A man who has battled a debilitating illness for more than 20 years says he has gone through “hell” after he was declared fit for work and his benefits were stopped.
Cash-strapped Colin Orton, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at the age of 14, was told by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) six months ago that his employment support allowance would be halted, even though he says he is not well enough to return to work.
The former labourer – who takes medication every day and requires injections every eight weeks – has submitted sick notes from his doctor but has been told he is fit and able for a return to work.
He is now in the process of appealing against the decision.
Crohn’s disease is a long-term condition that causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive system.
The 35-year-old, who lives in Lincoln Road, South Shields, with mother Margaret Harwood, 63, said;
“I went for an assessment with the DWP six months ago, and they said I am able to go back to work. My benefits were then stopped.
“I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when I was 14 but it has become progressively worse over the last two years. I suffer from stomach pains, and am very weak and have no strength.
“I take immune suppressants every day and require a B12 injection every eight weeks. I would love to be fit and healthy and able to go back to work, but that’s not the case.
“My mum is having to spend her money supporting me.”
“Before she was paid, we were scraping through the cupboards just to have something to eat for tea. The stress of the situation has made me feel even worse. I just feel it’s wrong.
“I used to work as a skilled labourer, but it is physical work that I can’t do now. I don’t know where to turn.”
A DWP spokesman said:
“The work capability assessment is designed to look at what work someone can do with the right support – rather than just writing people off on sickness benefits as happened in the past.
“The decision on whether someone is well enough to work is taken following a thorough independent assessment, and after consideration of all the supporting medical evidence from the claimant’s GP or medical specialist.
“Anyone who is found to be fit for work and then experiences a significant change in their health condition may be able to make or continue a claim for employment support allowance.”
> What the DWP spokesperson wont say, won’t even admit, is that even if he was super-fit, there are still not enough jobs to go round. People suffering from ill-health are now being treated like malfunctioning robots, when it’s the whole system that’s broken.
Source – Shields Gazette, 02 Feb 2015
Officials have agreed not to pursue dozens of ex-miners who had not paid enough tax, says a miners’ leader.
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) launched an investigation after Durham Miners’ Association raised concerns about the number of members who had been issued with demands for underpayment of tax.
Some members were told they owed as much as £2,000.
HMRC concluded that the underpayments had arisen because assumption had been made in relation to how much contribution-based Employment Support Allowance former miners had received.
The figures were too low which meant there was an underpayment of tax.
Alan Cummings, chairman of Durham Miners’ Association, said he held discussions with senior tax office staff regarding the underpayment and it was agreed that HMRC would not pursue the money owed in these cases.
Mr Cummings said the demands had come as a shock to former miners, many of whom were on low incomes and would have faced hardship through no fault of their own had they had to pay.
He added: “This has caused a lock of shock and concern among people who aren’t on much money.
“It has affected people who are often on particularly low incomes and maybe aren’t in the best of health.
The former miner contacted Easington MP Grahame Morris asking him for help.
Mr Cummings said an article would be included in a forthcoming Durham Miners’ Newsletter requesting members to check that their weekly Employment Support Allowance payments matched the figures that HMRC are using.
The problem appeared to affect former miners who were in receipt of contribution-based employment support allowance and were also receiving a mineworkers’ pension.
Mr Cummings said in previous years tax was taken from the employment support allowance through the PAYE system without problems.
Any member who has already paid the tax underpayment demand should contact Mr Cummings at the area office with their details.
A spokesman for HMRC said they could not comment on individual cases.
Source – Northern Echo, 07 Nov 2014
A blind woman said she will fight to have her benefits reinstated after being told to get a job.
Natasha Pogson was called up to a controversial ‘fit-to-work’ assessment – part of the government’s overhaul of the welfare system.
The 28-year-old was born blind as a result of being premature – arriving at 26 weeks and weighing just 1lb 11oz.
But an assessor ruled she was not eligible for help and told her she must actively look for work through Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA).
Natasha’s previous benefits amounted to £162 a week under the disability allowance scheme but this will fall to £72.40 under JSA.
Natasha is in the process of appealing against the decision and slammed the system for making her feel like a benefits cheat.
