Tag Archives: Pensions

Universal Credit sanctions multiply 15-fold after face-to-face meetings resume

Sanctions return: and it seems DWP officers are trying to make up for the sanctions they couldn’t impose during the Covid-19 lockdowns.

The Department for Work and Pensions is back to its old tricks.

Benefit sanctions were suspended during the Covid-19 lockdowns – mostly due to the inability of hired-gun assessors from private firms to hold face-to-face interviews where they could find fault with claimants.

Those days are over.

Face-to-face interviews resumed in March and, in just four months, sanctions multiplied more than 15 times from what was a very high starting number.

They rose from 960 in March to a massive 15,929 in July. The figure now is probably horrifying; DWP officers have a lot of ground to make up.

And where I state “make up”, be assured that there’s an intentional double entendre in those words. The grounds for sanction are more likely to be fabricated than genuine, in This Writer’s opinion.

Remember: the total amount of benefit fraud is carried out by fewer than two per cent of claimants.

Remember also that Jodey Whiting was sanctioned for failing to attend an interview about her disability benefit. She was unable to be at the interview because she was in hospital with a brain cyst.

She also had an incurable condition that could only worsen, so the interview should only have been about whether she deserved higher payments. DWP officers, of course, decided to stop all her benefit payments. End result: she died.

The current wheeze is to sanction people who can’t attend interviews because they are self-isolating with Covid-19.

Tory government ministers have been warned time and time again that their officers’ decisions are causing deaths, and have claimed that “lessons have been learned”.

It can only be true if they were trying to learn how to force more people to their deaths.

Source: UC sanctions rocket 15-fold in four months

Woman tests positive for Covid-19 – and is threatened with sanction if she doesn’t attend Job Centre

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

This is the UK in 2021, summed up in one series of tweets:

I don’t know where this Job Centre is, but its staff are clearly trying to create another Jodey Whiting.

Jodey had incurable conditions – they could only get worse – and failed to attend a benefit re-assessment interview because she was in hospital with a brain cyst at the time.

All her benefits were cut off – even though the interview can only have been to work out whether her conditions had worsened enough for her to require increased payments.

She took her own life soon afterwards. A coroner ruled that it could not be described as suicide because there is reason to believe her action could have been a cry for help.

This Writer has no doubt that Ms Whiting was pushed towards taking her own life by the Department for Work and Pensions.

If somebody on benefits contracts Covid-19, fails to attend a benefit interview, and the DWP cuts off all her payments – in the full knowledge of what happened with Ms Whiting – doesn’t that indicate, to you, that this government department is hoping for the same end result?

It does to me.

Let’s hope it doesn’t get that far.

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Tory algorithm smears people with disabilities as benefit fraudsters

Habitual cruelty: this is just the latest instance of the Tories persecuting people with long-term illnesses and disabilities.

My word – the Tories have been victimising people on the advice of an algorithm again. Haven’t we been here before?

YES, WE HAVE – former Education Secretary Gavin Williamson was pilloried two summers ago for using a computer-generated artificial intelligence program to steal high grades from state school pupils.

Now it seems people with disabilities are being targeted as benefit fraudsters by the DWP, based on an algorithm – and nothing else.

Is it the same algorithm, perhaps? The DWP isn’t telling – but may soon be forced into another potentially self-damaging revelation under threat of court action.

It doesn’t bode well for the AI that Sajid Javid is buying in for the NHS. But then, it’s a system from a company in which Javid himself owns shares (or share options – what’s the difference?).

What’s the betting that the Tory cheapskates have been using the same algorithm for all three?

The Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP), together with campaign group Foxglove, is taking action against the DWP after concerns were raised by the charity Privacy International, which first found references in a DWP report to its use of “cutting-edge artificial intelligence to crack down on organised criminal gangs committing large-scale benefit fraud”.

“Organised criminal gangs”?

Disabled people… living in “fear of the brown envelope” showing their case was being investigated.

Campaigners say that once flagged, those being examined can face an invasive and humiliating investigation lasting up to a year.

A “huge percentage” of the group has been affected by the system.

“We’re tired of the fear of the brown envelope and tired of being repeatedly forced by DWP officials just to justify who we are,” said Rick Burgess of the GMCDP. “It’s time for the DWP to come clean about how this algorithm works and explain why so many disabled people are flagged for investigation. Disabled people need support – not being ground down by a brutal system that assumes we are fraudulent until proven innocent.”

The Guardian‘s article highlighted a 2019 UN report into the “digital welfare state” that said algorithms were “highly likely” to repeat biases reflected in existing data and make them even worse.

It added: “Inbuilt forms of discrimination can fatally undermine the right to social protection for key groups and individuals.”

