Legal aid cuts will stop people in Wearside from getting justice, claims a Sunderland solicitor.
Michael Robinson has hit out at a Government shake-up to cut the £2billion budget of what it calls “one of the world’s most expensive legal systems”, by slashing fees paid to barristers and lawyers.
Critics say the plans, due to be phased in from next month, will drive many out of the profession and leave defendants without expert lawyers to argue their cases.
Earlier this month, solicitors boycotted Sunderland Magistrates’ Court in protest.
Mr Robinson said: “People who don’t qualify for legal aid will have to either plead guilty to save money, or fund their own defence.
“If acquitted, those who fund their own defence will not be fully remunerated. Why should anyone have to pay to establish their innocence?
Legal aid spend, if it is too high, is so because of legislation, sentencing policy, policing policy and strategy. The Government blames lawyers, suggesting legal aid funds fat-cat lifestyles, masking its true intent. They don’t want people to challenge the State. It wants people to take a pragmatic, financial view and plead guilty.”
Source – Sunderland Echo, 22 March 2014
With a little time to wait before my next appointment, it was time to stir the pot a little and write a letter to the Jobcentre’s manager. Not a complaint or anything, you understand, just a request for information, a defining of terms…
Anyone can do this, or a variation of it. Part of the reason is to find out how much they know, part is to give them the impression that you know more than them and that you may be planning something.
Always request that they reply in writing, so that you have something that may be used in evidence at a future time. If you don’t, they may phone you instead. Get everything in writing !
Dear Sir / Madam,
I am currently negotiating a new Jobseekers Agreement at your Jobcentre, having recently finished Work Programme.
There are one or two points I don’t quite understand, so I would be grateful if you could supply answers – in writing – to the following questions at your earliest convenience.
1 – The status of the Jobseekers Agreement. It seems to me that the Jobseekers Agreement is a legal contract, and as such will be bound by the conditions of English common law pertaining to such contracts.
Could you confirm this, or, should you believe this not to be the case, supply details of the legislation which removes a Jobseekers Agreement from the constraints of contract common law.
2 – Role of Jobcentre advisers. I would suggest that the role of an adviser is to advise, the title seems self-evident.
Bearing this in mind, if, hypothetically, during the negotiation of a new Jobseekers Agreement, I was to consider the views of an adviser but then to reject them and decide on a different course of action, his/her role would be at an end – they advised, I considered and decided otherwise.
2 (a) Would I be correct in this summise ?
2 (b) If the adviser decided not to accept my decision and then to actually try to reverse it against my will, what would be an acceptable course of action for me to take ?
3 – Independent advisers. Should I feel it necessery, I assume there would be no objection to my having an independent legal adviser accompany me to any Jobseekers Agreement negotiations. I would be grateful if you could confirm this.
This third one was actually added as an afterthought, but it’s not a bad idea to put it in as a bit of misdirection – and anyway, it’s a valid question.
So the above was handed in to the reception at my local Jobcentre, around midday. Now get this – I got a reply THE VERY NEXT DAY !
Anyone who has ever tried to get information out of the DWP will suspect me of stretching credibility here, but true it is. Usually it takes weeks, often you have to resubmit your request, sometimes several times.
Not that the reply was particularly enlightening –
Thank you for your letter of [date] regarding your Jobseekers Agreement and the role of Jobcentre Adviser.
I am unable to provide you with a full response at present as I need to make further enquiries.
Well that doesn’t tell us much… or does it ? It does actually seem to imply that the Jobcentre manager knows neither the legal status of a contract his workers try to enforce or, even more worrying, the role of the advisers he employs.
That was the end of the rapid response episode. It took about 3 weeks for a proper reply to arrive (all punctuation, spelling, etc, as received) –
To respond to your concerns;
Firstly, the Jobseekers Agreement (JSAG) is a document to be agreed between the claimant and their personal adviser. It is purely a tool to set out the claimant’s availability for work and the jobsearch activities they intend to take that is hoped to offer the best prospects of securing employment.
Secondly you are quite right the role of the adviser is to offer advice and support to claimants but it is also their remit to ensure that the JSAG is realistic taking into account both the claimants skills, experience, capabilities etc as well as using their knowledge of the local labour market.
If however an agreement cannot be made about your JSAG your case would be refered to an independent decision maker for consideration. This could result in loss of Jobseekers Allowance at some stage.. If however, you are not satisfied with any decision made regarding your claim to Jobseekers Allowance you can ask for it to be explained or reconsidered or you can appeal to an independent appeal tribunal.
Lastly, Jobcentre interview are discussions between the claimant and their Personal Adviser. The interviews are usually completed unaccompanied and legal advisers would not normally be present a these negotiations. However, please note if you have any concerns during you interviews that you can suspend the interview if you wish to seek independent legal advice and we will make another appointment to continue the review at a later date.
I hope this reply is helpful and that it adresses the issues you have raised. Should you wish to take the matter further please raise your additional concerns in writing which we will forward on your behalf to our District Complaints Resolutions Manager.
p.p. Another Name.