“They make you feel so small, almost suggesting I am making my disability up,” she said.
“The reason for me not qualifying is apparently because I can cross a road with a blind dog in a place I am familiar with, but that isn’t always the case.
“There has been times I have fallen over in the street and not been able to get my bearings until someone comes, even with my dog there.”
Natasha, of Malvern Road, Billingham, is among thousands of people who have had to take part in the assessments.
Those who claimed incapacity benefit, income support for illness or disability or severe disablement allowance, are transferred to a new payment called employment and support allowance (ESA).
The tests, carried out on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), decide whether claimants are still eligible to receive support.
Participants must score 15 to be deemed unable to work. Natasha scored nine and was told she was “no longer assessed as having limited capability for work”.
“The assessors ask questions such as how many fingers are they holding up, or they would lift their arms and ask if I could do the same without telling me what they were doing. I felt stupid.”
Dad Karl, 47, is Natasha’s main carer. He said he was disgusted by the answers his daughter received.
“Natasha has enough problems without people questioning her ability and intention.
“I understand the Government is trying to get people off benefits, but you have to live in the life of a blind person to know what they go through.
“For Natasha to qualify for JSA she has to be able to travel for up to 90 minutes on her own, which is completely unrealistic.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said:
“The assessment is designed to look at what work someone can do with the right support – rather than just writing people off on sickness benefits as happened in the past.
“The decision on entitlement is made after considering all the evidence, including evidence from a claimant’s GP, and people have the right to submit extra evidence or appeal as part of the process.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 19 Sept 2014
The DWP’s attempts to make it as difficult as possible to appeal a benefits decision appear to be succeeding, according to the latest tribunal statistics released today.
There has been a drop of 92% in Employment & Support Allowance (ESA) appeals and 93% in Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) appeals in April to June 2014 compared to the same period last year.
A new system of mandatory reconsiderations before appeals was introduced by the DWP for ESA and JSA on 28 October 2013.
Claimants who wish to challenge a decision must first ask to have it looked at again before they can then appeal direct to a tribunal.
In practice, the DWP are allowing local decision makers to look at the decision again and then the decision is sent on to a different team for a further reconsideration before the claimant can appeal, if they are still unhappy with the decision.
Whilst claimants are still bound by strict time limits, the DWP can take as long as they please to carry out reconsiderations.
Some of the reduction in appeal numbers is likely to be due to decisions being changed in favour of the claimant at the reconsideration stage.
However, figures have yet to be published by the DWP to show how many reconsiderations result in a change of decision.
The strong possibility remains, therefore, that many thousands of claimants are being left waiting for months for their reconsideration to take place whilst others fail to successfully lodge an appeal because the system is now so complex.
Source – Benefits & Work, 11 Sept 2014
This article was written by Randeep Ramesh, social affairs editor, for The Guardian on Wednesday 27th August 2014
Local authorities were unable to collect up to 40% of council tax due from low-income households that had the charge imposed on them for the first time last year.
The result has been widespread non-payment. Nationally, more than a fifth of council tax charged to working-age claimants was unpaid at the end of 2013-14.
The figures, obtained from responses from 140 councils to Freedom of Information requests by the anti-cuts group False Economy, reveal that some of the biggest towns and cities were left chasing millions of pounds from the poor.
Liverpool collected 61% of council tax due from the poor, leaving the city short by £3.5m.
In Birmingham, the non-payment rate among the vulnerable was 30%, leaving the council seeking to recover £3m in lost revenue.
Leeds, Nottingham and Sheffield were all chasing more than £2m each in tax from those on the lowest incomes.
A report published last month by Child Poverty Action Group and the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust said almost 40% of Londoners affected by the cuts had been sent a court summons for council tax debts in 2013-14, with more than 15,000 claimants’ debts referred to bailiffs.
In Haringey, north London, which collected 80% of the council tax due from benefit claimants, hundreds of households have been taken to court to recover unpaid tax – with non-payers threatened with bankruptcy, repossession and ultimately prison.