The government has until Friday to respond to the legal letter but, again according to the article, “has so far rebuffed attempts to explain how the algorithm behind the system was compiled”.

They’re trying to come up with an excuse that will stand up to examination – and I don’t think they’re going to meet that Friday deadline!

Source: DWP urged to reveal algorithm that ‘targets’ disabled for benefit fraud | Disability | The Guardian

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Will ‘legacy’ benefit claimants get £1,500 in backdated Covid-19 ‘uplift’ after High Court challenge?

The High Court has begun to consider whether it was unlawful of the Conservative government to deny claimants of ‘legacy’ benefits the £20 uplift it gave to people on Universal Credit.

The court granted permission for a judicial review on April 27, but the case has been much-delayed, with the hearing postponed from September to November 17, and then the second day being moved to November 19 – but it is happening.

The case has been brought by two recipients of Employment and Support Allowance who used Legal Aid to instruct law firm Osbornes Law.

A press release from the firm states:

Despite them having an equivalent entitlement to the ‘standard allowance’ of UC, simply because they were in a different part of the system, 1.9 million people on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) have been without this increase, which many have called a ‘lifeline’.

Claimants of Income Support and Job Seekers Allowance have also been excluded.

Many have argued that this is unfair, including the Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee: “It’s simply not right for people to miss out on support just because they happen, through no fault of their own, to be claiming the ‘wrong’ kind of benefit.”

We are pursuing this legal challenge based on the proposition that the pandemic means those dependent upon basic allowances are facing higher basic living costs, and yet despite their very similar circumstances, only some of them receive a Covid-specific uplift to help meet those costs.

This unfairness calls for a properly evidenced justification, particularly as almost 2 million disabled people are disproportionately affected by this decision and the pandemic generally.

Thus far the Government has failed to provide any objectively verifiable reason for the difference in treatment of people in essentially identical circumstances.

If the Department for Work and Pensions loses, the more-than-two-million people affected could each be entitled to up to £1,500 in backdated extra payments.

The start of the case was marked by a huge show of support for the case outside the High Court, by groups including Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and Unite Community, the MS Society, SNP MPs Marion Fellows and David Linden, and Labour MPs Debbie Abrahams, Marsha de Cordova and John McDonnell:

The outcome of the case is unlikely to be announced on Friday (November 19).

Let’s hope it doesn’t take as long coming out as the judgement in the libel case between Rachel Riley and former Jeremy Corbyn aide Laura Murray. That was heard in May and the verdict is still unknown, half a year later.

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New DWP sanction system could have TOUGHER punishments for claimants

[Image: www.disabledgo.com]

This is extreme, even for the Department for Work and Pensions.

It seems there are moves to toughen up the sanction system for people on New Style Employment and Support Allowance and Jobseekers’ Allowance, even though sanctions were only introduced a few days ago.

The DWP has a new watchdog organisation, the Social Security Advisory Committee (what happened to the Bonfire of All The Quangos?) that reckons the system isn’t harsh enough.

Apparently it is possible for people to claim both Universal Credit and JSA or ESA – but if they are sanctioned, it can only be applied to UC.

This means that such claimants would be in a better position financially than people on only one of the benefits; if the sanctioned amount was more than the value of the UC element of benefit payments to a particular claimant (it could be zero), then the total sanction could be as low as zero.

The SSAC wants the penalties to apply to both benefits that are being claimed.

Considering the arbitrary nature of the sanction system, This Writer considers the current situation to be a valuable protection for claimants. We have all heard horror stories about people who were sanctioned and subsequently died because the DWP got its decision wrong.

It seems the problem lies in the fact that sanctions are decided on the advice of a DWP work coach – a single civil servant – whose attitude to the job may vary between very extreme positions, depending on who it is.

Work coaches are supposed to help claimants write a “claimant commitment” that sets out their obligations as claimants of the state payments.

The commitment should be accessible, clear, tailored to the claimant’s needs and the state of the local labour market, and agreed by both the claimant and the DWP, and claimants should be properly informed.

In fact, research has shown that some work coaches aren’t using their discretion fairly or reasonably and opt for generic, rather than tailored, actions. Some work coaches were found to be copying and pasting actions from a shared document which had become standard in their local Job Centre.

There were examples of lone parents not being informed of their right to reduced work searches, and re-assessment interviews lasting just 10 minutes.

If brutal sanctions are applied to people on two benefits, on the say-so of the people responsible for such abuses of the rules, then hideous injustices may result.

Suggested examples include sanctions being applied to elderly disabled claimants now looking for work in their 60s and suffering poor health. How would they survive if their work coach turns out to be a “power maniac who enjoys putting the disadvantaged down”?

Ministers have not (yet) approved any suggested changes but we all know the DWP’s reputation for bloodthirstiness. How long will it be before this new opportunity to cause misery is seized?

