Is the writing finally on the wall for the WCA?

Eri Mountbatten writes:

NAWRA members will be aware of prominent reports being published that have highlighted significant problems with the application and administration of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and by its contractors, most notably Atos. In July 2014, the Work and Pensions Select Committee published their report on the WCA and called for a “fundamental redesign of ESA”. Following that report, in August 2014, NAWRA published its own response to the final Independent Review of the WCA calling for a “radical change” in the way claimants are treated under the scheme.

Dr Paul Litchfield has now published the fifth and final ‘Independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment’ (available at http://tinyurl.com/litchfield5). Dr Litchfield says that despite the WCA being operational since 2008, it has not yet had a chance to “bed down” due to various changes. Although Dr Litchfield has shied away from recommending a fundamental redesign of the system, he says that if such change were to take place then he would recommend a number of key issues to be taken into account.

NAWRA welcomes the fact that the vast majority of his recommendations reflect the findings and recommendations highlighted in our own response to the consultation (available at http://tinyurl.com/pjq67c7).

We trust that the Government will act promptly to make meaningful and radical changes to the culture of the DWP, and of its contractors, to help ensure that claimants are not treated with suspicion ‘by default’ and instead are treated as a “whole person” with sensitivity, value, dignity and respect.

Eri Mountbatten is the NAWRA committee representative for North Wales

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Universal Credit – past earning consultation

NAWRA has submitted a response to the Social Security Advisory Committee consultation concerning the government’s intention that ‘surplus earnings’ from the previous six months should be taken into account when a person reclaims universal credit (UC).

The proposal suggests that any ‘surplus earnings’ – defined as earnings more than just £100 (less than £25 per week) over the ‘nil UC threshold’ – will be used to reduce future UC payments if the claimant returns to UC within six months. NAWRA does not believe that these earnings can be considered in any way ‘surplus’. They represent essential additional income to enable households to try and lift themselves out of the cycle of poverty.

We have reasserted the points made previously about the difficulties any delay in benefit payment causes, including the risk of claimants losing their housing, being forced into the hands of payday lenders and the risk of destitution. Additionally we believe that this change will act as a disincentive to work.

The DWP state that the policy is designed to prevent claimants and employers from ‘manipulating’ the system but we ask what evidence there is to support this assertion?

NAWRA does not believe that this policy could ever operate effectively. We assert that the proposal can only bring further poverty and hardship to those that already in desperate need.

Read our response.

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NAWRA’s submission to SSAC on waiting days for universal credit

The Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) consulted on the government’s intention that certain Universal Credit claimants must wait 7 days before they are entitled to benefit.

NAWRA surveyed members to find out what they thought would be the impact of this policy.

Based on the results, we submitted our response where we stress in the strongest possible terms our complete opposition to this proposal.  What came over time and time again in the survey responses was the spiral of debt and destitution that would occur due to the cumulative effects of this policy.

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Test case referrals

Referrals to CPAG

Child Poverty Action Group is always looking to take on a limited number of test cases each year. They are currently particularly keen to focus on the following issues –

  •   benefit delays
  •   local welfare provision
  •   inappropriate work-related activity
  •   judicial review in the upper tribunal

More information

Challenging inappropriate work-related activity

On this point, Tom Royston of Garden Court North Chambers has drawn up a paper on the sort of cases that would be good to challenge. He is really interested to hear about cases where someone has been sent for inappropriate work-related activity when the DWP holds evidence that it clearly would be inappropriate (eg from the points awarded in the ESA85 or from other medical evidence that has been sent into them). This is happening a lot as medical information is not sent through to the work provider and Tom is keen to challenge this as public law error.

Although referral would have to be via a solicitor Tom is happy to discuss any potential case and his email is on the attached document.

Please do get in touch with Tom about any possible cases. A successful challenge would benefit all our clients.

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Sanctions

At our Glasgow conference today we heard an impassioned appeal from Dr David Webster, from the University of Glasgow, for the current sanctions regime to be abolished.

Some links to Dr Webster’s research, his presentation at NAWRA and some further resources that may be of use to advisers are available in the members’ area.

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