Category Archives: Welfare benefits

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.

Spanish Tortilla in Meltham!

As part of our pro bono services, our Welfare Benefits Adviser, Sangeeta Enright runs a drop in session at the Crossroads Centre in Meltham, Huddersfield. She can be found helping people with forms, checking entitlement and ringing the DWP. She has links to contact the local MP, and can assist you to progress your appeal.

The drop-in session is held on a Tuesday morning from 10am onwards, with each session regularly attracting many visitors.

Recently; she helped a pensioner with claiming a little bit of Pension Credit to top up his state pension, help with his rent and his council tax thus making him £100 better off per week. He said he only went in to check what he was getting.

To show her how grateful he was for the help that he got from her and the volunteers at Crossroads, he made them some Spanish tortilla.

He said; “I was so surprised at how easy it all was; including the processing and payment of the claims.”

So, you never know what help you could be getting unless you ask for advice and the kettle is always on at the Crossroads centre!

Jacqui Scott is our Civil Litigation Adviser; helping individuals and businesses with advice on money they owe or are owed; and she runs her surgery on Wednesday mornings.

‘Pro bono’ means legal work undertaken without charge, or maybe in return for a little Spanish omelette!

Please contact Sangeeta or Jacqui, on 01484 538421, for more details including whether your organisation could help individuals in the community in this way.

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.

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.

New Welfare Reforms Will Bring Financial Crisis to Families

64% of all families in Britain receive some kind of welfare benefit. For 9.6 million families, these benefits make up more than half of their income. Recent welfare reforms could result in a huge number of families facing financial crisis.

Universal Credit (a new single payment for people who are looking for work or on a low income) is being slowly introduced from October 2013 throughout the welfare system. The rollout of this new benefit will be completed by the end of 2017.

One main difference between Universal Credit and the current system is that claimants will receive just one monthly payment paid into a bank account, just like a monthly salary. But for those used to being paid weekly or fortnightly the impact on their household budgeting could be catastrophic.

Jacqui Scott, a specialist debt adviser with Ridley & Hall solicitors in Huddersfield has some suggestions:

“To cut costs if you have school age children, it’s worth checking to see if your local school provides breakfast clubs or after school clubs –  www.gov.uk/childcare-out-of-school-hours. Do not forget that free school clothing is available at the discretion of local education authority; you can apply to your local council. Free school transport may be available in certain circumstances from the council and healthy start food vouchers and vitamins for expectant and new mothers of children up to 4 years old on low income:  www.healthystart.nhs.uk.”

Her advice for others facing difficult times financially is to get good advice from the right people:

“It is tempting to take out loans and to buy on credit..but that can just make a bad situation worse. I offer free initial advice on debt at the Crossroads Centre in Meltham on a Wednesday morning. My colleague Sangeeta Enright offers free welfare benefits advice there on a Tuesday morning. There are many other good sources of advice for local people including the Citizens Advice Bureau.”

Jacqui is passionate about helping people to get the help that they are entitled to:

“There is help out there, but it can be difficult to know where to go and who to ask. My role is to help people to manage their debts, in part by explaining the ways that they can reduce their outgoings.”

Some of the options that are available are:

Council Tax

Council Tax benefit has been abolished and replaced with localised Council Tax reduction schemes from April 2013. The rules are different in England and Wales. Help is no longer available for Council Tax from discretionary housing payments. Jacqui’s advice is to spread payments over 12 months rather than the standard 10 months.

Crisis/No Money

Community Care grants and Crisis loans were abolished in April 2013. Advances of benefit maybe available from the DWP if you are waiting for benefit to be paid and are in financial need.

Food Banks

Food banks sometimes provide more than a short term option and may provide other kinds of support:

The Welcome Centre
Huddersfield Methodist Mission
3-13 Lord Street
Huddersfield
HD1 1QA

Tel: 01484 340034
Web: www.thewelcomecentre.org
Email: thewelcomecentre@btconnect.com

Monday to Friday, 1pm – 4pm.

Energy and Energy Saving

You may be able to save money by changing the way that you are billed for energy and by adding energy saving measures.

Free independent advice on saving energy and the possibility of grants is available in certain circumstances to help with insulation, draught proofing, central heating and other energy measures:

www.energysavingtrust.org.uk

Jacqui says: “I suggest that people should make sure a direct debit or payment scheme has not been set too high. Check to see if you are due any rebate on payments.”

Household Goods

There are many local charities that help with recycled furniture and white goods.

