Category Archives: Sangeeta Enright

President of the Family Division’s Anger at Legal Aid Cuts

The President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, was faced with a case where the parents wanted to oppose the removal of their child from their care and place him for adoption.  In circumstances like this, care proceedings would be issued and funding available for the parents, however, this is a case where care proceedings were concluded in November 2012.  When the care order was made there were concerns about the child remaining with his parents as both had learning difficulties, however, following an intense assessment and package of support the local authority’s plan was for the child to remain in his parents care with further assessments carried out in relation to the extended family.

One aspect of a final care order is that it gives the local authority parental responsibility for the child, alongside his parents, however, if they had concerns about the care the child was receiving from his parents then they had the power to remove him from his parents care.  Unfortunately in March 2014 the local authority had concerns and therefore gave the parents one month’s notice of their intention to remove the child from their care.

In these circumstances there is no automatic right to funding.   The parents need to provide details of their income to see if the are eligible for funding.  In this case the parents were £34.64 over the threshold set by the Legal Aid Agency.

This is the issue that the President had; proceedings had been brought by the local authority to separate the parents from their child, as they were not care proceedings the parents were not eligible for funding automatically and their income was too high for them to qualify for legal aid.  The parents had the option to pay for a solicitor privately but their limited income made this impossible.  The local authority had funding in place to instruct a solicitor and the child was granted funding automatically as well as he has no income.

In his judgment the President stated;

“What I have to grapple with is the profoundly disturbing fact that the parents do not qualify for legal aid but lack the financial resources to pay for legal representation in circumstances where, to speak plainly, it is unthinkable that they should have to face the local authority’s application without proper representation…..In these circumstances it is unthinkable that the parents should have to face the local authority’s application without proper representation. To require them to do so would be unconscionable; it would be unjust; it would involve a breach of their rights under Articles 6 and 8 of the [European convention on human rights]; it would be a denial of justice. The child is also entitled to a fair trial…..Thus far the state has simply washed its hands of the problem, leaving the solution to the problem which the state itself has created – for the state has brought the proceedings but declined all responsibility for ensuring that the parents are able to participate effectively in the proceedings it has brought – to the goodwill, the charity, of the legal profession.  This is, it might be thought, both unprincipled and unconscionable. Why should the state leave it to private individuals to ensure that the state is not in breach of [its] obligations under the convention? As Baker J said in the passage I have already quoted, “It is unfair that legal representation in these vital cases is only available if the lawyers agree to work for nothing.”

Samantha Sanders, a lawyer at the Adoption Legal Centre, commented

“This is unfortunately something we are seeing on a daily basis; clients who require our help and support to enable their families to stay together, yet without the support of legal aid they are unable to fund it themselves.  More and more solicitors are doing the work on a pro bono basis with no guarantee that funding will ever be made available.

New guidelines were brought in so that a decision is made as soon as possible for a child, yet if funding is not available for the parents to challenge the decisions made in relation to their child, it does questions the validity of the decisions made by the court and whether they are compatible with Article 6 (right to a fair trial) and 8 (right to a family life) of the Human Rights Act.  I believe that this is an issue we will be seeing more and more as time goes on.”

The judgement of the President, Sir James Munby, in this case can be found here.

The team at the Adoption Legal Centre are specialists in advising both adopters and potential adopters. We can help when adopters are facing challenging problems. If you require legal advice, please contact us on 01484 538421 or via e-mail.

Is Universal Credit Coming Soon?

Sangeeta Enright sets out the up to date position on the government’s flagship policy.

Universal Credit is one of the government’s biggest welfare reforms and was introduced in April 2013. It has since been criticised by the Public Accounts Committee due to the problems with the technology. However, the project has now been ‘reset’ and official figures show that there are 11,000 people on Universal Credit currently with an accelerated roll-out plan just announced for single jobseekers making new claims.

It will merge six means-tested benefits – Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit, and Housing Benefit – into a single payment.

If you already receive one of these benefits; you will stay on them unless your circumstances change and you are in a roll-out area, or if the transfer process applies to you.

Broadly speaking, many have welcomed this change as the payment of Universal Credit seeks to remove the barriers that claimants have when they move in and out of work, including part-time work. It also seeks to use ‘real-time information’ about wages.

One of the biggest changes will be the ‘claimant commitment’ and those already working part-time will come under pressure to gain more hours, where previously on Tax Credits, this would not have happened.

