2014 02 Welfare Benefits

Saturday 1 March 2014

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‘Bedroom Tax’ Round-Up

The UN's Special Rapporteur, Raquel Rolnik’s Report on adequate housing became available on 3 February 2014 (click here). In her Report the Special Rapporteur says that:

  • the policy was introduced without having been piloted in advance;
  • in its own impact assessment the DWP had admitted that there is a mismatch between household size and the availability of suitable homes in the social sector for under-occupying claimants to downsize into;
  • she heard testimonies about people facing hard choices, between food, heating or paying the rent;
  • discretionary housing payments are not designed to, and could never compensate for, the amount of money being removed from benefit entitlement; and
  • the DWP’s assessment of the level of savings from the policy fail to take into account additional costs incurred by local authorities and third-sector organisations,

As a result, amongst a series of recommendations, Ms Rolnik says that the removal of the spare-room subsidy should be suspended so that it can be “fully re-evaluated in light of the evidence of its negative impacts on the right to adequate housing and general well-being of many vulnerable individuals and households.”

See also - the government’s response to the report by Housing Minister Kris Hopkins (click here) and the guardian article ‘Ministers savage UN report calling for abolition of UK's bedroom tax’ (click here).

Two thirds of households hit by the bedroom tax are in rent arrears according to survey of 183 housing associations published by the National Housing Federation on 12 February 2014 (click here). In addition, more than one in seven affected households had received an eviction risk letter by October 2013. The research also found that housing associations have invested millions of pounds to mitigate the impacts of the bedroom tax.

Up to 50,000 households could have been 'charged' the bedroom tax in error, according to responses to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests from 140 local authorities. This is a substantially higher figure than the 3,000-5,000 the DWP had estimated. Source: ‘Bedroom tax’ wrongly levied on thousands of homes’- the Independent 12 February 2014 – click here

On 31 January 2014 the Scottish Welfare Reform Committee produced a series of evidence sessions about the impact of the bedroom tax (click here) in which it said that the level of discretionary housing payments originally allocated by the DWP to deal with the impact of the bedroom tax did not match the scale of the problem. On 6 February 2014 the Scottish Parliament voted in favour of extra £12m to increase the money available through discretionary housing payments in order to prevent evictions solely due to the bedroom tax - see ‘Parliament backs 2014-2015 budget’ on the Scottish Government website – click here

On 21 February 2014, the Court of Appeal ruled that, whilst the bedroom tax discriminates against people with disabilities, the discriminatory effect of the policy is justified: - R(MA & Others) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2014] EWCA Civ 13 - click here

The Benefit Cap

DWP statistics published on 6 February 2014 show that, in December 2013 –

  • 28,434 households had their housing benefit capped;
  • 60 per cent of households had between one and four children and 36 per cent had five or more children;
  • 59 per cent of households constituted a single parent with child dependants; and
  • 22 per cent of households were capped by more than £100.

The DWP statistical publication Benefit cap: households capped and off flows, data to December 2013 (click here) and the accompanying DWP press release (click here) are both available on gov.uk

On 21 February 2014 the Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal against the household benefit cap brought by two appellants who had fled violent marriages with their children - R (SG & Ors) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions & Ors [2014] EWCA Civ 156 – click here.

Employment and Support Allowance and Atos

On 6 February 2014 the Work and Pensions Committee has announced an inquiry into employment and support allowance (ESA) and work capability assessments (WCAs) (click here). The Committee says that it is interested to hear views on -

  • delivery of the WCA by Atos;
  • the effectiveness of the WCA in indicating whether claimants are fit for work, especially for those claimants who have mental, progressive or fluctuating illnesses;
  • the process and criteria for procuring new providers of the WCA;
  • the ESA entitlement decision-making process;
  • the reconsideration and appeals process;
  • the impact of time-limiting contributory ESA;
  • outcomes for people determined fit for work or assigned to the work related activity group or the support group; and
  • the interaction between ESA and universal credit implementation.

NB - the deadline for responses to the inquiry is 21 March 2014.

