Post by Colin Henderson on Aug 30, 2014 13:29:32 GMT
Just picked this up from a local politician's website. Can anyone in the area confirm?
Swingeing cuts to advice services in secret Northants County Council Report
Swingeing cuts to advice services in Northamptonshire are to be made according to a County Council report - despite the rising number of people with money and benefit problems. And the changes will not go out to public consultation or to councillors for decision - because the report says that authority has already been delegated to a council official to make the changes.
Sally Keeble has slated the changes and said that the report should go to a council meeting so that it can be debated and the decision made by councillors. The County is planning to scrap the entire £240,000 funding for charities that provide money and debt advice.
The review of debt advice services recommends that: - the Value of the work should be cut from £240,000 to £150,000 - the money should be divided up between the district and borough councils - with £10,000 to be held back for reserves.
"It is noted that the Cabinet report was consulted on. No further consultation on the delegated decision is required," the report says. Meanwhile, £1,000,000 left in the Social Fund - which is supposed to help families in desperate need - is to be spent on one-off training of 3,000money advisers across the County.
The changes are due to come into place in October - allowing little time to adjust for the existing agencies which include Community Law Service in Northampton and five of the County's CABs, providing services by phone, face to face and through home visits. In total they provided advice for 5,025 people across Northamptonshire, claimed £6,878,192 in benefits for clients, managed £11,183,722 worth of debt and helped 622 people with court and tribunal hearings.
The ending of the existing arrangements, which cover money, benefit, housing and related advice services, was due to be told to the local agencies that provide existing services by mid July, with their contracts ending and the new arrangements coming into place in October.
Sally Keeble said: "At a time when people are struggling to manage debt and benefit changes, this strategy makes no sense. The cuts in voluntary sector funding threatens an expert and specialist service that is very highly regarded.
Post by nickd (Mylegal) on Aug 27, 2014 21:15:32 GMT
Number of 're-claims' for Employment & Support Allowance soars!
Over three quarter of a million claimants have made a second, third or more claim
....DWP figures reveal over three quarter of a million Employment & Support Allowance claimants have had to make a second, third or more claim - casting serious doubt over government's 'fit for work' statistics & further highlighting the state of absolute chaos faced by sick and disabled claimants who have to endure complex & bureaucratic claims process.....
The scale of DWP chaos sweeping across the country is unimaginable.....
The number of people who have been through DWP chaos could fill umpteen airport terminals but strangely the media has kept a tight lid on telling the public of the misery which thousands of claimants are having to face on a daily basis just to get vital sickness benefits to which they are entitled to claim.
Each new set of official figures reveals more and more of the Departmental chaos which is increasingly playing havoc with thousands upon thousands of people's lives.
Here at ilegal, we've already unearthed over 1.7 million claimants having to go through a rigorous appeals process before their benefits can be properly decided, we've also told you about 1.3 million claimants who have lived under fear of sanction, we unearthed the chaotic backlog of people awaiting medical assessments well before the news got out that over 1 million claimants are stuck in a queue waiting months upon end for their claims to be officially decided.
The chaos just goes on and on.
Imagine having to go through this torturous claims process more than once?
Calling DWP helplines, writing out new forms, collecting new evidence, supplying financial details for the second, third, fourth or even fifth time? - for those who don't give up - a reclaim may be the only way of getting what they are entitled to. We've unearthed further evidence of yet another area of rising chaos with an alarming increase in the number of claimants who have to make a second or more claim in order to get their correct entitlement. Just like appeals, reconsiderations and sanctions, the number of 're - claims' has soared dramatically under the Coalition government.
More tax - payer's cash is being shelled out at enormous cost. DWP figures confirm the administrative cost of making a new claim runs at £223 per transaction. A re-claim is not a renewal, it's when the claimant has to effectively apply all over again - meaning that since October 2008 around £173 million pounds has been spent on administering re-claims; some of which could have been avoided had the claim been processed properly first time.
Re - claims are increasing!