A big difference is the move to monthly payments which the government hopes will teach claimants about budgeting in the same way as if they receive wages.

Another potential problem is the plan to make claimants wait 7 days until they are entitled to some benefits, including Universal Credit. Charities and campaigners are concerned that this will lead to further reliance on food banks and unaffordable loans from certain lenders. The Social Security Advisory Committee has launched a public consultation on this, with submissions welcome by 17th October 2014.

Migration to Universal Credit for the majority of benefits and tax credits claimants is not imminent but continues to cause concern as a project riddled with delays and huge expense, especially as we get nearer to the general election.

For advice with regard to welfare benefits, please contact Sangeeta Enright either on 01484 538421 or by e-mail.

The State of Our Welfare

Sangeeta Enright, Welfare Benefits Adviser, has been invited to speak at an event  organised by Third Sector Lancashire, called ‘The State of our Welfare’.

Third Sector Lancashire is a group of organisations which represents third sector bodies that specialise in health and well-being in the county of Lancashire in their dealings with the public and private sector.

Sangeeta says, “Austerity measures are hitting benefit claimants very hard and I am always looking at ways to assist them to get their entitlement, to be treated fairly and with compassion. Legal Aid cuts have affected the provision of advice in this area, but there are still ways we can help those who need us’. She will talk more about this at the event.

We are delighted that she has been asked to share her experiences of providing Welfare Benefits advice with the third sector so that we can work with them towards a fairer society.

More details about the event, on 11th June, can be found on the Third Sector Lancashire website.

Struggling Pensioners Not Getting Their Benefits

One in four people older than 65 are struggling to cope financially, yet up to £5.5bn in state financial help is going unclaimed each year, new figures reveal today.

There are two key reasons. First, some people are simply too proud or embarrassed to claim for benefits. But others don’t know that they can apply for financial help and in some cases are wrongly told by officials that they aren’t eligible.

Yet millions of older people who are struggling to survive on a meagre income could be entitled to benefits such as Pension Credit, which if claimed, could provide a boost to their weekly incomes. In fact, if everyone who is eligible for Pension Credit made a claim, it could increase their income by an average of £1,716 a year – which would more than cover the average dual-fuel bill which currently stands at £1,271 a year.

Read the full news story in The Independent


If you require any benefits advice; please contact Sangeeta Enright on 01484 538 421.

Ridley and Hall also offer help through our Elderflower services. This ties together specialist legal, financial & bereavement advice to those at, or approaching retirement age, from a group of regulated, professional firms. Please contact a member of the Elderflower team on 08432 895 160.

“Stalinist” Response to Groundbreaking Report Which Challenges Government Approach to Adoption

On Wednesday 9th April 2014, the Department for Education launches a groundbreaking report on adoption. The University of Bristol was commissioned to report on adoption breakdown. The report’s title is now “Beyond Adoption: challenges, intervention and adoption disruption”.

(See also University of Bristol website: Report reveals adoption breakdown rate and the experiences of adoptive families in crisis)

Commenting on the report and the events surrounding its launch, Nigel Priestley, who was a member of the DfE advisory group on adoption breakdown, commented:

“The report confirms that adoption can work – but for many adopters, better support is needed. This is groundbreaking research. It identifies:

  • When adoptive placements do break down, the consequences are severe.
  • The difficulties and stresses that lead to disruption are often known and experienced by the family over many years.
  • The long term consequences of early abuse and neglect can have a profound impact on the young person and their adoptive family. This is compounded where support is patchy, poorly coordinated and ineffective.
  • There needs to be an urgent investigation to establish a more robust framework for multi-agency coordination and cooperation building on the current developments in improving adoption support.  This must include local authorities, health, education and the voluntary sector.  These have resourcing implications.
  • The urgency in ensuring that adopters and children are not left alone when they encounter the kinds of difficulties so clearly identified.
  • The importance of prospective adopters receiving full information on the child being placed with them.
  • The Report contains graphic interviews with adopters who have faced significant challenges as they have tried to parent the children whom they have adopted.”

Mr Priestley went on, “The stories told by both the adopters and the children who have been adopted ring true in my own experience. I have represented many adopters who have faced colossal challenges with the children they have adopted .They include chief executives of major local authorities, church ministers, a member of a fostering and adoption team, a consultant paediatrician, and a former deputy head teacher. All were committed parents.

