Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Tories make use of bureaucratic attitudes

Frank Field, one of the most hardline of Labour MPs on social security, draws attention to the suffering caused to genuine claimants by delays in processing payments.

It would be wrong to accuse the Conservative of directly instructing DWP to hold up claims. However, there is a natural reluctance on the part of civil servants to pay out public money, especially if they are on the front line and probably not paid much more than a claimant is due. It may also be that more paperwork is involved in authorising a claim than refusing it. There is also pressure from such as the Daily Mail to reduce the number of civil servants; reducing the number of staff in DWP slows the processing of claims, so that the government saves money in two ways: on the payroll and on social security payouts. This went on under both the coalition and the previous Labour administration.

However, changes to benefit rules under Ian Duncan Smith, added to bureaucratic delays have made things much worse. Take ESA. An experienced councillor and former council leader in Essex writes:

"Previously under the old system people when people were found through
ATOS (not medical in any true sense of the word) assessment to be fit for
work and they disagreed with the decision, they would continue to receive a
reduced benefit until the DWP had convened an appeals panel. They could
under the old system ask the DWP to review the decision before progressing
it to appeals. This has all changed. Now their benefit stops completely and
instantly. They are subjected to a mandatory review of the decision by DWP
and there seems to be no time limit upon how long this can take. Then and
only then can they take the decision forward to an appeals tribunal (and we
all know that of cases that make it that far the numbers of decisions which
have been found to be incorrect are utterly appalling) waiting for an appeals
tribunal could typically take up to 12 months.

"In the interim ESA claimants are advised (wrongly) by DWP that they will
be left without any means of support if they appeal and what they should
do is apply for JSA - which if you really are unfit for work would (a) be
an act of fraud and (b) would inevitably lead to further sanction as you
would not be able to comply with the conditions of JSA. In reality it is
possible for people to apply through their Jobcentres for hardship
payments but this is not widely known and worse DWP does not inform people
of its existence.

"Only if people find their way to CAB or similar will they be given the
information they so desperately need. This leads to many problems but the
two that I am most involved with are those who as a result try to live for
a time with nil income (it eventually collapses and then there is a huge
mess to sort out as HB and C/T allowance are also affected) and those who
end up making claims for JSA and as a result end up further sanctioned.
Both groups are vulnerable to the payday lender and worse and both groups
inevitably need intervention as a direct result of such a deeply flawed

"These are people I am regularly sending to foodbank!

"Those who are fortunate enough to be signposted to hardship payments over
time develop real problems, in particular if they are also caught in the
bedroom tax trap. The answer to this in my view ( aside from sorting out
the mess of bedroom tax) is to set a clear time limit upon just how long a
person can be made to wait for a review and appeal to be heard as the
level of income is deliberately below subsistence and is intended to be
so. It is therefore unacceptable for people to be left indefinitely in
this situation - in particular when so very many of the decisions are

"Then there are those who are newly unemployed - the prior system through
crisis loan provided a safety net that allowed people a means to live
whilst their claims were sorted out. As this has now been abolished and
replaced with inadequate, inaccessible localised DIY systems it is pushing
more and more people to require the help of foodbanks - there really is
very little excuse."

(I can remember a time when hardship payments for essential hardware, like a basic cooker were grants, not loans. That was a change by a previous Conservative government.)

My councillor friend (who checked the details with a current DWP employee) went on:

"You may not have two active claims. In order to apply for JSA you must 
allow your ESA claim to close and in doing so AGREE you are indeed fit for 
work if indeed limited work. The criteria for approval of JSA is that you 
are able and actively seeking work. If you are not through ill health you 
are meant to be applying for or claiming ESA.

"Once you have permitted your claim to be closed and opened a new claim you 
will not be able to address any incorrect assessment - to suggest 
otherwise is not only completely against the policy, completely in 
conflict with the guidance of DWP but is a total failure of logic.

"How can any rational person argue that you may simultaneously dispute they 
are not fit for work whilst signing a declaration that they are both fit 
and actively seeking work - it does not make sense!"