DWP figures confirm that the number of Employment & Support Allowance 're-claims' is rising sharply. The following table shows how they've risen (per quarter) since May 2010:
Number of ESA re - claims
Since May 2013, the number of re-claims has increased even further:
Number of ESA re - claims
This latest revelations casts further doubt over Government's 'fit for work' statistics. 1.3 million overturned decisions and re-claims seriously undermine the credibility of 1.5 million 'fit for work' decisions.
With a grand total of just over 1.5 million fit for work decisions being made on all Employment & Support Allowance claims from October 2008 to September 2013, serious doubts now emerge over the validity of these decisions if three quarter of a million claimants have had to end up re-claiming the very same benefit they've been detached from in order to make a successful claim.
Perversely it is all too often DWP Jobcentres who advise claimants to make another claim when they see the person before them is not fit enough to make a claim for Jobseeker's Allowance. With claimants waiting month after month for appeals to be heard, claimants have to be reminded by Tribunals that it is only the DWP's original decision which is being at looked at during their hearing. Providing the claimant's condition is still backed up by a doctor's certificate, a re-claim is all too often the sensible option; even it means having to go through the assessment process all over again.
The reality is many GPs are happy to support their patients because they strongly disagree with the DWP finding their patients fit for work. Where a claimant disagrees with a fit for work decision, providing they have the right evidence, they are nearly always able to submit a re-claim, meaning another assessment, to see if they succeed second time around.
Whilst Iain Duncan Smith has been grossly misleading the public with his favoured version of the statistics, we have been keeping a running record of some disturbing statistics of our own. One such statistic relates to the death of Mark Woods Mark starved to death four months after most of his benefits were stopped leaving him with just £40 a week to survive on. Mark Woods from Bampton, had been declared 'fit for work' following an Employment & Support Allowance 'Work Capability Assessment'.
Government's defence of these highly controversial assessments has always been that very few 'fit for work' decisions end up being overturned. This intensive research reveals very serious reason not to trust in outdated DWP statistics which, to this day. still show only 150,000 decisions to have been overturned - a figure which we have shown time and time again to be incorrect and unreliable.
It is now high time journalists got their head around these figures and started to expose this story, thus bringing to light the true state of carnage being unfairly inflicted upon sick and unwell claimants on a daily basis.
Government's claims to be getting people back to work are shown to be without foundation, the reality is the vast majority are appealing incorrect decisions or having to go through the claim process all over again in accordance with the medical advice of their doctors.
Our research reveals the real reason as to why, despite 4.3 million Work Capability Assessments being carried out, so few claimants are being helped back in to work and help explain why the overall numbers remaining on sickness benefits is barely falling. Government calls it 'putting people through their paces' - it appears more a case of recklessly putting people through an endless cycle of appeal, assessment and reclaim in order to keep them from the dole queue; thus assisting Government in their dubious claim that 'unemployment is falling'.
With thousands being found fit for work it stands to reason that unemployment would rise - unless, as we reveal here, there is another reason which enables claimants to continue to claim their sickness benefits.
Post by nickd (Mylegal) on Aug 27, 2014 19:59:53 GMT
New attacks lie behind Tory talk of protecting 'the family'
The government’s aim to look at how policy affects the family is pure hypocrisy, writes Sadie Robinson
19th August 2014
The government has declared that from October it will look at the impact of all its domestic policies on “the family”.
David Cameron whined, “We can’t go on having government taking decisions which ignore the impact on the family.”
This is a sick joke from someone who is ramming through cuts that make ordinary people’s lives harder.
Cameron’s announcement is an attempt to shift the blame for things like poverty and unemployment away from the Tories and onto working class people.
So he threw more money at the Relate counselling service, which aims to keep people together who would rather be apart.
The implication is that individual relationships lead to problems in society, not government policies.
The Tories also plan to extend their “troubled families” programme to target up to 500,000 families.
You have to be poor to be defined as “troubled”. Criteria include living in poor housing, having no one in a family in work and being unable to afford food.
The programme puts poor people at the mercy of intervention by various authorities while doing nothing to tackle the poverty they live in.