Last week, sitting in the magistrates court in Tottenham, Dick, 49, said there was “no way” he could afford the £7-a-week council tax his housing association two-bedroom flat was being charged. He has walked with a stick since his Achilles tendon snapped in 2012.
“I don’t work. I get employment support allowance which is £70 a week and my son lives with me and he gets a few hours on a market stall. After rent and everything else we have about £140 a month to live on. Food, clothes, the lot. I go down the food bank to eat. Can’t afford to heat up food because we cannot put money into the gas meter. How can I afford the council tax too? We never paid this before. It’s just getting the poor to pay up. That’s all it is.”
Dick said he had offered to pay £3 a week towards council tax after working out his finances with the local Citizens Advice bureau, but the local authority did not respond to his offer. Instead the council has asked for the full year’s council tax to be paid immediately – £350 – plus the cost of recovering his unpaid tax through a liability order of £125. “It’s ridiculous. I worked all my life. Never needed anything. Now I got nothing they want to get that.”
A spokesperson for False Economy called for the cuts to be reversed. “These figures show that people on low incomes are struggling to cope with council tax benefit cuts, just as the government was warned they would. Households are left either falling into debt and at risk of legal action, or taking money for food and essentials to plug the shortfall, in what is a government-created personal debt crisis.”
Councils said they were caught in an “impossible situation” as ministers had forced local authorities to pass on £500m in cuts when the scheme was introduced – and there would be further reductions in the discounts the poor received as town hall budgets were squeezed in the coming years.
Sharon Taylor, chair of the Local Government Association’s finance panel, said: “Councils would need to find £1bn by 2016 to protect discounts for those on low incomes.
“At a time when local government is already tackling £20bn worth of cuts, this is a stretch too far. Many councils have been put in an impossible position. No one wants to ask those on the lowest incomes to pay more. But pressure on funding for local services means many councils have had little choice but to reduce the discount.”
Hilary Benn, the shadow cabinet member responsible for local government, said two million of the poorest people were affected by the council tax hikes.
“These figures show that many of the people affected, including single parents and disabled people, are finding it very difficult to pay the Tories’ tax increase. The government was warned that this was going to be Poll Tax mark two, and so it is proving.”
The government defended its changes, saying it had “worked with councils to freeze council tax for the last four years” for most residents.
Kris Hopkins, the local government minister, said: “Our reforms to localise council tax support now give councils stronger incentives to support local firms, cut fraud, promote local enterprise and get people into work. We are ending Labour’s something-for-nothing culture and making work pay.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 29 Aug 2014
Reposted from local newspapers
Two more stories here from local newspapers about the inhumane treatment and incompetence by DWP
1) A WOMAN left on crutches by a leg operation has complained that she has no money as Jobcentre staff say she is fit to work.
Pamela Johnson, 56, of Broomside, in Ferryhill, underwent an operation last October which left her unable to carry on working in a fish and chip shop.
Miss Johnson began claimed benefits and said that Jobcentre bosses have now told her to sign on at Spennymoor to claim £57 Jobseekers’ Allowance each fortnight.
She is also angry that the staff in Spennymoor Jobcentre deemed her to be fit to work.
She said: “I had a medical and the Department for Works and Pensions (DWP) said that my money would stop…
View original post 438 more words
Increasing the length of time people who lose their jobs will have to wait before they can claim benefits will not help them find work, and risks pushing unemployed people into the arms of loan sharks, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) warns.
From Autumn 2014 anyone who is unlucky enough to lose their job will have to wait seven days before they can make a claim for Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA), according to a consultation published by the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC). The SSAC advises the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on benefits issues.
TUC say that according to the Government’s own impact assessment the change means that people will lose £40 in benefits they would have received under the current system. That system asks that people who lose their jobs wait three days before becoming eligible to claim unemployment benefits, rather than the seven days waiting period being proposed by the coalition government.
The impact assessment, which forms part of the consultation published by the SSAC, suggests that the change in the waiting period for benefits will affect as many as 1.3 million people a year.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“Forcing people to wait for job support will not help anyone find work. Instead it will make them easy prey for loan sharks. This has nothing to do with making work pay. It is simply a mean attack on the welfare safety net and could affect any one of us.