“They all thought they were realistic about adoption but found they were facing insurmountable problems. For example one had to sleep on the landing to stop one child he and his wife had adopted from going into his sister’s bedroom for sex. Both children were aged under 8 years old. Many of the children had a significant attachment disorder.

“Adopters need to be told the truth about the children placed with them. It is critical that as the Report recommends there is coordinated and properly resourced support for adopters.”

Response of Department for Education – don’t engage with the Press!

The Report was due to launched on 20th March 2014 at a British Association for Adoption and Fostering Conference.

Nigel Priestley said “I have been pressing the DfE for a launch date. I understand that at the BAAF conference the DfE imposed strict conditions on the presentation from University of Bristol.

Pressed further about a launch date, the DfE have now sent out the following e-mail to members of the advisory group: “I thought you would find it helpful to know that the Adoption Disruption Report is scheduled for publication next Wednesday 9th April. We would be grateful if you could avoid engagement with the press about this report.  If members of the press do contact you please can you inform Anna Rutter in our Press Office?”

“I am puzzled by what appears to be an almost Stalinist approach to news management simply because DfE appears to think that its findings do not fit the government’s own agenda.”

Some of its conclusions help the government’s strong support for adoption. The report confirms:

  • Disruptions in adoption placements, where the child returns to care after being legally adopted, have been subject to significant speculation over many years.   The rate is much lower than expected.
  • The research supports the widely held view that adoptive placements provide children with stable, secure loving homes when they cannot live with their birth parents.  The UK has established a system for ensuring children severely at risk can be placed into adoptive homes when local authorities and the courts agree. This research identifies that this continues to be the right policy.

The DfE appears to be concerned about how the report’s conclusions are received. The Children and Families Act 2014 which strongly promotes adoption has received royal assent.

The report has come at a difficult time for the government:

  1. Adoption is under scrutiny in the courts. The Court of Appeal’s decision in Re: B-S (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ. 813 emphasises that the severance of family ties inherent in an adoption without parental consent is an extremely draconian step and one that requires the highest level of evidence. This decision has had a significant impact on courts throughout the country.
  2. The Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) is not fit for purpose. In light of the concerns which have been expressed by the Chief Medical Officer and others about both the extent to which children and adolescents are affected by mental health problems and difficulties with gaining access to appropriate treatment, the Health Committee has decided to undertake an inquiry into children’s and adolescent mental health and CAMHS. Support from CAMHS is vital for many adoptive families.
  3. Government cuts have had a significant impact on early intervention family support workers who would be the first line of support for beleaguered families.

Nigel Priestley is Senior Partner at Ridley & Hall Solicitors and an advisor with the Adoption Legal Centre. For further information please contact the Adoption Legal Centre via phone on 01484 538421 or via e-mail.

Landmark Case on Deprivation of Liberty

A Supreme Court decision last week has radically changed the way that we must treat our most vulnerable citizens.

In society some people need restrictions placed on them to keep them safe. For instance, it probably seems right that a frail elderly lady with advanced dementia, who is no longer able to make basic decisions such as “am I hungry?” or “am I cold?” should be moved to a care home where she can be looked after and kept safe.

However, when do these restrictions amount to a deprivation of liberty? Most people would be extremely unhappy if they were forced from their home into a care home where they were always under the watchful eye of care home staff. So, at what point, and in what circumstances, is it right to place restrictions on an individual’s liberty?

The Court of Protection, which was established in 2007, is frequently asked to consider this issue. If someone is found to be deprived of their liberty then their circumstances must, by law, be kept under review to ensure that restrictions are kept to the minimum and are in the person’s best interests.

Last week the Supreme Court handed down a hugely important judgement which clarified the position as to what amounts to a deprivation of liberty. The case was P v Cheshire West and Chester Council [2014] UKSC 19.

Baroness Hale outlined the key factors which indicate a person is being deprived of their liberty. They are:

  1. The person concerned was under continuous supervision and control; and
  2. They are not free to leave the placement.

In terms of leaving the placement this is in relation to moving to somewhere else to live, rather than just leaving for a day trip!

Factors which were previously, and should no longer be taken into account are:

  1. The person’s compliance or lack of objection
  2. The relative normality of the placement
  3. The reason or purpose behind a particular placement.