Read more here: Exclusive: Benefits watchdog wants tougher punishment for jobless and disabled claimants after DWP bungles new sanctions system | Westminster Confidential

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Child charity says DWP is unlawfully demanding Universal Credit repayments

Any opportunity to persecute: the DWP has found a way to force suffering onto people who had to claim Universal Credit because of Covid-19.

This is another classic con from the Tory-run Department for Social Security.

Last year, the DWP suspended face-to-face identity checks for Universal Credit, in anticipation of a glut of claims as Covid-19 bit into people’s jobs.

But now the government department has reinstated identity checks – retrospectively – even demanding ID from people who have closed their claims and could not receive the notification.

As a result “significant” numbers of people have failed to provide this information within the DWP’s 14-day deadline and have been judged to have been overpaid amounts up to £13,000.

Worse, people who have uploaded proof of their identity to their online Universal Credit journal have discovered that their claim has still been terminated and demands made for repayment.

And to top it all off, the DWP has arranged with employers to have money deducted from claimants’ pay packets at a rate of up to 20 per cent of their earnings.

The Child Poverty Action Group is helping some of the people affected and said many of the cases involved people who were unaware the DWP wanted retrospective evidence because they were no longer claiming universal credit, and no longer checked their online journal for DWP messages.

CPAG said the DWP had presumed that claimants’ failure to respond to a request for evidence a year after they claimed meant they were not entitled to the award in the first place.

The charity says this behaviour by the DWP is unlawful.

The Guardian approached the DWP for comment and – in typical style – it avoided the issue.

A spokesperson asserted that it is “right and lawful” that the department seeks to recover payments to which claimants were not entitled.

It seems the DWP has nothing to say about the possibility that it is wrongly taking money from people who did not know that any attempt to contact them or prove their identity had been made – until money started disappearing from their bank accounts.

If cash went missing from my bank account, I would call it theft and take appropriate action.

But the best advice, for any of the 99,000 people who claimed Universal Credit and didn’t have a face-to-face interview, who hasn’t – to their knowledge – been contacted, is to get in touch with the DWP yourself.

Contact them by the fastest possible method to find out whether they want proof of ID. Provide some ID pre-emptively if you feel like it. And keep a personal record of the information you send, in case it is (accidentally?) deleted from the Universal Credit journal or a correspondence file.

Then, if anyone tries to deduct cash unilaterally, you’ll be able to provide evidence that you have done your part and it is the DWP that is at fault.

Turn the tables on them. That’ll be fun, won’t it?

Source: Universal credit claimants were sent unlawful demands to repay, says charity | Universal credit | The Guardian

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Benefit sanctions: if you’re on new-style JSA or ESA, brace yourself!

Sanction centre: people on New Style ESA and JSA are about to be hit by the most arbitrary and unreasonable process ever foisted on large numbers of the public by a cruel government – the DWP’s sanctions regime.

The Department for Work and Pensions has decided that people on New Style Employment and Support Allowance, and Jobseekers Allowance, have life too easy.

So the DWP has introduced sanctions for those benefits. They came into effect on November 3 – did anybody notice?

The DWP says the rule change means that New Style JSA and ESA claimants who do not meet the responsibilities agreed in their Claimant Commitment, without having a good reason, will lose some or all of their payment.

But those with experience of how sanctions work in other benefits will know that claimants are likely to face unreasonable demands from the DWP that will be followed by a loss of benefits.

Sometimes they may be informed that their benefits are being sanctioned for transgressions that they have not committed or for failing to attend interviews to which they were not invited.

They may also be sanctioned for failing to attend interviews, even if they have provided good reasons. Being admitted to hospital – and therefore unable to communicate with the DWP – is never accepted as a good reason.

Of course, the DWP has not mentioned this. Its statement said: “As is the case for Universal Credit claimants, if someone in receipt of new style JSA and ESA fails to do what they have agreed to in their Claimant Commitment without good reason – such as having or caring for a child, or a change to a health condition – their payments may be reduced for a set period.”

This is particularly amusing – in a bitter way: “Sanctions are only applied as a last resort when a claimant is not engaging with the commitment they have made. If someone disagrees with a decision they can ask for it to be looked at again.”

Experience suggests that sanctions are less likely to be applied as a last resort than as a first response – especially if you are claiming ESA.

Of course it is entirely possible that the DWP will actually police its new system fairly…

But This Writer will believe it when I see it. I may have a long time to wait.

Source: DWP sanction rules will now apply to New Style ESA and Jobseekers Allowance claimants – Daily Record

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DWP is accused of misleading claimants – by TV’s Money Saving Expert

He should know: Martin Lewis has warned that messaging on DWP envelopes urging people to switch energy supplier is WRONG – and the government department couldn’t care less.

