Tag Archives: contribution-based

The DWP’s ‘review’ of ESA claims is about TAKING money, not paying more

Did the government really overestimate the number of people who deserved a benefit refund – or did it just say that to victimise sick people?

The Mirror is reporting that the DWP “has slashed 90,000 people and £310m from a forecast of people who’ll be paid back the benefit ESA.

“A blunder dating back to 2011 meant thousands of claimants were awarded too little ESA – worth up to £111.65 a week – when they moved over from old-style incapacity benefit.

“Since 2017, the DWP has been working through 600,000 cases to check who was short-changed – and given back payments worth an average of £6,000.

“But this week it emerged an earlier estimate that 210,000 people would get refunds worth £920m was, in fact, wildly incorrect.

“Now the DWP estimates 120,000 people – almost half the previous number – will get back payments worth a lower total of £610m.”

I reckon I know a little about this.

Back in May, Mrs Mike was contacted by the DWP with a message stating: “You may be able to get more ESA.

“You were paid contribution-based ESA from 14/08/2012 to 29/05/2015,” it stated – falsely, “which replaced the Incapacity Benefit you were getting.

“You might also be eligible for income-related ESA for the above period. If you are, you may be eligible to extra payments. These are called premiums.”

Then it gave information on how to determine eligibility. It seemed to depend on whether a claimant, their partner or both had savings of more than £16,000, or whether the claimant’s partner worked 24 hours or more per week.

I was suspicious so we contacted Citizens’ Advice to check what was going on.

We were told this was a genuine exercise that involved a huge number of claimants, and the understanding was that there was a sincere desire to correct possible underpayments.

I was still concerned, because the fact is that Mrs Mike was not paid contribution-based ESA from August 14, 2012 to May 29, 2015 – she only had it until August 13, 2013.

This was because of one of the monumental cock-ups for which the DWP is justifiably infamous.

Mrs Mike had been wrongly put in the “work-related activity group” (WRAG). She was told this by an advisor during her first work-related activity interview, and was advised to appeal.

The DWP did not acknowledge the appeal or do anything about it apart from to attach a note to Mrs Mike’s file that she was not to be contacted under any circumstances.

We waited, and waited, and then her year in the WRAG ran out. I contacted the DWP by telephone to find out what this meant for her claim and was told that it had been cancelled. This is also when I found out about the “do not contact” note. No explanation for that has ever been given.

A period of negotiation then followed, after which it was decided that Mrs Mike would have to undergo another work capability assessment (WCA) and would be put on income-related ESA until it happened.

The new WCA never took place, though – the DWP decided it could handle the case on the papers and she was put on income-related ESA from that point on.

Still, we responded to the questions – no, and no – and sent the form in.

Earlier this month, Mrs Mike went through the roof when she received a letter from the DWP: “Our decision about your ESA review.”

It said: “You are not entitled to income-related ESA from 14 August 2012 as your partner was working 24 hours or more per week.”

This is transparently untrue.

We wrote back on October 11 to point this out and demand an explanation and have received nothing so far. In fairness, it is only nine days later. In 2013, the negotiations lasted three months.

Taking all this into account, I can form only one conclusion:

It seems to me that the DWP’s review was intended to reduce the number of people being paid, to claw cash back if possible and to put as many people in financial difficulty as it could.

The fact that one in 12 people who may have been underpaid have died should be indicative of what the DWP is really about.

And to the unknown number of claimants – or relatives – who have failed to respond to the DWP’s attempts at contact, or have refused to respond, my advice is: Don’t.

The people involved in this matter do not have your welfare at heart. They want your money – nothing more.

Source: DWP accused of ‘chaos’ after overestimating how many will get ESA benefit refund – Mirror Online

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.

https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/mike-sivier-libel-fight/


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Victims tell how they were unfairly knocked off sickness benefits

130628esaappeals

‘Have 230,000 sick and disabled people been wrongly knocked off-benefit and forgotten?’ That was the question posed on this blog just two days ago, based on an analysis of statistics from the ONS and CESI. Without more input from the Department for Work and Pensions it is impossible to answer the question – but two former claimants have come forward with stories that support the allegation.

“I’m one of them!” wrote Steven Dix on Twitter. “My wife and I are now £400 a month worse off, with IDS’ ‘help’!”

He explained: “When I was on Incapacity Benefit it was indefinitely – then came ESA.”