Although these reasons may be relevant when justifying the deprivation.

Rebecca Chapman, a solicitor specialising in Court of Protection, from Ridley and Hall Solicitors said:

“This decision is groundbreaking in its recognition of the importance of respecting the human rights of vulnerable people. The concept of liberty applies equally to all people and can no longer be applied on a ‘sliding scale’.”

She went on to add;

“Prior to the Supreme Court judgement the ‘liberty’ of a person was assessed on the ‘relative normality’ of the situation. So people who were mentally disabled and required a lot of restrictions to keep them safe, would be deemed to still have their liberty. This is because this was normal for them, relative to their situation.

This decision places everyone on a level playing field; we should all expect the same level of freedom. But some people should still have their freedom limited to keep them safe. In these situations the judgement now means that the restrictions must be kept under review to ensure they are as minimal as possible and remain in the person’s best interests.”

Rebecca’s conclusion is that;

“This will mean that a huge number of people, not previously thought to be deprived of their liberty, in fact are now so deprived in the eyes of the law.”

To contact Rebecca Chapman, please call 01484 538421.

Adoption Activity Days – a Solution for an Adoption Crisis?

Following a recent Channel 4 documentary about adoption and in particular ‘Adoption Activity Days’, there has been a lot of media coverage about this highly controversial concept which brings prospective adopters and children together in order to try and help them find their ‘forever family’.

Children awaiting adoption, along with their foster carers and social workers attend the activity days where prospective adopters are encouraged to view, talk to and play with the children.

Finding Mum and Dad followed the story of Connor and Daniel aged 4 and 6 who, due to a difficult start in life, were living with foster carers awaiting adoption. Connor and Daniel were neglected by their birth family so much so that Daniel could not speak at three years old; both had significant nightmares and were developmentally delayed.

Adoption Activity Days are an American concept which have been successful for decades with statistics showing that they are twice as effective as other ways of family finding. In the late 1970s/early 1980s activity days were popular however, quickly went out of fashion. In December 2012, the Department of Education announced that adoption activity days would be part of the government’s adoption reform agenda.

In the most part, the children who attend at the activity days are the ones who are considered hard to place and who, for one reason or another, have not been successfully placed with their forever family through various alternative and more traditional methods.

Critics fear that these already vulnerable children may face more rejection with some seeing these days as much like a cattle market for children. Despite their documented success, the question remains as to whether this is a solution to an adoption crisis with more than 4,000 children in the UK waiting to be adopted.

However, despite the criticism there is clear proof that these activity days are successful. Out of the 251 children who attended the pilot scheme activity days, 42 were subsequently adopted and British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) have at least 8 more dates set for Feb and March across the country.

Bournemouth Council held their first adoption activity day a few weeks ago and two out of the six children there now have a new adoptive family.

The outcome for Connor and Daniel however may not be as bright. Both boys remained unplaced at the conclusion of the programme and it looks likely that they will remain in long term fostercare rather than be adopted.

Whatever your opinion on adoption activity days, media coverage for adoption can only be a good thing. Debate is being sparked and there is news of many local authorities being committed to finding a solution to the adoption crisis one way or another, whether that be by endorsing the activity days or by finding other methods. For example, Durham County Council and Birmingham City Council are amongst a number of local authorities to launch a television advertising campaign to encourage more people to adopt. It was in the news last week that Bradford Metropolitan District Council is to receive £600,000 to improve their adoption services and Southwark Council has launched their adoption campaign ‘Find 40 Families’ which has already achieved a rise in adoption rates alongside a 150% increase in visits to the town hall’s adoption website.

However successful these methods are, the bottom line is that the children who go to the activity days are the ones who have been hard to place. Finding an adoptive family for these children is great but there needs to be a greater emphasis on the support needed in order to prevent these adoptions breaking down. Placements at greater risk of breakdown are older children and research indicates that these families will need skilled ongoing support in the future.

At Ridley & Hall we have a specialist team who can help with all types of adoption matters including; adoption applications, support and breakdown. Call to speak to an adviser on 01484 538421.

Adopted Children Missing Out on Mental Health Treatments

Common disorders, such as ADHD or conduct disorder, are being ‘grossly under-identified’ amongst adopted and fostered children, according to a new study by King’s College London. Instead, clinicians are over-identifying more complex ‘attachment disorders’, and as a result children are missing out on appropriate treatments.