“It won’t matter how long anyone has had a job or how much they have contributed to the system, they will all suffer the same penalty. The vast majority of people who lose a job thankfully find another one within a few months, but this is when they need help to tide them over between jobs. That is why we have a national insurance system to which we contribute when we are in work – a system that is now under attack.”
Paul Gray, Chair of the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC), said:
“This proposal has history. An identical change was put forward by the Government in 1998 but subsequently dropped. Then, as now, an understandable desire to ensure limited public resources are used most effectively was the main driver for the proposal. However, as benefits are now being paid fortnightly in arrears, it is important that we understand the full impact of this change – particularly on the most vulnerable. We are keen to hear from anyone who is able to provide information about the consequences of this change”.
The change is expected to come into force from October and anyone wishing to have their say are asked to submit evidence to the SSAC (pdf) by 13 June 2014.
Source – Welfare News Service, 23 May 2014
A Scottish academic has published analysis showing a dramatic rise in the number of people successfully appealing against decisions to stop their benefit payments.
Rising rates of successful appeals have been seen as a sign that the system for penalising those deemed to have broken job-seeker agreements is flawed.
Dr David Webster described the latest figures as “sensational” as they show nearly nine in 10 of those who challenge decisions to stop benefits at a tribunal now have their appeal upheld. However only a few of those who are “sanctioned” by having their payments stopped ever appeal.
Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures reveal that over the period from October 22, 2012 until September 30 last year, 58% of those sanctioned successfully appealed against the decision.
However Dr Webster, of the Urban Studies School of Social and Political Sciences at Glasgow University, said the most recent quarter has seen a more dramatic rise. In the three months to September 30, the figure has risen to 87%, he says.
“There has been a sensational increase in the success rate of claimants at tribunal. It has been going skywards since May 2012. Tribunals are now upholding almost nine out of 10 appeals against the DWP. But only one in 50 claimants appeals.”
The backdrop to this is an ongoing acceleration in the number of people claiming benefits who are falling foul of rules under the job-seeker’s agreements which tie benefit payments to a responsibility to actively seek work.
Citizens Advice Bureaux and other welfare advice agencies report increasing concerns over decision making which they say is often unfair or arbitrary. While most agree people who claim benefits should be genuinely looking for work if they are able to, anecdotal evidence suggests Job Centres are imposing penalties based on requirements that are unrealistic or unfair.
> Anecdotal evidence ? Like its only a rumour or something ?
There have also been repeated claims that staff are given targets to sanction more claimants, and equally repeated denials from the DWP that this is the case.
Nevertheless, across the UK the number of people sanctioned in the year to September 30, 2013 was 874,850, the highest since Jobseeker’s Allowance was introduced in 1996. More than 75,000 of the these sanctions were in Scotland.
Much of the increase has come under the Coalition government – the figure in the last year of the Labour government was 500,000.
The rate at which sanctions are being applied is also accelerating, Dr Webster’s analysis shows. Under Labour 2.46% of claimants were sanctioned each month, but the average under the Coalition is 4.46% a month so far, and rising.
Figures for the whole of last year show 5.11% of claimants were sanctioned each month last year, Dr Webster says, and over the last three months the figure is 6%.
“These are the highest rates recorded since the start of JSA in 1996,” he explains.
Although sanction figures for those receiving the benefit for sick or disabled job seekers, Employment Support Allowance, are lower, they too are rising.
The new figures show 22,840 sanctions for ESA claimants in the last year, the highest for any 12-month period since sanctions were introduced in 2008. More than 1500 of these were in Scotland.
According to Dr Webster the low level of appeals against sanctions reflects the difficulty of the process. Only 2.44% of those who were penalised appealed in the last three months. “The vast majority of claimants find the process too difficult,” he said.
The reasons why people are given sanctions has also changed markedly in recent years. Dr Webster says the most likely reason for sanctions is failing to participate in an employment or training scheme, or failing to actively seek work.
Historically, leaving a job or being dismissed from it for misconduct were the most common reasons someone might be disqualified from benefit, he says.
“Since the start of the recession, they’ve hardly featured at all. Abundant historical evidence shows that is because people are more careful to hold on to a job when they know it is more difficult to get another,” he says.
