benefit was cancelled on October 18, 2018, Mr Connor applied for a mandatory reconsideration.

But, in an “error” of the kind that benefit claimants have come to expect from the DWP, he said “no action was taken in response… The request for revision was incorrectly entered onto the Secretary of State’s electronic document management system.

“The document was not recognised or recorded as a request for reconsideration, and instead was classified as ‘unstructured whitemail'” and “it was not until 6 March 2019 – 4 months after Mr Connor’s request had been received – that it was identified as a request for revision.”

Mr Connor had managed to claim Income Support and Carer’s Allowance in the meantime, so he decided not to appeal the decision. Instead, he informed the DWP that he intended to challenge the legality of the rule making him unable to appeal until a mandatory reconsideration had happened.

He pointed out that:

  • The rule creates an open-ended deferral of the right to appeal that could leave claimants without income for an unlimited period – as evidenced by his own case.
  • Its effect is anomalous as ESA is payable before a decision is made and while an appeal is taking place, but not while the DWP is going through the mandatory reconsideration process [or, more likely, forgetting about it – in the opinion of This Writer].
  • If an appeal is started, there is no provision for back payment of ESA to cover the period of the revision decision while an appeal is ongoing.
  • So the interference is disproportionate because “it places benefits claimants, such as him, who are vulnerable, in a position of ‘legal and financial limbo, distress and destitution’ for the duration of the revision process that must be pursued before an appeal can be commenced” – and there is “no limit on the time permitted to the Secretary of State to determine an application for revision.”

In his ruling, Mr Justice Swift said: “It is anomalous that the payment pending appeal arrangements for ESA … do not extend to ESA claimants who are required … to request the Secretary of State to revise a decision and await her decision on that request before initiating an appeal.

“At the hearing of this case I gave the Secretary of State the opportunity to … explain why no provision exists to pay ESA to claimants… None of this further information provides the answer.

“My conclusion is that [the regulation in question] is a disproportionate interference with the right of access to court, so far as it applies to claimants to ESA who, once an appeal is initiated, meet the conditions for payment pending appeal.

“The advantage permitted to the Secretary of State by [the] regulation … comes at a cost to ESA claimants. There is no explanation for that.

“There is no evidence to support a conclusion that the objective pursued by [the] regulation … would to any extent be compromised if payments like the payments pending appeal made to ESA claimants who are pursuing appeals to the Tribunal, were made to them while they waited on the Secretary of State’s revision decision.

“In the absence of payment equivalent to payment pending appeal, the application of [the] regulation … to ESA claimants does not strike the required fair balance, and for that reason is an unjustified impediment to the right of access to court guaranteed by ECHR Article 6.”

Benefits and Work has stated: “Sadly, the ruling does not apply to other benefits such as PIP or DLA.

Nonetheless, it is an important victory and it means that ESA claimants, who are often faced with the prospect of many weeks without funds if they wish to appeal, are now in a much better position when challenging a decision.”

It will be interesting to see what will happen now.

The ruling is that the current situation is unlawful but no further remedy has been put in place beyond a statement to that effect.

What will happen to ESA claimants who must go through the mandatory reconsideration process now? Will they be paid while their case is reviewed?

That seems the logical course.

But I fear the DWP may find a way to duck out of it.

Source: Connor, R (On the Application Of) v The Secretary of State for Work And Pensions [2020] EWHC 1999 (Admin) (24 July 2020)

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Benefit tribunals: appellants are warned if their hearing is by video link, their home becomes part of the court

This is a timely warning, as the coronavirus lockdown forces legal procedures out of the courtroom and online:

People taking part in benefit tribunals that are heard on video and audio, so they do not have to leave their own home, must treat their home as a part of the courtroom for the duration of the hearing.

This means they must sit somewhere with a blank or neutral view behind them, and if they need to move away from their screen or phone during the hearing they must ask permission.