The findings are published in the journal Child and Adolescent Mental Health.

It was reported last week that adopted children are being misdiagnosed with a more complex diagnosis than what they actually have.  Attachment problems were mentioned in 31% of the referrals. Upon clinical assessment, only one child was identified as having potential attachment symptoms but this was for a child in the 69% not initially identified with attachment problems.

Only 4% of referrals identified conduct disorder but rates of conduct disorder were approximately 10 times higher in the national data. In the clinical assessment, common disorders were diagnosed much more frequently than attachment disorders, with conduct disorders diagnosed 13 times more frequently than attachment disorders.

Dr Matt Woolgar, lead author of the paper from the National Academy of Parenting Research at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, and consultant clinical psychologist at the National Adoption and Fostering Service at SLaM, says:

“There is real confusion around the term ‘attachment disorder’. Clinicians appear to be using this diagnosis to try and capture the complex mental health problems that adopted or fostered children often have. It seems that clinicians may be making the diagnosis based more on the assumptions due to the child’s history, rather than because of specific symptoms. In doing so, the danger is that they are blinded to some of the more straightforward diagnoses, like ADHD, or conduct disorders, for which there are good, evidence-based treatments. As a result, children are missing out on the treatments they need.”

Samantha Sanders, a child care and adoption solicitor at Ridley & Hall commented:

“Whilst it is great to hear that adopted children are getting the relevant medical help when a problem is identified, it is concerning to read that a lot of the children are being misdiagnosed with more complex issues than what they are actually suffering from.  Is this because the doctor is aware that the child is adopted and therefore thinks that the child is suffering from an attachment disorder given their background instead of it being a more common case of ADHD?

“It also brings into question whether the clinicians carrying out the assessment fully understand the term ‘attachment disorder’ in the first place.

“More emphasis needs to be put on the issues that adopted parents may face as their adopted child gets older. The professionals who deal with the children need to be fully aware of them to enable the parents to get the most appropriate support.”

Adoptive parents who consider that they need an assessment to enable them to better care for their often damaged children can contact the child care and adoption team at Ridley & Hall on 01484 538421.

Further articles can be found at

Medical Express

The full report can be found in the Journal “Child and Adolescent Mental Health”

How Much are Adopters told?

The tragic and challenging story of a couple’s experience of adoption was the subject of a report on Radio 5 Investigates with Adrian Goldberg on19th January.

Nigel Priestley, Senior Partner with Ridley & Hall and the Adoption Legal Centre told the programme that sadly the couple’s experience was not unique. They had been told that the child placed with them had no specific problems and simply needed to be brought up in a loving stable family home.

They quickly found that this was not the case. The programme highlighted the problem that in some cases social workers were minimising the child’s problems in order to make finding a placement easier.

In a recent case, a judge had tried to impose conditions on a local authority after she concluded that the social worker could not be trusted to tell prospective adopters the truth about how the child’s presenting.

Nigel Priestley was joined on the programme by Hugh Thornberry of Adoption UK. Another prospective adopter told her story. She had been assured that a child to be placed with her had been genetically tested and told she had nothing to fear, despite serious genetic problems within the family. She then found that no testing had been done and the child may have a serious life threatening condition. She pulled out of the proposed adoption.

Commenting, Mr Priestley said, “There is enormous pressure on local authorities from this government to get as many children placed with adoptive parents as possible. The new phenomenon of the Adoption Party for hard to place children adds to the risk that social workers may be tempted to minimise the problems that the children present.”

He added “The situation is made worse by the serious lack of skilled post-adoption support. Failure to give all the facts risks an adoption breaking down. This causes enormous damage to the child and the carers and has to be avoided at all costs.

Nigel Priestley is a Senior Partner of Ridley & Hall. He is a member of the Children’s Panel and regularly represents children and parents in care proceedings. For more information on the legal issues surrounding adoption, please contact us on 01484 538421 or visit the Adoption Legal Centre.


5 Live Investigations with Adrian Goldberg can be listened to by logging onto his web page on BBC 5 Live website. It is in the last 20 minutes of the programme.

Part of the prospective adopters story is set out below

How did what you had been told about him in the reports you’d seen compare to the reality of having him live with you?