Mr Dix was put on contribution-based ESA totalling £97 per week – but this only lasts for a year. After that, “I was told that my wife, who is on minimum wage at Asda, earns too much for me to get income-related ESA.

“We were told we could only apply for Working Tax Credits, but guess what? Because I got ESA in the tax year 2013/14 we don’t get anything until tax year 2014/15 when we will have to apply again, and we can’t have anything backdated until then!

“We married on September 3, 2013; we did not qualify for housing benefit between then and December 25, 2013 and so now have £400 rent arrears to make up, and I have to find another £68 for overpayment of housing benefit (the bedroom tax) to pay back for that period too!”

Mr Dix stated that he had been made to feel like a criminal. “My crimes? I’m disabled and got married!

“The government keep on about how they’re helping working taxpayers and how they are helping married couples like my wife and I, but I really am wondering how much worse things would be if we weren’t getting David Cameron’s ‘help’!

“Now of course I have no independant income, I’m unable to work, and only have £168 DLA at the lower rate per month, half of which goes to Wonga.com!”

So this victim clearly deserves sickness benefit because he is unable to work, but has been denied it because of the arbitrary 365-day limit on contribution-based ESA; his low-paid wife can’t claim Working Tax Credits because of a legal loophole and so they have had to take money from a payday loan firm – the one that famously contributes to Conservative Party funds.

How convenient for Wonga.com and the Tories. How devastating for Mr Dix and his wife.

On Facebook, a person going by the moniker Nomine Deus tells us: “I was kicked off-benefit (long term Incapacity) in 2012.

“I am not eligable for Jobseekers [Allowance] or Income Support as my wife works and is paid just over the qualifying amount for one and works too many hours for the other. I live out in the sticks and would be forced to travel to sign on at my own expense and then put onto workfare etc, again at my own expense (or rather my wifes expense). I am forced, therefore, not to sign on at all.

“We are already in fuel poverty and struggling financially. I am still suffering my original condition. I believe there must be many like myself out there.”

These are only two stories of people who have fallen through the holes Iain Duncan Smith has created in what used to be the safety net of social security.

Who can doubt that there are many, many more?

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These disability deniers have no incentive to do the right thing

Despair: How can you get the government to do the right thing when the rules mean it doesn't have to?

Despair: How can you get the government to do the right thing when the rules mean it doesn’t have to?

Those of you who read the comments on this blog will be familiar with Nick. He’s a gentleman who has been ill for a very long time. The effects of his illness are readily apparent just by looking at him – he describes himself as having the appearance of an inmate in a Japanese POW camp during World War Two.

The Department of Work and Pensions still wanted to tell him he was able to seek work; they only stopped trying to cut his benefits because his MP intervened.

This is how he describes the attitude of the Coalition government: “David Cameron … is not to be trusted as he has a way of killing people in a very barbaric way, the way of silence, in the privacy of one’s home, to have a letter dropped on them to place that person in a deliberate panic, knowing and hoping it kills them.”

Elsewhere, he states: “I myself have lost all my many online friends bar one… over the past three years – all dead at the hands of the DWP.”

Now this government department is doing its best to starve the life out of Mrs Mike, it seems.

She received a letter yesterday that makes absolutely no sense at all, to anyone with sense. Attend:

“Please allow us to apologise for the lack of communication you have received regarding the changes in your benefit. As per normal procedure, you should have received a letter and phone call some weeks ago to prepare you for the end of your contribution based ESA claim. An invitation to claim income related ESA should then have been sent out. A fault on your claim meant that our processing section did not receive a prompt to contact you to explain the changes to contribution based ESA eligibility.”

Our first reaction to that was: Not our problem. The “fault” on our claim would be one that was created at the DWP, by DWP employees, and is entirely the responsibility of the DWP. But who suffers for it? We do.

“I can see that you have an ongoing appeal against being placed in the Work Related Activities Group of ESA. I cannot see an outcome to the appeal as of yet. Once an outcome has been reached, we will contact you. If successful, you will be placed in the Support Group of ESA.”

The letter goes on to contradict itself, revealing that a decision-maker examined the appeal – in April – and determined that another work capability assessment would be necessary to find out whether Mrs Mike is less able to work now than she was in July last year.

We were not told about this decision. We have not been notified about any new WCA. And now we are confused – are we supposed to be claiming income-related ESA, or waiting for the results of the appeal – an appeal which has been ongoing for nearly half a year now – in case Mrs Mike gets put into the support group. And how is she supposed to live until then – on roots and berries?