Water

Check eligibility for help with water costs. Water Sure is a service available to customers on certain benefits with a high essential use of water, which can cap bills. If you are on a water meter go to www.ofwat.gov.uk.

If you are not on a water meter, use the water meter calculator on the CC Water website to see if you can save money by going on a water meter – www.ccwater.org.uk

If you are on a low income and have debts you can apply for assistance: www.ywct.org.uk

When Someone Dies

Charities or benevolent funds may be able to offer financial help when someone dies. The benevolent trust fund and bereavement payment may be available; www.gov.uk/bereavement-payment. Also check your entitlement to a funeral expenses payment; www.gov.uk/funeral-payments.

British Gas can help if outstanding funeral expenses are causing hardship; www.britishgasenergytrust.org.uk/help/grants-for-individuals-help-pages/how-can-the-trust-help

Travel

Compare fuel prices at www.petrolprices.com

These are difficult times for families, especially those living in poverty. There is help and advice available but Jacqui Scott is deeply concerned:

“As the effects of the introduction of Universal Credit start to be felt, there are going to be many families in our area that will be very severely affected. Since legal aid has been withdrawn from welfare benefits and debt advice, the system relies on the charitable sector. And it’s struggling to keep up already with the demand for advice.”

For more information on welfare benefits, please contact Ridley & Hall on 01484 538421 or by e-mail and ask to speak to Jacqui Scott or Sangeeta Enright.

Latest ‘Bedroom Tax’ Challenge against the Government for Grandparent Carers

The controversial government policy faces a new challenge as Child Poverty Action Group has recently issued judicial review proceedings.

Mr and Mrs Rutherford look after their grandson Warren who has a rare genetic disorder. They rent a bungalow from a housing association in Pembrokeshire, Wales, which has been specially adapted for Warren’s needs. However, when the Government changed the rules in April 2013, the grandparents were told their housing benefits would be cut by 14%, as they had a third bedroom in their home and they would have to pay the shortfall themselves.

They argued that the room was needed for carers who stayed the night regularly to look after Warren and to store equipment relating to his disability. Mr Rutherford contacted the Grandparents Legal Centre and was put in touch with our Welfare Benefits Adviser, Sangeeta Enright.  Sangeeta listened to their story and assisted them to appeal their benefits decision urgently and to claim a discretionary housing payment. The story was widely reported as the Papworth Trust became involved and soon Channel 4 news, as well as the Welsh press, began to report how unfairly the new ‘bedroom tax’ policy was operating. The shortage of appropriate housing for tenants to move to was also being reported.

The controversial policy is facing many other challenges with some appeals succeeding at tribunals in Fife and Westminster. The case of ten other tenants went to judicial review, on different grounds to the Rutherfords’ case and lost as the judge decided that the discrimination was not unlawful. That case has just been allowed to be appealed further to the Court of Appeal. Carers and disability organisations and many campaigners are beginning to see some hope at last for the tenants in rent arrears facing the real threat of eviction.

Read more about the Rutherford case here

Sangeeta Enright, Ridley & Hall Solicitors

Sangeeta Enright
Email Address
Tel     : 01484 538421
ddi     : 01484 558879

Welfare Reform – Benefits Advice

The government’s plans for shaking up welfare reform are making many people anxious.

At Ridley & Hall Solicitors we believe that people who need help should be able to get personalised support and help during their lives if they are facing difficult times. The need for tailored welfare benefits advice has never been greater. Changes to welfare reform have started to hit individuals and families with low income and in June and October 2013 we will see some more reforms.

With funding cuts hitting the public and voluntary sector as well as big changes to Legal Aid, it is harder to seek out advice and help. Welfare rights advisers keep up to date. They seek to challenge unfair policy and get you the best outcome possible so that you can move forward with your life and support others who may be relying on you for care.

Are you claiming DLA?

You may have heard about the changes to Disability Living Allowance (DLA). For claimants aged 16 or over there is a new benefit called Personal Independence Payment (PIP) from June 2013. PIP is not means-tested and if you have disabilities, you may qualify. At present, DLA will remain for children under 16.

People over 16 already on DLA are expected to be assessed to transfer to PIP by the end of 2016.

Are you caring for a child with a disability?

Many grandparent or kinship carers are not aware that they may be able to claim DLA in respect of the child they are caring for.

For example: Does the child have a Statement of Educational Needs? If you are caring for a child with difficult behaviour, which could be an autistic spectrum disorder or attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) you should seek our advice? However, if it does not fit these categories, contact us for advice anyway.