What do we gather from this ? Well firstly, and worryingly, the squiggle who signed the letter appears to be my adviser ! Also, the Another Name p.p.’d is NOT the Jobcentre manager, but some other unknown person. Did the Jobcentre manager ever see this reply ?
– the Jobseekers Agreement (JSAG) is a document to be agreed between the claimant and their personal adviser.
Well, yes, I knew that, but that wasn’t what I asked.
– It is purely a tool to set out the claimant’s availability for work and the jobsearch activities they intend to take that is hoped to offer the best prospects of securing employment.
That wasn’t what I asked either.
– Secondly you are quite right the role of the adviser is to offer advice and support to claimants but it is also their remit to ensure that the JSAG is realistic taking into account both the claimants skills, experience, capabilities etc as well as using their knowledge of the local labour market.
Well, that’s my point – the adviser is trying to make me include on the Jobseekers Agreement jobs which I have never done, do not have the skills or experience for – my point is that that is NOT “realistic taking into account both the claimants skills, experience, capabilities etc”.
It is, however, a set-up for a sanction.
– If however an agreement cannot be made about your JSAG your case would be refered to an independent decision maker for consideration. This could result in loss of Jobseekers Allowance at some stage.
Ah, the stick. Complain and we will make life difficult. I might add that the “independent decision maker “ is NOT independent, it’s the DWP’s decision maker.
– If however, you are not satisfied with any decision made regarding your claim to Jobseekers Allowance you can ask for it to be explained or reconsidered or you can appeal to an independent appeal tribunal.
Why are we suddenly talking about Jobseekers ALLOWANCE ? We’re supposed to be discussing the Jobseekers AGREEMENT.
– Jobcentre interview are discussions between the claimant and their Personal Adviser. The interviews are usually completed unaccompanied and legal advisers would not normally be present a these negotiations
Just because that’s what usually happens, is there anything to stop a person being accompanied if they so desire ?
– if you have any concerns during you interviews that you can suspend the interview if you wish to seek independent legal advice and we will make another appointment to continue the review at a later date.
Can you ? That’s interesting. I may have to try that at some stage, just to see if it really works.
– Should you wish to take the matter further please raise your additional concerns in writing which we will forward on your behalf to our District Complaints Resolutions Manager.
After having read your complaint, probably copied it, and initiated any cover-up they feel necessery. Paranoid ? Me ?
So – no real answers to direct questions, but this exchange may prove useful at a future time insomuch as it proves I tried to get answers to definite questions and they failed to provide them.
To be continued…
> The following was received by email. I’ve omitted the writer’s name and a couple of identifying locations – you never know who might be reading.
I am emailing in connection with the Archbishop of Westminster’s recent acknowledgement of the unfair JSA sanctions being imposed on thousands of people throughout the UK during the last year or more.
I am one of these statistics myself, having been sanctioned in early Dec 2013 for ‘limiting myself‘ as regards my job seeking. This was in the same week I had attended and BEEN SUCCESSFUL at a part-time job interview!
I also believe that, as I had just started on the Work Programme in the very same week that there was more going on than met the eye. I had to attend to sign on at a different office ( XXXX Road, – linked with ZZZZZ JC+) and the new advisor immediately started becoming intimidatory towards me because I wasn’t logging my job searches on the Universal Job match system online (hand writing it instead – which is my right).
I informed her that I had researched this and that it wasn’t obligatory to document jobsearches online. She was apparently attempting to find any reason to impose a sanction on me and stated that I hadn’t applied for 10 jobs in the last fortnight according to my contract.
This contract had been created without my consultation when I originally started signing on at ZZZZZ in Dec 2012. I stated this but it fell on deaf ears.
I have been in the process of following the complaints procedure ever since, having now written 3 complaint letters none of which has even been acknowledged never mind responded to – including one to the Director of Operations.
I am not signing on now, having found more part-time work this month and exceeding the 16hr limit. I intend to continue with appealing my unfair discrimination however regarding the 4 week sanction which left me without a penny to live on for *7 weeks in total*. The Hardship Payment application wasn’t processed until mid Jan 2014 (the sanction dated back to 23/11/13).
I applaud the Bishop for speaking out against this disgusting legislation and practice imposed by this uncaring coalition government. I believe this is a violation of people’s basic human rights – to be paid the barely sustainable JSA to be able to eat, pay bills and attempt to find work in an employment climate that is unfavourable for many, particularly when we are often discriminated against just for being unemployed in the first place nevermind the dearth of suitable jobs.
Shame on Cameron, Osborne, Duncan-Smith and the rest of them! These people have absolutely no idea what it means to live on the barest minimum, so I suppose it is no surprise to really expect them to give a damn.
Of course my case is just another piece of evidence of our broken welfare system. The sooner this is addressed the better. I feel for those who are reduced to food banks or worse in these unjust and unequal times. I happen to be fortunate enough to have a small amount of savings not to have to do so.