If they need someone with them who is not a legal representative (for example, a carer) they must ask the court’s permission.

They may not eat or smoke anything, including e-cigarettes, and may only drink water.

Crucially, it is a criminal offence to publish images or audio from a court hearing without authorisation.

The advice is timely because, between March 19 and April 6, use of audio increased from 100 hearings to 1,850, while use of video went up from 150 hearings to 1,100.

On April 6 itself, around 85 per cent of cases heard in England and Wales used audio and video technology.

You can find guidance on taking part in telephone and video hearings here.

You can read the full figures on video and audio hearings here.

Source: Treat your home as a court room, tribunal appellants warned

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DWP hires opinion poll firm to survey benefit claimants who challenge decisions. Why?

Our friends at Benefits and Work pose an interesting question: why has the DWP hired an opinion poll company – Ipsos Mori – to quiz PIP mandatory reconsideration claimants?

The rogue government department has been caught out recently, after a Freedom of Information request revealed that assessors from private contractors Atos and Capita have falsified around 7,300 benefit claims in order to deprive vulnerable people of money that is due to them.

Appeals against PIP decisions currently enjoy a success rate of more than 70 per cent, which tends to support the facts revealed by the FoI response.

Now, in a letter to dissenting claimants, the DWP has written that it has asked Ipsos MORI “to help them understand the experience of people who have disagreed with a decision that has been made regarding their benefit claim and to help the Department improve the services they offer”.

Benefits and Work has adopted an attitude of suspicion, with the website requesting information on the questions being asked, from anybody who agrees to answer them.

But why has the DWP hired Ipsos Mori to do this work?

Well, it has been said that opinion pollsters are never really hired to reflect the opinions of the public – but to shape them.

How do they do that?

In the choice of the questions they ask.

For example: asked if a benefit assessor was polite during the interview, even a disgruntled claimant might have to say that they were.

But how can the same claimant point out that their assessment had been doctored to provide false information, if they are not asked a question about it?

They can’t.

And if Ipsos Mori asks only the questions the DWP requires, then the government department will be able to claim that there is nothing wrong with its assessment system, with nobody able to claim that it is not depending on honest answers.

So Benefits and Work is right to advise caution, and to be keen to see the questions being asked.

This Writer would take a simpler view. I would tell anybody who is contacted to respond to the survey: don’t.

Source: Why has DWP hired Ipsos MORI to quiz PIP mandatory reconsideration claimants?

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Latest DWP outrage: cold calls with ‘take it or leave it’ offer for reduced benefits

If this is true, it seems there’s no depth to which the Department for Work and Pensions won’t lower itself.

The claims is that DWP representatives are ‘cold calling’ vulnerable people who are appealing against a decision to deny them any benefits.

In the unrecorded calls, they are then offered “take it or leave it” deals paying thousands of pounds less in benefits than they may be entitled to have by law.

In some cases, it is claimed, people were told the offer would be withdrawn within minutes if they did not accept.

The aim: to settle cases before they get to tribunals where the claimant could win significantly higher payments.

The Guardian report seems to indicate that the DWP has admitted the truth of the matter, saying people accepting the offer could still go through with their appeal.

But that fact is no good if the DWP caller doesn’t actually inform the claimant of it.

It is easy to understand the attractiveness of this brutally mean-spirited practice to the penny-pinchers at the DWP.

Appeals against adverse benefit decisions are currently low in number, mostly because the Tory government has made it extremely costly, time-consuming and stressful.

But a huge 70 per cent of appeals end in victory for the claimant, making this course of action more desirable in spite of the pressure it involves.

DWP officials recently had a £1 million bonus payout for their success in depriving vulnerable people of the money that was theirs by right.

If they want to keep their cash rolling in, they have to find ways to deny it to the likes of you and I.

Source: DWP accused of offering disabled people ‘take it or leave it’ benefits | Benefits | The Guardian

Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.

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The Livingstone Presumption is now available
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