“Please be aware that we receive a very high volume of appeals; due to the volume, it is not possible to resolve each appeal as quickly as we or our ESA claimants would like. However, please be assured that your appeal is ongoing and you will be contacted when we have an outcome. In your case, our Decision Maker has stated that we will need to know the outcome of your next medical assessment before we can progress your appeal.”

Yes, we are indeed aware that the DWP receives a very high volume of appeals – 255,084 between January and March. The cost of these appeals to the taxpayer totalled £66 million between 2012-13 – and that it is losing them in increasing numbers. This is because Atos assessors and DWP decision-makers have been making decisions that are not only wrong according to the law but harmful to the lives of those affected. Do I really need to quote the 73-deaths-per-week figure that we all know and loathe – and that we all believe has inflated to even more horrific levels since it was first released? We don’t know because the DWP – again – is refusing to release the figures it holds.

“When you were migrated across to ESA from Incapacity Benefit, you attended a medical for ESA reassessment. The outcome of this was that you were to be placed in the Work Related Activities Group for a period of 12 months, effective from 21.06.12. It is for this reason that you were sent an ESA50 form in May this year; you were due for your 12month review, as stated when your claim was migrated from IB to ESA.”

This is what we deduced when we received the form – which arrived with no explanatory letter. We completed it and sent it back very quickly and had heard nothing about it since. It would be logical to expect a response, or indeed a decision, before a benefit claim expired, but we’re dealing with the DWP here, whose agents seem to think they are a law unto themselves.

Note the two inaccuracies: Mrs Mike’s ESA started on August 14 last year, and the Work Capability Assessment is not a medical check and should not, in any circumstances, be described as one. It is a tick-box assessment to determine whether a claimant is capable of performing any work that may be used by the DWP as an excuse to close their claim. Nothing more.

“Your completed ESA50 has been received by ATOS; we are currently waiting for them to set a date for your new medical assessment. You will be contacted when this date has been set.”

Oh, so the fault lies with Atos, does it? That’s nice to know. In the meantime, what are we supposed to be using to pay the bills?

And has anyone noticed that we now have a choice between combinations of three ongoing matters: We can make a new claim for income-related ESA; we can wait for a decision on our appeal, which requires another work capability assessment; and/or we can wait for Atos to pull its finger out of whichever bodily orifice is appropriate and arrange a WCA in relation to the 12-month review, which is also awaiting a decision – all after the claim period has ended!

Will we have to attend two work capability assessments? That seems to be what’s implied, although nothing in the letter clarifies this.

“I have referred your letter of complaint to our Complaints Resolution Manager, for their response. I do appreciate that you have not experienced the level of communication or customer care that we seek to provide.

“Hopefully this answers your queries.”

How has this answered any queries? All it has done is create more questions!

“Once you have completed and returned the enclosed ESA3 form, we will be able to reassess your claim and consider income related ESA.

“Once you have been seen for your next medical, we will be able to progress your Support Group appeal. If placed in Support Group, it is possible that we will be able to recommence payment of contribution based ESA.”

Aren’t these mutually exclusive? Which do they expect us to do? And – again – how do they expect us to live while we’re doing this and waiting for them to get on with it?

Note that there is no mention that we can apply for a Short Term Benefit Advance while waiting for the DWP to fulfil its responsibilities. Few people know about this and the Department aims to keep it that way. Why’s that, do you think?

It is well-known to the DWP that, along with her physical problems, Mrs Mike suffers from mental health problems and depression. As I write these words, she’s asleep on the sofa where she has been bawling her eyes out for much of the morning, in utter despair at the situation. That’s the same sofa where she spends many days at a time in such agony that she cannot move.

She won’t be another casualty of this institutionalised cruelty, but now I have to be extra vigilant to make sure she doesn’t get low enough to do herself a mischief. That’s an extra burden on me, when I already have my hands full, running the household and trying to find ways to make ends meet (like the Vox Political book, Strong Words and Hard Times*).

Meanwhile, what sanctions have been placed upon the DWP officers who have been working on this case?

None at all.

Everyone knows unemployed people claiming Jobseekers Allowance have to sign a ‘Jobseekers Agreement’ in which they agree to meet stringent conditions in order to receive their benefit. In the same way, people on ESA must report changes in their own circumstances and medical health, in order to allow their benefit to be updated correctly. Both arrangements rely on correct and timely administration by the DWP.