On 21 February 2014 Atos Healthcare said it is seeking ‘early exit’ from WCA contract – source BBC News (click here). The announcement follows reports that government is preparing to 'oust' provider from its £500m contract – source the Guardian 17 February 2014 (click here). On 25 February 2014 the Minister for Disabled People told Parliament that he intends to 'get out of' WCA contract, but without penalising tax payer: Hansard 24 Feb 2014 Column 1 (click here).

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) Round UP

According to new statistics in 'Personal Independence Payment: Management Information', published on 11 February 2014 (click here) sets out figures on new claims and decisions for the period 8 April 2013 to 31 December 2013. These show that:

  • the DWP mades a decision on less than one in five new personal independence payment (PIP) claims in the period up to December 2013;
  • In relation to new claims, the DWP had received a total of 229,700 claims, with 9,400 of those being made under the special rules for those considered to be terminally ill;
  • there is a marked decrease in the cumulative percentage of decisions leading to an award, from 88 per cent in June 2013 to 50 per cent by December 2013.

Poor early operational performance by the DWP is leading to 'long and uncertain delays' for personal independence payment (PIP) claimants, according to the National Audit Office’s report 'Personal Independence Payment: early progress', published on 27 February 2014 (click here). Whilst the DWP used a phased roll-out to reduce the risks in the programme, it left little time to test whether it could handle a large volume of claims. As result, when the assessment process took longer than expected, backlogs soon developed so that, by 25 October 2013, the Department had made only 16 per cent of the number of decisions it expected. This means claimants are experiencing long delays to benefit decisions, and the DWP is not able to tell them how long they are likely to wait. As a result, it recommends that the DWP set out a clear plan for informing claimants about the likely delays they will experience while plans to improve performance take effect, or in the event of problems in the future.

In the February 2014 edition of its Touchbase magazine (click here), the DWP says it is taking steps to improve the processes for personal independence payment (PIP) claimants who are terminally ill and that these measures are designed to clear any cases that may have been held up including -

  • providing a single postal address for the DS1500 forms for PIP claims;
  • reviewing outstanding cases in order to identify why some have been held up and resolving them on a case by case basis;
  • the introduction, later this month, of a dedicated telephone claim service to be accessed as a menu choice through the normal PIP claims number.

Benefit Sanctions - Figures

According to new DWP statistics published on 19 February 2014 (click here), more than 800,000 sanctions have been applied to jobseeker's allowance (JSA) claimants in the period up to September 2013 under the tougher regime introduced in England, Scotland and Wales on 22 October 2012:

  • 152,123 applied for failing to attend an Advisory Interview; and
  • 242,973 applied for failing to participate in the Work Programme.

In addition, the new figures confirm that more than 19,000 sanctions were applied to employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants under the regime introduced on 3 December 2012, with

  • 14,492 applied for failure to participate in Work Related Activity; and
  • 4,385 applied for failure to attend a mandatory interview.

Archbishop of Westminster criticises government’s welfare reforms

Speaking to the Telegraph on 17 February 2014, (click here) Archbishop Nichols, who is the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, said –

'People do understand that we do need to tighten our belts and be much more responsible and careful in public expenditure.

But I think what is happening is two things: one is that the basic safety net that was there to guarantee that people would not be left in hunger or in destitution has actually been torn apart. It no longer exists and that is a real, real dramatic crisis.

And the second is that, in this context, the administration of social assistance, I am told, has become more and more punitive. So if applicants don’t get it right then they have to wait for 10 days, for two weeks with nothing - with nothing.

For a country of our affluence, that quite frankly is a disgrace.'

See also the media reports below:

  • David Cameron: Why the Archbishop of Westminster is wrong about welfare – Telegraph 18 February 2014 – click here
  • New Catholic cardinal renews attack on 'disgraceful' UK austerity cuts – Guardian 18 February 2014 – click here
  • Letter from 43 Christian leaders, including 26 Anglican Bishops, calls on government to act to end hunger – Mirror 20 February 2014 – click here

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