Tory austerity has made working class people poorer. The latest figures from the Trussell Trust charity show that the number of people visiting food banks in Britain tripled in the past year. They include 330,000 children.
The Tories claim they are attacking benefits because they want to “make work pay”. Yet people are out of work because they can’t find jobs, not because they want a life on meagre benefits.
And most of the 13 million people officially defined as living in poverty are in work. The figure has grown since the Tories came to office.
Low pay and high rents mean that the number of people in work who claim housing benefit has soared by 59 percent. Meanwhile the gap between bosses’ salaries and workers’ pay is growing.
Bosses at Britain’s biggest 100 listed firms grab on average 143 times more than their staff. That compares to 47 times in 1998.
Next boss Lord Wolfson got 4.6 million last year while Next shop floor workers took home just £10,000—459 times less than Wolfson.
On top of that workers in Britain have been hit with higher energy price rises than in most other rich countries.
Electricity prices rose by 24 percent between 2010 and 2013 while gas prices shot up by 34 percent. Energy bills have risen four times faster than wages.
Cameron isn’t about to stop his attacks on jobs, benefits or services. In fact he made clear that more attacks are on the way.
Ominously Cameron talked of the benefits system “incentivising couples to live apart or penalising those who go out to work”.
Post by nickd (Mylegal) on Aug 27, 2014 19:49:05 GMT
Up to 40% of council tax levied on low-income households unpaid
Campaigners say poor cannot afford charge imposed on them for first time last year, leaving councils chasing lost revenue By Randeep Ramesh 27th August 2014
Council tax has been levied on the poorest households in England since April last year. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA
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.
Council tax – set on average at £5 a week – has been levied on the poorest households in England since April last year as part of a cut in benefits. But such is the squeeze on household budgets, say campaigners, that the poor cannot afford to pay even these meagre sums.
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 70%, leaving the council looking 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.
Post by nickd (Mylegal) on Aug 27, 2014 19:07:38 GMT
At long last! Public acknowledgement of FOI request.....
Not before time! It's taken the DWP from last October to publicly acknowledge our request for information relating to the number of ESA decisions which are overturned on reconsideration. This was a bit of 'joint enterprise' with ilegal member Anita Bellows of DPAC and although we had a reply a while back, it has taken the DWP this long to get around to publishing the request details on their official webpage at HM.Gov. So much for transparency.....
ESA reconsideration decisions and appeals from Apr 2010 to Oct 2013
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Freedom of Information query and response on Employment and Support Allowance reconsideration decisions and appeals from April 2010 to October 2013.
"Notice for students who have enrolled to start courses in 14/15 with private providers that have failed the designation process
"Some students may have been advised by the Student Loans Company, or their chosen university or college, that their institution has not met the requirements for “designated status.”
This means that students cannot receive financial help, including a student loan or maintenance grant, from the Student Loans Company for their course.
This only affects students who have applied to some private universities and colleges to start a course in the 2014/15 academic year. It does not affect students continuing with their course from a previous year.
If you are in this position, you may decide to continue with your chosen course if you are able to pay the fees and support yourself without recourse to a student loan or maintenance grant.
However, you may be looking for an alternative course with a different university or college so you can apply for financial help from the Student Loans Company."
Another private sector foul up means some students may not be able to get the required student loans and may either have to fund the placement themselves or apply elsewhere. It remains to be seen how many may be affected.
Post by nickd (Mylegal) on Aug 26, 2014 11:00:32 GMT
DWP release figures on disabled person's household income
More creative accountancy?
Generally speaking anything coming from the DWP will portray an overly positive message......
And I would imagine, this will include the DWP's latest figures for assessing the 'Annual net income of households containing a disabled person in 2012/13. The DWP report contains words of 'caution' in terms of how the disability definition was arrived at (something which IDS has struggled with of late). It's based on a 'Family Resources Survey' which looks at approximately 20,000 private households with someone in the family being classed as disabled.