It is vital that you have specialist advice as to whether you are receiving the right benefits for them and for you as a carer.

Are you approaching state retirement age?

Are you satisfied that you are getting the correct benefits and support? Welfare reform will bring some changes to benefits for older people in spite of government assurances that they will be protected. It is important to seek advice as to whether you or your partner could qualify for pension credit before October 2013. It is believed that around a third of pensioner households entitled to pension credit are not claiming it. Take up is low, especially amongst those that own their own home.

Other areas we can help with are:

  • Housing benefit and the impact of ‘bedroom tax’ decisions
  • Appeals in relation to employment and support allowance, attendance allowance and the benefits already mentioned above
  • Overpayment appeals and recovery
  • Complaints against the DWP for maladministration
  • Tax credits decisions and disputes

Our experienced welfare benefits adviser, Sangeeta Enright, would be happy to discuss your needs with you and offer advice with transparent details of fixed fees for different types of assistance. She specialises in disability benefits and has had training on autistic spectrum disorders. She has a record of success with her appeals and actively assists with negotiation and obtaining evidence. Sangeeta listens with empathy and gives pragmatic advice on your options.

We have a strong and dynamic Community Care team and we care about the issues that you are facing. Our team can help you in a variety of ways. As well as individualised, practical welfare benefits advice, we also provide the following:

  • Assessment of social care needs
  • Care/support plans
  • Direct payments for care
  • Kinship and adoption support
  • Fostering/SGO/residence order allowances
  • Adaptations to the home
  • Funding for social care
  • Judicial review
  • Court of Protection

Please contact Sangeeta or a member of the Community Care team on 01484 538 421.

Please note: We can no longer offer advice and assistance funded by Legal Aid for welfare benefits.

Welfare Benefits News

As the government makes significant changes to our benefits system, many people are left wondering which changes will really affect them and when? We get many enquiries from people who are confused about what they are reading in the papers.

It is important to plan for the changes as much as possible. If your family will be much worse off, especially if either you or any family members are disabled, then you may wish to let your local MP know. This way the evidence can be passed on when policies are being debated.

Legal Aid changes

We provide welfare benefits advice on range of issues mainly under the Legal Help scheme. The government has changed the rules on legal aid in many areas of law. As a result I will not be able to take on such cases any more after April 2013.

Currently, we can help you with your case if it involves the following issues:

  • ESA and DLA Appeals to First Tier Tribunal and to Upper Tribunal
  • Overpayments of Social Security Benefits, Housing / Council Tax Benefit or Tax Credits
  • Social Fund Reviews
  • Tax Credits disputes and complaints
  • DWP maladministration
  • Pension Credit disputes
  • JSA sanctions
  • Advice on DWP policies or human rights issues

Please contact the office on 01484 538421 if you have low income or benefit income and would like help under the Legal Help scheme before April 2013.

After April 2013, you are welcome to contact me to discuss what help you need and we will advise further on the options available.

Benefits Changes Timetable:

April 2013

  • Local housing allowance rates are increased with the lower of the Consumer Prices Index or the increase in the lowest 30 per cent of market rents.
  • The ‘appropriate maximum housing benefit’ for social sector rents is introduced.
  • Council tax benefit is replaced by ‘localised support’.
  • Personal independence payment is introduced as a replacement for disability living allowance. Claims will be transferred between 2013 and 2017.
  • Crisis loans and community care grants are abolished and replaced by ‘localised support’.
  • The ‘benefit cap’ is introduced.

October 2013

  • Universal credit is introduced.
  • No new claims for income support, income-based jobseekers’ allowance or income-related employment and support allowance.

April 2014

  • No new claims for housing benefit or tax credits.
  • Claims will be transferred to universal credit between April 2014 and 2017.
  • During this period, housing benefit is abolished and a housing credit is introduced in pension credit with a capital limit.

2014

  • Bereavement benefit reform.

From April 2013, there will be a limit on the amount of benefit you can get if you’re of working age. This is called the benefit cap. Some people will get less benefit than before, although this will only affect you if you are getting housing benefit. Some people will not be affected by the cap at all, for example, if you qualify for working tax credit or you’re on some disability benefits.

Even though the cap doesn’t come into effect until next year, it is important to know about it now. If the cap affects you, your housing benefit will go down in April 2013 and you may need to plan for this.

If you been told your housing benefit will be cut you can apply to your local council Housing Benefit department for a discretionary housing payment. However, councils only have a limited amount of money and will have to weigh up the priorities.

For further information please contact Sangeeta Enright or call 01484 538421.