Another striking finding from the recent statistics relates to the government scheme to help long-term unemployed people find work.
The Work Programme may be finding work for some, but it is also fuelling the sanctions regime, Dr Webster says. “To date, Work Programme contractors have been responsible for twice as many sanctions on the people referred to them as they have produced ‘job outcomes’ – a job placement which lasts for a certain minimum period.”
The comparison shows that across the UK, the firms contracted to run the Work Programme have delivered 198,750 such job outcomes, but made referrals resulting in 394,759 sanctions, the academic’s figures show. This might be even higher, but the figures also show that about 30,000 sanctions decisions for people on the programme are cancelled every month – most usually because the paperwork for the referral has not been properly completed.
Dr Webster says: “It appears that Work Programme contractors are making mistakes in their paperwork on a big scale – even though one of the things they are supposed to help claimants with is filling in forms.”
There is an irony in this, he says. “Claimants are being given severe sanctions for making similar mistakes.”
A DWP spokesman said: “It’s only right that people claiming benefits should do everything they can to find work if they are able. The rules regarding someone’s entitlement to Jobseekers Allowance are made clear at the start of their claim.
“We will provide jobseekers with the help and support they need to find a job, but it is only fair that in return they live up to their part of the contract.
“Sanctions are used as a last resort and anyone who disagrees with a decision can appeal.”
The fact only a small proportion of sanctions decisions are appealed means decisions makers get the “vast majority” of decisions right, he said.
The Work Programme has delivered 208,000 job outcomes so far, he added, and while nearly 395,000 sanctions have been issued through the work programme, only 208,000 individuals have been sanctioned.
Source – Herald Scotland, 28 Feb 2014
This article was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 19th February 2014
The total number of sanctions against benefit claimants in the year to September 2013 was 897,690, the highest figure for any 12-month period since jobseeker’s allowance was introduced in 1996.
The figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions cover employment support allowance and jobseeker’s allowance.
The number of JSA sanctions in the year to 30 September 2013 was 874,850, the highest since JSA was introduced in 1996. It compares with 500,000 in the year to 30 April 2010, the last month of the previous Labour government.
In the year to 30 September 2013 there were also 22,840 sanctions imposed on claimants of ESA – the chief benefit for the sick and disabled – in the work-related activity group. This is the highest for any 12-month period since sanctions were introduced for such claimants in October 2008.
The figures are derived from the latest quarterly set of sanctions totals published by the DWP.
The large numbers come before the government introduces its tougher claimant commitment that will require claimants to do more to prove they are actively seeking work.
Asked if an excessively punitive approach to sanctions claimants had contributed to the latest fall in unemployment, Esther McVey, the employment minister, said the DWP had brought the same clarity of requirements to those out of work that applies to those in work.
Critics, including members of the work and pensions select committee, will claim those on ESA and JSA are likely to be more vulnerable and chaotic than those in work. There is also criticism from charities about the way in which sanctions are administered and communicated.
The archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, has also suggested something has gone wrong with the welfare state, prompting David Cameron to restate the moral case for his reforms.
Ministers have set up an external inquiry into how sanctions decisions are communicated to claimants, which is due to be published next month.
Analysis produced by Professor David Webster at Glasgow University of the latest set of statistics shows in the year to 30 September 2013, JSA claims were being sanctioned at the rate of 5.11% a month, and in the three months to 30 September 2013 at a rate of 6.00% a month. These are the highest rates recorded since the start of JSA in 1996.
Over the whole period of the coalition government, JSA sanctions have run at 4.42% of JSA claimants a month. This compares with approximately 2.46% during the Labour government from May 1997 to April 2010.
In the period 22 October 2012 to 30 September 2013 (a period of 49 weeks), 527,574 individuals received a sanction. The highest published number for any 52-week period was 528,700 in the financial year 2010/11.
The figures also show a large increase in sanction activity. A total of 560,371 decisions were taken in three months to September, of which 236,786 were adverse and led to some kind of benefit withdrawal, a further 157, 633 were non-adverse and 138,554 were cancelled.