But this is not happening – nor is it likely to happen in the future – because, when you check to find what sanctions may be placed on the DWP for failing to uphold its side of the agreement, what do you find?

None at all.

Of course, responsibility for the policy lies not with those who carry it out but with the policy-maker, in this case the Secretary of State, Iain Something Smith. How much will he pay as a penalty for masterminding this failure of a system that has caused so much agony to so many people – and that is costing the taxpayer so much extra money in legal challenges?

I’ll tell you. It’s exactly the same as the amount of remorse the failed, Returned-To-Unit Army bag-carrier showed when he was challenged about the people his policies have killed:

None at all.

There will be no hope for the sick and disabled of this country until those responsible for their persecution are made to pay the price for it.

*Vox Political: Strong Words and Hard Times may be bought here, here, here, here and here – depending on the format in which you wish to receive it.

Clause 99 – further dis-figuring benefits for the disabled

Sick? Disabled? It seems unlikely a note from your doctor will save you if the DWP makes an unreasonable decision about your fitness for work.

Sick? Disabled? It seems unlikely a note from your doctor will save you if the DWP makes an unreasonable decision about your fitness for work.

What is this Conservative obsession with dodgy ‘clauses’ in legislation?

I’m old enough to remember the furore over ‘Clause 28′ – the section of the Local Government Act 1988 that forbade local authorities in the UK from promoting homosexuality in any way’. While I’m not of that persuasion myself, I could see that this was intentionally oppressive legislation – and it is a historical fact that it caused many organisations to close or limit their activities.

It was also unreasonable legislation, in my opinion, because it restricted the freedoms of people in the UK for no good reason.

Clause 99 (or Section 99) of the Welfare Reform Act is also an unreasonable restriction. From April this year, it will ensure that people receiving Employment and Support Allowance will not be able to put in an appeal until they have had a reconsideration by the Department for Work and Pensions.

That may seem fair enough, in order to minimise unnecessary work by assessors, but here’s the catch: If a person in the work-related activity group (the relevant section of society for this legislation – if you’ve been found ‘fit for work’, you’ll be on the different benefit anyway) seeks reconsideration, they will immediately be moved to Jobseekers’ Allowance.

Being on JSA means you are already legally defined as ‘fit for work’. You must therefore actively seek work while receiving that benefit; show proof that you are doing so; attend interviews arranged by Job Centre Plus; and may only refuse a job with a very good reason – and even then only three times.

Stating that you do not believe yourself to be fit for work is not a good reason to refuse a job, as the Government – by placing you on JSA – has made a legally-binding statement that you are fit for work.

And remember, the 12-month timebomb – the limit on contribution-based benefits – will still be ticking while a claimant is on JSA.

There appears to be no reason given to justify this provision.

Of course, production of a sick note from your doctor would invalidate a claimant from any job offers by a company. Nobody interviewing a person who is waiting for a reconsideration of ESA will offer them a job if they have one.

Unfortunately, doctors are now being asked to issue ‘fit notes’ – or more accurately, ‘Statements of Fitness for Work For Social Security or Statutory Sick Pay’ for when they consider a person is well enough to return to some kind of work, although possibly with restrictions.

They do allow GPs to give a professional opinion on what type of work can’t be undertaken, but they also allow the DWP to say that the claimant is fit for ‘work’ and to interpret that as it sees fit.

The aim of all this, it seems to me, is to put sick or disabled people in an untenable position; to place them under the strain of at least having to go through the motions, even though there can be no valid reason for doing so. In other words, it is completely unreasonable and contradictory.

Here’s the big money question, though: How many ordinary members of the public are even aware of this technicality?

I’m willing to bet it’s a tiny minority.

I certainly didn’t know about it until I had my attention drawn to it yesterday, and I write about the DWP, ESA and other disability benefits on a regular basis!

People are not going to think anything is wrong unless they know about it. This reminds me of a debate in the chamber of Powys County Council on Tuesday, when the council’s cabinet had to defend its plan to consult on the closure of two schools. The fact it wanted to close them became known only four or five days before the decision was due to be made, giving supporters of both schools an unreasonably short period of time (in my opinion) to launch any kind of defence. The consultation is going ahead.

So I would suggest that readers of this blog who care about such matters should join up with anyone else who has an interest and protest at high volume in the most public places possible. I’m sure you all know what to do and where to go – bother your MP about it; write to the press; take to the streets if you have to. Put up posters and send memes across the internet.

Make people aware that their freedoms are being taken away – with no justification to support the action.