Tag: welfare rights

PIP refused for allegedly spending too much time on Facebook

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Thanks to Benefits and Work for this post.

A shocked welfare rights worker, posting on Rightsnet, has revealed how his client had their personal independence payment (PIP) appeal refused because of the amount of time the claimant allegedly spent on Facebook.

Accused of lying
The claimant had appealed to a first-tier tribunal about the decision on their PIP claim and attended an oral hearing with a representative.

Whilst considering their mental health, the claimant was asked by the panel whether they ever used Facebook. The claimant replied that they did so ‘now and again’.

After all the evidence had been taken, the claimant and their representative returned to the waiting room while the tribunal made their deliberations.

However, when they were called back before the panel to hear the decision, the claimant was accused of lying to the tribunal. The medical panel member had the claimant’s Facebook page open on their smartphone and was reading from it, clearly taking the view that the number of posts was too frequent to be regarded as ‘now and again’.

Because the evidence gathering phase of the appeal had ended, the claimant was not allowed to respond, they could only listen to the decision of the tribunal in shocked silence.

Thus they were given no opportunity to challenge the accusation that they were lying or to explain that their partner also used their Facebook page.

Instead, they must now go through the lengthy process of asking for a statement of reasons from the tribunal judge – which can take many weeks or months to be provided – before asking for the decision to be set aside or appealing to the upper tribunal.

Breach of natural justice
There is a very strong probability that the decision will be overturned because it is such a flagrant breach of natural justice: the decision was based on evidence acquired by the panel itself from elsewhere and the claimant was given no opportunity to comment on it.

But, as well as leaving a big question mark over the quality of training for tribunal members, this episode also raises the possibility that claimants’ use of social media may in the future be used as evidence when making decisions on benefits entitlement.

If all the facts are collected and the claimant is given the opportunity to comment on them, this may just be another indignity that claimants are expected to learn to live with. Either that or claimants will need to make sure that their online life is kept as private as possible.

But if decisions are made based on partial evidence and wrong assumptions, as in this case, it will simply lead to more unfairness and injustice for sick and disabled people.

View the topic on Rightsnet

Labour would end this Government’s demonisation of benefits claimants – Chi Onwurah MP

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This afternoon I will be leading a debate on the treatment – or more accurately the demonisation – of benefits claimants.

On my website I publish monthly pie charts of the issues constituents raise with me. Benefits is consistently in the top three.

Benefits claimants are by definition going through a tough time; they may have lost a job, have an illness or disability or are in low-paid or part time work, or they are caring for young children or relatives, making it harder to work.

They need our support, our care, concern for and understanding of the challenges they face. As our Shadow Secretary of State Rachel Reeves has said: “Jobcentres, and the HMRC offices that currently administer tax credits, are vital public services that British citizens pay for with their taxes. People who use them have as much right to expect fair and respectful treatment as patients in an NHS hospital, parents dealing with their child’s school, or victims reporting a crime at a police station.”

But it has become increasingly clear to me that that is not what is happening.

I have dealt with casework where the only explanation for the inhumane way in which my constituents were being treated is that the employees of the Department and its agencies had forgotten – or had been told to forget – that benefits claimants were people, human beings with lives, loved ones and feelings.

In the debate I give three examples. I could have given three hundred.

The first a vulnerable constituent on Employment Support Allowance and incapacity allowance. He was being helped by Newcastle Welfare Rights, who told the DWP that after suddenly being found fit to work:

“..he was acutely distressed; he struggled to talk, he was having thoughts of suicide, he had also started drinking alcohol to cope and had struggled to leave the house”

Despite supporting psychological assessments, other evidence, and an attempted suicide, the decision was not reversed and in January 2014 he was found hanged by his neighbour.

The second case an IT worker made unemployed, earnestly applying for every possible vacancy.

But he was sanctioned by the Jobcentre because his work search record was judged inadequate – in the week his father died.

Now think about that for a moment. Is there anyone in this country of whatever political persuasion who does not believe that a son should be given the opportunity to grieve for and bury his father?

Whether or not he is claiming benefits.

Yet the culture that this Government has put in place is such that this is what happens. And whilst Esther McVey may claim it is nothing to do with them, organisational culture is determined by those at the top.

My third example is a constituent sanctioned at the beginning of December for not returning a review form he never received which asked him the same questions he answered when he first signed on. Despite trying to complete the form over the phone, going to the Job Centre, asking for and being promised an emergency payment he spent the whole month including the festive period dependent on handouts from friends and family, unable to afford heating or even to go and see his young daughter at Christmas.

And all the while the Government is paying for adverts on buses saying “Think you know a Newcastle upon Tyne Benefits Cheat? Report them anonymously.”

There are people on benefits who are abusing the system – who take what they can get and consider benefits both a lifestyle and a right.

But that is a very small proportion. It is estimated that 0.7% of welfare spending is lost to fraud in comparison with 1.3% lost to overpayment because of mistakes.

I have yet to see adverts encouraging people to turn in tax evaders, despite the Treasury itself estimating the ‘tax gap’ at £34 bn and others putting it much higher.

The sense that they are being treated as second class citizens, scroungers, cheats, has a terrible impact on the wellbeing and particularly the mental health of claimants.

I have some experience of that.

I was brought up largely on benefits. We were a one parent family. It was very hard for my mother who was crippled with rheumatoid arthritis and also suffered breast cancer, not only because of our poverty but also because of her shame at taking hand outs.

I am very glad she did not have to face the sort of vilification and abuse experienced now, abuse caused in part by a sustained campaign from some politicians on the right.

Contrary to what many of them would imagine, I was brought up with a strong work ethic, and also to believe that the state would provide a robust safety net for those that needed it.

I am not proud that I grew up on benefits. But I am not ashamed either. A Labour Government must and will put an end to this Government’s demonisation of those claiming benefits today.

Author: Chi OnwurahMember of Parliament for Newcastle Central.

The full debate may be read here on Hansard2.30pm, 7 Jan 2015: from Column 112WH.

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 Labour MPs have persistently raised the issue of the government and media demonisation of those claiming benefits in Parliamentry debate, challenging serial offenders such as Iain Duncan Smith. Other MPs included are Glenda Jackson, Dame Anne Begg, Anne McGuire, Liam Byrne, John McDonnell and Sheila Gilmore, amongst others.

Rachel Reeves has also pledged to end the benefit sanction targets.

I am pleased that Labour have also pledged to legislate to protect disabled people from hate crime . We need to see an end to the stigmatisation of people who have to rely on lifeline benefits. After all, most people needing support have worked and paid taxes, they ought to be able to claim the support that they have paid for without being punished and scapegoated by the government and media. KSJ

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Thanks to Robert Livingstone