The number of decisions is up from 513,327 in the same three months of 2012 when 217,871 were adverse and 137,713 were non-adverse.
This represents a doubling of sanctioning activity since the last full year of the Labour government. In the same three months of 2009 121,584 adverse decisions were taken and the total number of decisions was 237,622, less than half the activity of the same period in 2013.
Source – Welfare News Service 19 Feb 2014
A powerful new film captures the desperate real experiences of being judged “fit for work” for people with mental health problems.
Tyneside Mind launched a short film highlighting the real experiences of three local people with mental health problems undergoing Work Capability Assessment.
The film ‘But I’m here for mental health – three stories of the Work Capability Assessment’ used actors to tell the genuine stories of individuals who were deemed ‘fit for work’ by Atos Healthcare despite the severity of their mental health problems and the significant barriers they face to get into work.
Local MP’s were invited to the showing which was be aired for the first time at Northumbria University Cinema last week.
The film tells the story of two men unfairly dismissed from work due to ill health and one woman whose sleep apnoea and depression prevent her from being able to work. In a particularly poignant moment in the film one man, who can’t write because he has carpal tunnel syndrome, has to admit to his elderly mother that he has contemplated suicide since losing his job as she fills in the application form on his behalf.
Another scene depicts a lady standing on a bridge thinking about ending her life because she has been told she is fit for work.
“It’s been really traumatic and very confusing for people,” said Oliver Wood, vice chairman of Tyneside Mind, who has himself now been back in work for two years after claiming benefits due to a mental health problem.
“They don’t really understand the process or how, when they are really very unwell, seeing senior hospital consultants and receiving support from mental health services, they are being declared fully fit to work because they are physically capable.”
Currently 37% of all North East appeals against decisions to change or remove Employment Support Allowance are successful, which rises to more than two in five for cases involving mental and behavioural disorders.
But Oliver points to Department of Work and Pensions figures for Northumberland, Tyne and Wear which suggest that over the past eight months an average of 2,200 claimants a month – including many with mental health problems – have had their benefits sanctioned and 1,700 a month have given up their claims.
One fear is that many people with mental health problems may be suffering in silence, due to the increasing “stigma” of being on benefits.
The film uses reconstruction to depict service users’ real stories, interspersed with verbatim quotes from Tyneside Mind service users.
With funding from The Millfield House Foundation and support from Helix Arts and Tyneside Mind, the film has been produced by Meerkat Films to help raise awareness of the devastating impact this assessment process can have on vulnerable individuals with complex and fluctuating conditions.
The release of the film also coincides with the Litchfield Review – the fourth annual Independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment, which is currently used to determine eligibility for the out-of-work benefit Employment and Support Allowance.
Over a third of assessments involve people who have applied primarily due to a mental health problem and many more applicants experience a mental health problem alongside other illnesses or disabilities. Yet, the film aims to show that the assessment is not suitable for people with mental health problems, and often actually pushes many people further away from the workplace by exacerbating their mental health problems and directing them to inappropriate support and expectations.
Stuart Dexter, Chief Executive of Tyneside Mind, said: “At Tyneside Mind we help people every week with benefits-related enquiries, and our resources are increasingly stretched.
“The people we represent are still not getting a fair outcome from the Work Capability Assessment. The assessment process is not sensitive enough to recognise the impact a mental health problem can have on someone’s ability to work, and can cause a great deal of stress, especially for those who get an unfair decision and then have to go through a lengthy and costly appeals process. This film aims to highlight what it’s really like for the many individuals subjected to this process and urge the Department for Work and Pensions to urgently improve the system.”
Steve, whose name has been changed, but who speaks of his experience of the Work Capability Assessment in the film, said: “The whole assessment process was so traumatic that I really didn’t think I’d be able to recover from it, let alone talk about it.
“Unfortunately I know that there are so many others like me who have felt humiliated and had their views neglected.
“Tyneside Mind suggested I get involved with this project and I wanted to help because I feel it’s so important to raise awareness of the way vulnerable people are being treated. I hope this film will help change things so nobody else will have to endure what I did.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 27 Dec 2013