Table 1 provides the reader with the "Annual net income of households containing a disabled person, 2012/13"
This is broken down in to two estimates (rounded to the nearest billion £'s):
£244(£bn) before housing costs
£212(£bn) after housing costs
This is then compared against regional figures averaged out over the period 2009/10 to 2011/12 with data being stated at 2012/13 prices. The DWP hasn't totalled the regional variations but I've summed them together to provide a comparison. This enables you to look at how the DWP are assessing the figure for 2012/13 when compared against the regional averages for the figures from 2009 to 2012.
Here are the regional averages totalled together:
2009/2012 regional averages
£242 (£bn) before housing costs
£211 (£bn) after housing costs
Which will, no doubt, mean that before long ministers with a little help from the Daily Mail, Telegraph, and Daily Express etc etc will be telling everyone how much better off disabled people are under this government!
I would encourage anyone looking in to these figures to read the full run down on their preparation and methodology statements here
The Family Resources Survey can be accessed here, I'd recommend that rather than just following the written report, you look right in to the data and see how a large proportion of it is affected by non -working age pensioner related incomes. I'd also be interested to know how the survey's total annual income amount attributed to disabled people has been adjusted to take account of factors such as a rising population, non - inclusion of certain items of expenditure and the application of different disability indicators when compared against previous estimates.
Post by Colin Henderson on Aug 25, 2014 21:31:19 GMT
Another tiny bit of good news to pass on. I heard recently via James Stark of Garden Court North Chambers that a local authority tenant facing an application for a demotion order has, after threatening judicial review of the Legal Aid Agency of course, been granted a certificate to defend the action in the county court. This is despite the FAQ document issued just after LASPO saying in terms that demotion was out of scope as possession was not at stake; instead the LAA granted that rarest of beasts - Exceptional Funding.
Under the Housing Act 1985 a demoted tenant loses their secured status and has the same status as an introductory tenant for a period of 12 months. During that period they can have their tenancy terminated without there being much say from the judge, If the authority goes through its internal procedures properly then only in the most exceptional cases breaching Article 8 rights can a judge overrule the statutory eviction process - there is no longer a reasonableness test.
So lack of legal representation at the demotion stage, where reasonableness is the test, would have been a big blow to local authority tenants, as they would be on their own at that point and then with limited legal arguments when they could (presumably) get legal aid before eviction.
Well done and credit to the legal aid firm Community Law Partnership for this and another traveller case - further details are on the legal aid handbook site.
And if on the back of this and the recent successful JR of the exceptional funding refusals in family reunion cases you are emboldened to spend the day or two it takes to make an exceptional funding application, the PLP have now published some resources which may help you here:
Post by Colin Henderson on Aug 25, 2014 14:19:59 GMT
Housing work is now emergency work by definition. As Steve Hynes graphically put it, we are the ambulance paramedics at the bottom of the cliff, no longer the catchers in the rye at the top. Our clients cannot access a legal aid certificate until they have been pushed over the edge into litigation freefall. If they are persistent and organised they may find some help before possession day arrives. More likely, if they are lucky they might be intercepted by a duty solicitor/adviser before they hit the courtroom.
So every application for a legal aid certificate starts with an emergency application, completed at the first appointment and therefore usually without all the financial assessment paperwork needed for a full certificate to get granted. I described the process in general last year in my November blog post. And you have to get it done within a week or you won’t even get the eight week cover.
But the emergency certificate is only to cover the steps needed in the first eight weeks. If you or your client can’t promptly supply the proof of income then you’re unlikely to get the substantive certificate within that 8 weeks, which means you have to stop work, or work unpaid for everything you do until the full certificate comes through (and it might never). This is regardless of the urgency with which you may need to get on with gathering evidence or attending the next hearing, and regardless of the scope limitations you have on the emergency certificate. It’s also regardless of the new much tighter rules on relief from sanctions in the civil courts. If you miss a court deadline it’s now a serious business - civil lawyers will know all about being “Mitchelled” – and may mean your client’s case is struck out, and you get sued for negligence.