In the early days of placement our child was very compliant, as many can be, although clearly scared of the world which was definitely not reflected in any reports we had been able to view. He played very repetitively and he had no speech. He was only able to make sounds, not vocalisations or speech. We can only assume that the sound he made in his previous setting, had been interpreted as words. A speech and language therapist would have definitely not said that our child had speech or vocalisation. The mental health of our child had not been mentioned in any reports and this was the area we most noticed as being immediately worrying. Over the first few weeks we also noticed episodes where our child would appear to ‘zone out’ and sleep became very erratic, waking 10-15 times a night. Our health visitor visited during the early weeks of placement. She expressed concerns about our child’s health and wellbeing. We advised her of the areas we were concerned about and she referred us to a community paediatrician, who then referred us on to the consultant paediatrician.

However, our child would not let any medical professional near him. No-one was able to do any sort of examination.  He could not even cope with being weighed and measured. He has tried to kick some doctors, and even now attending appointments is a two parent job – one has to support our child while the other talks with the doctor.

During early placement, we were advised by social services to parent our child normally and attend toddler groups. It was reported that he had been attending toddler groups with his previous foster carer.  However, doing this, caused him anxiety, stress and tantrums and my wife was unable to sooth him, because of attachment difficulties, as he did not trust her. The situation was spiralling out of control, with social services advising us to ‘push on through’, until 9 months later, our child experienced a break down with a child minder, who we were using, to prepare for my wife returning to her part-time job.

Fortunately the child minder wrote a very in depth report detailing what happened, and that is when social services suddenly began taking notice of our concerns. Whilst social services had thought our child was beginning to attach to us, it was actually a superficial attachment for at least the first 9 months. It is worth mentioning that our child had something like four or five social workers by the time he was placed with us, so it was hardly surprising that no-one really knew him, and we were given the wrong information to follow to parent him. We assumed that social services knew their children.  Unfortunately we have found this not to be true in our case. And our children can learn that adults are disposable, replaceable or unreliable.

It was very difficult for people to visit the house as our child would tantrum as soon as anyone came in, and continue tantruming. If we visited anywhere, our child would just run. Now we recognise it as a fear response and we have strategies in place to help us manage situations. People have now stopped visiting us and we only have very close family and friends coming now. We hope that in time, we will be able to participate in a more normal way of life, but for now, we are attending intensive therapy twice weekly with a view to increasing to three times weekly and keeping our world extremely small but manageable.

What sorts of issues did you encounter with him?

We have now had a diagnosis of global developmental delay with speech and language and social and emotional areas being described as complex / severe. Our child is four years of age but his emotional age is closer to two years and his speech is younger than that. We are also dealing with autistic traits, attachment and sensory problems, learning disability, sleep difficulties and mental health issues. With the autistic traits we are unsure at the moment, whether this is caused by his early attachment trauma or whether it will lead to a further diagnosis. Time will tell. Our child only began babbling 15 months into placement. Our life is extremely restricted.

We were told that there was a young healthy child who ate well, slept well, said a couple of words, babbled occasionally, had formed a positive attachment to its carer, with no known medical condition. The child had been removed from his birth family at a very young age. We were told that the child had slight delay which was likely to be caused by being in a placement with demanding siblings. Information regarding the child was ‘drip fed’ to us over a period of months.

Why were genetic tests then needed and what did you make of that?

During discussions regarding the child, we enquired as to the health of the siblings. There was a lot of confusion as to whether one of the siblings had been diagnosed with a condition or not, and trying to get this confirmed during the matching process was difficult. We obviously were concerned whether the condition may affect the child we were considering adopting. We were assured that our child did not have the condition and believed that our child would have been properly assessed prior to being matched and so we proceeded. The day came to attend panel to have the match approved, and for us to finally celebrate becoming a family. As we entered the building the social workers met us. We were taken into a side room where we were told that our child was now undergoing genetic testing.  We were asked whether we wished to still go ahead in front of the panel to approve the match with one social worker advising it would be ok to go ahead, and our social worker exercising caution, and advising that we should wait for the results. We were numb, confused and totally bewildered and after about 20 minutes, took the decision that we would wait for the results of the genetic tests, to see whether the match was still appropriate. We were devastated.