The Department for Work and Pensions has been misleading people who claim Winter Fuel Payments, according to ‘Money Saving Expert’ Martin Lewis.

It seems the government department has been putting a message on the back of envelopes, asking recipients “What would you do with an extra £290?”

The message, that went out to people in September this year, went on to say that this was the amount the average consumer saved in 2020 by switching to the cheapest tariff and told recipients to contact Citizens Advice.

But 2020 is now a long time ago.

Wholesale gas prices have risen by 250 per cent since the start of 2021, households cannot save money by switching and in fact, they would lose money because there are no tariffs cheaper than the energy regulator Ofgem’s price cap.

So their best choice is to stick to their supplier’s standard tariff as they would then be protected by Ofgem’s cap until April 2022.

The sticking-point is that the DWP is still sending correspondence with this false information on its envelopes.

It says a batch of 10 million envelopes was created before the rise in energy prices and it would be “impractical, costly and wasteful” to replace them, adding that such a change could jeopardise the department’s ability to make Winter Fuel Payments at all. Oh, and the message is “only a suggestion”.

Strange that the government has huge amounts of cash to waste on any number of commissions from friends of the Conservative Party – no matter how wasteful – but none to spend helping hard-up pensioners save cash (which is exactly the point of the letters inside the envelopes).

And Mr Lewis wasn’t having it at all.

He pointed out that there’s nothing on the envelopes that means they could not be used in the future, when the situation they describe is resumed.

More details are here:

And here: Martin Lewis just called-out the DWP’s ‘dangerous’ actions – The Canary

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Are you one of the 340,000 PIP claimants who could be owed £16,000 in back pay?

The Department for Work and Pensions has announced that it will be checking 340,000 Personal Independence Payment claims to see if back-payments of £16,000 or more are owed – mostly to claimants with a mental health condition.

The initiative follows – extremely belatedly – a court decision from July 2019, finding that the DWP had not been awarding the correct number of points to some claimants who need prompting or social support to engage with other people face-to-face.

According to Benefits and Work,

Amongst PIP claimants who may have missed out are:

People who have regular meetings with a mental health professional, without which they would not be able to manage face to face encounters;

People who need the input of particular friends or relatives with experience of supporting them in social situations – rather than just any well-meaning friend or relative – to help them manage face to face encounters.

The DWP is not planning to invite claimants for an assessment but may contact them for more information.

This means a brown envelope from the DWP will arrive, out of the blue, through the letterboxes of people who are likely to have a phobia about brown envelopes from government departments.

The most likely outcome from people who are contacted in this way is that the letters will be ignored.

So This Writer is happy to endorse the suggestion, by Benefits and Work, that anyone who believes they may be affected should contact the DWP proactively – get in touch with them without giving them time to get in touch with you.

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Jodey Whiting had an incurable condition. Why did the DWP try to force her into a benefit reassessment?

Death by DWP: Jodey Whiting.

This is a good question – triggered in This Writer’s mind by a reference to a different case.

Please read the following Twitter thread, which was prompted by a tweet referring to the death of DWP benefit claimant Philippa Day:

Yes, why does the DWP force people with incurable or terminal conditions to prove that they still have a lifelong disability or are still dying?

Reading those words, I thought about Jodey Whiting. She had a number of disabilities, including scoliosis which – as far as I can tell – is an incurable condition that requires constant treatment for the length of the sufferer’s life. If untreated, it could be life-threatening.

So it was pointless to demand that she attend a work capability assessment, because it was impossible for her condition to have improved. It could only worsen.

There is an argument that a WCA could take place to ascertain whether a claimant’s payments should increase – but that cannot be used as justification in Ms Whiting’s case because her benefits were stopped.

The DWP’s Green Paper on Disability, released in July this year (2021), acknowledges that it is pointless to keep reassessing people with lifelong and/or terminal conditions and proposes the creation of a Severe Disability Group (SDG). People put in this group would not have to face reassessment.

If the DWP is admitting that it is unreasonable for people with lifelong conditions to face constant reassessment now, then it would also be unreasonable to suggest that they should have faced constant reassessment in February 2017, when Ms Whiting took her own life.

Strangely, this does not seem to have been considered by the High Court when it rejected an appeal for a second inquest into Ms Whiting’s death, last month (October).

I wonder why the court did not consider that the absence of necessity for the assessment that led to Ms Whiting’s benefits being cut was a material consideration in her case.

There’s now a second appeal for another inquest. Perhaps the point could be made this time around?

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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The Livingstone Presumption is now available
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Health Warning: Government! is now available
in either print or eBook format here:

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The first collection, Strong Words and Hard Times,
is still available in either print or eBook format here:

SWAHTprint SWAHTeBook