When I first blogged about this (see Certifiable above) I postulated that a recent Point of Principle - number 58 – could rescue the situation. It says:
"Where an emergency certificate is subsumed into a substantive certificate, the scope of the substantive certificate will apply to all work done since the initial grant of emergency legal aid. Any restrictions on the emergency certificate which are not replicated in the main certificate therefore become retrospectively inapplicable.
However, if there is no substantive grant made, the scope of the emergency certificate remains in force. In order to comply with the requirements of the Funding Code in relation to scope and exercise of devolved powers in emergency grants, the supplier should ensure that the scope is specific to the single immediate step which is required to be taken. Failure to do so means the supplier runs the risk of the LSC approving the grant of emergency funding in more restricted terms."
The underlined sentence implied that if you carried on work after eight weeks or outside of the emergency scope you were effectively working “at risk” – not paid if no substantive certificate ever granted, but still paid if it was retrospectively.
But be warned - I have found out to my cost that my interpretation was very wrong. As my recent unsuccessful appeal to the Independent Costs Assessor proved, the eight week time limit is strict and work done after its expiring but before the substantive is granted will NOT be paid, and in July they quietly amended their own online costs guidance handbook and which hadn't dealt with the point. Which is annoying as in my case the delay in granting the substantive certificate was down to the mistakes and unreasonableness of the means assessing caseworker and it took a formal complaint to resolve it. Oh and my client couldn’t have fended for himself after the eight weeks expired because.... he was a prisoner!
The POP wording carries on: "Should further work become essential within the 4-week (that’s wrong; its now 8 weeks) life of the emergency grant, an amendment should be self-granted under devolved powers, again limited to the single immediate step required, and the amendment reported to the LSC."
So that’s OK then – we can self-extend emergency certificates as we need and and just report the fact? Nope – you’d be wrong again. I recently wrote to clarify exactly what bit of POP58 actually still works. This was treated as a complaint (!) and I was told this:
"You have queried the procedure for applying to extend an emergency certificate and whether sending an electronic APP8 will result in a faster turnaround. I can confirm that the LAA is currently processing 99% of properly completed APP8’s within 10 working days with the majority of this 99% being expedited within five to six working days. If you have a matter that is particularly urgent and needs dealing with quicker than this, I would advise emailing the APP8 explaining the reasoning for the urgency.
There is no regulatory bar on emergency certificates being extended beyond 12 weeks. However, if it is likely that the work cannot be completed within the initial eight week period, then it may be more appropriate to submit a substantive application to allow further scope and cost limit."
This last sentence is a good example of the sort of tosh one gets from the Agency these days. You have already made a substantive application! They suggest sending another App1 with another set of means forms to get another 8 weeks?! So you end up with two separate certificates for the same matter? Good luck with all that at billing...
So if you are eight weeks in and still no sign of your substantive you have to urgently contact the LAA and send in a progress report on the detailed 11 page APP8 form. As you are prevented from acting further until you get that back I’d certainly say do it by email – using the paper system takes 4 days in the postroom at each end – those statistics of 99% of APP8s within two weeks don’t bear any relation to my experience and don’t count postage delays.
As an interesting aside that there IS now one situation where you can work “at risk” for your client. This is the now common experience of receiving a “Show Cause”. In the pre LASPO days this meant you had to stop work and reply to the Notice explaining your client’s failure to co-operate with yet another bank statement request, contribution payment or the like from the agency, and weait to hear that the certificate was reinstated before continuing. Now you may carry on, and if the certificate stays in force because the alleged breach is remedied promptly, you will still get paid for work done throughout.
But here’s something you won’t find publicised by the Agency itself. If it all falls apart and your bill ends up being slashed and you can show the LAA have been at fault themselves during the battle to get and keep certificated cover, there is in fact an internal ex-gratia scheme whereby you can argue that you acted reasonably and should still be paid despite a technical transgression. I have my first case going into this process now and I’ll let you know how I get on, keeping my cap in hand and being ever so ‘umble, as it's clear legal aid lawyers have no right to be paid anything at all.