It was an extremely confusing time for us. Obviously, we had already emotionally committed ourselves to this child and so the thought that this may not be our child, was very difficult. We were solely reliant on the accuracy of information we were being told and this information was mixed and confusing. We had been to see the local authority’s medical advisor before, and the notes from that meeting were written up inaccurately, specifically missing out all information discussed regarding genetics, developmental delay and the medical condition. We reported this to our social worker. At this point in the process I would say we were feeling very vulnerable. The genetic tests came back negative and so the match was able to proceed.

Welfare Benefits News Bulletin

October 2013 has seen some huge changes to the benefits system and most of these remain as controversial as ever, with campaigners, disability charities and the legal profession mounting opposition to the unfairness in the new system.

Sangeeta Enright, Welfare Benefits Adviser, summarises the main changes and how these will impact on claimants.

Personal Independence Payment

Disability Living Allowance for adults (aged 16-64) was replaced, for those making new claims in June 2013, by Personal Independence Payment (PIP). The background to the change was highly controversial as the new mobility rules meant that 500,000 claimants would lose out under the new system because there was a new (tighter) threshold introduced. This meant that if you could walk between 20 metres and 50 metres, you would no longer qualify. Following a successful judicial review against the government on the failure to consult, the DWP appeared to ‘pause’ and carry out the consultation exercise required. However, it was announced, last month, that in spite of reservations and criticisms to the new 20 metre rule from nearly all the responses; they were going to keep this distance as the threshold, leading to real fears that disabled people with serious walking difficulties, who might have a Motability vehicle, will lose the vehicle and their independence if they do not qualify.

The consultation outcome of the assessment of the PIP moving around activity can be found here.

October was also supposed to be the month for reassessing existing DLA claimants for PIP, nationally; but this roll out has now been delayed in all areas apart from Wales and central England. PIP claims involve a face to face assessment which will be carried out by the private companies; Capita or Atos. There are huge concerns being reported that Atos may not be ready to deliver, whilst the DWP say they are gradually beginning to reassess DLA claimants before rolling out this process across the country. The uncertainty for many, who may have a change in their condition to report, will be difficult to bear at a time when most are worried about their finances. The timetable for reassessment can be found here.

Universal Credit and the ‘Claimant Commitment’

Universal Credit is the new benefit which will replace all the ‘working age’ benefits; income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit and Housing Benefit. It is expected to be in place by 2017. Having been trialled in Jobcentres in the Manchester area, this month sees the extension of the benefit to Hammersmith in London.

At the same time, ‘Claimant Commitment’ for Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants has also started in Jobcentres in Rugby and Inverness. The DWP says that new jobseekers will have to account more clearly for their efforts to find work in order to receive their benefit.

New claimants to Jobseeker’s Allowance will now need to sign a Claimant Commitment which sets out more fully what they need to do in order to receive state support – building on current support and providing clear information about the consequences of failing to meet requirements.

Work coaches will help claimants set out a detailed statement of what they will do to find work using a new personal work plan. Claimants will also use the plan to record what they have done. They will renew their Claimant Commitment on a regular basis.

Claimants will have to provide evidence to prove they have met the requirements in their Claimant Commitment. Those who fail to do so, without good reason, risk losing their benefits.
The Claimant Commitment is being introduced in around 100 Jobcentres a month, until it is in place across the country by spring 2014.

The new procedure for challenging DWP decisions

Mandatory reconsiderations introduced

If your decision about benefits is about PIP or Universal Credit, you may be aware that the only way of disputing the decision is to request a mandatory reconsideration and then, if you are still not happy, you can lodge your appeal.

From 28th October 2013, this process now applies to all benefits, and the concern is; that if you are disputing a decision on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), you can now, no longer, be paid ESA (at the assessment phase rate) whilst you are waiting for this mandatory reconsideration to be carried out.

It is possible to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance during this period and then ‘switch’ to ESA once you have lodged an appeal (and provide sick notes) but many are not able to do so.

The important change leaves many fearing a lack of income whilst waiting for this stage in the process. They may fear disputing their decision at all, and many appeals are successful.

It is crucial that the deadlines are not missed. A decision must be disputed within 1 month by way of mandatory reconsideration, and once this is carried out, you have 1 month to complete a form SSCS1, along with your mandatory reconsideration outcome notice, in order to lodge your own appeal directly with the Tribunals Service.

More information can be found here.

For further information on welfare reform and advice please contact Sangeeta Enright on 01484 538421.