2014 12 Welfare Benefits

Thursday 1 January 2015

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GP poll shows increase in patients needing advice

An opinion poll of GPs published on 3 December 2014 by the Legal Action Group found that a majority of doctors believed that the number of their patients who would have benefited from legal or specialist advice has increased in the past year:

67% of GPs reported an increased need in relation to benefits;
65% with debts/financial problems;
65% with issues at work;
54% with housing problems;
55% with community care; and
30% with immigration.

A total of 88% of the GPs questioned agreed that patients not being able to get legal or specialist advice about their problems would have a negative impact on their health either to a great or to some extent. Click here for the report – ‘Health Legal advice – Findings from an opinion poll of GPs.

Autumn Statement

In his Autumn Statement 2014, the Chancellor announced further restrictions on benefits for European Economic Area (EEA)migrants:

  • from February 2015, the Genuine Prospect of Work (GPoW) assessment will apply to all EEA migrants who began claiming jobseeker's allowance (JSA) before these changes were introduced on 1 January 2014, and those who do not have clear job prospects will see their claim ended and their right to reside in the UK as a jobseeker withdrawn; and
  • all EEA migrants’ access to JSA will be limited to 3 months, subject to the GPoW assessment.

For further details see ‘Removal of entitlement to housing benefit for EEA jobseekers’ on Free Movement.

Inquiry into Hunger in the UK

In a new report, 'Feeding Britain', published 8 December 2014, the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the United Kingdom - which was funded by the Archbishop of Canterbury's Charitable Trust and co-chaired by Frank Field MP and the Bishop of Truro Tim Thornton - considered the reasons behind the large rise in the use of food banks, and associated provision of emergency food assistance, over the last few years. The Inquiry concluded that - whilst there are a number of reasons behind food poverty including low wages, debt and high cost credit - benefit problems were the single biggest reason given for food bank referrals by almost every food bank that presented evidence. As a result, the Inquiry made a number of recommendations for reforms to the benefit system. These include recommendations in relation to: benefit delays, mandatory reconsiderations, payment for medical evidence, short term benefit advances, sanctions, the claimant commitment and local welfare assistance funding. Recommendations include:

  • the benefits system be able to deliver payments quickly within five working days.
  • make it a part of a GPs role to provide evidence in relation to benefit claims
  • DWP should automatically consider paying a short term benefit advance if a benefit claim has not been paid within five working days.
  • the DWP to consider introducing a time limit for the mandatory reconsideration period
  • claimants should be given a ‘Yellow Card’ warning with the chance to provide an explanation for a first offence before a sanction is applied.
  • the claimant commitment
  • that the government continues to protect local welfare assistance funding.

The All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger report Feeding Britain is available from foodpovertyinquiry.org

DWP Figures

According to DWP figures, published on 9 December 2014, in response to freedom of information request, more than 900,000 jobseeker’s allowance claimants sanctioned between April 2013 and March 2014. The DWP's freedom of information response on JSA claimants sanctioned between April 2013 and March 2014 is available from gov.uk.

According to DWP figures, published on 10 December 2014, in response to freedom of information request, more than 60 per cent of the employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants sanctioned between January and March 2014 had mental health problems. The DWP FOI response on ESA sanctions is available from gov.uk.

Report by Mind

In a report published on 11 December 2014, Mind has called for people with mental health problems to be taken off mainstream back-to-work schemes and moved to a specialist programme as more than 80 per cent of those surveyed said that back-to-work support from Work Programme or Jobcentre Plus had made their mental health worse. The Mind report We’ve got work to do: transforming employment and back-to-work support for people with mental health problems is available from mind.org.uk.

See also ‘Work Programme adviser: ‘Almost every day one of my clients mentioned feeling suicidal’ in The Guardian, 5 November 2014.

Government considering cuts to employment and support allowance

Proposed cuts to ESA of as much as £30 – so it is effectively worth the same as jobseeker’s allowance – are being considered, DWP confirms. See The Guardian 30 November 2014.

Mandatory Reconsiderations

The report 'Mandatory Reconsiderations, requests and decisions to October 2014, Great Britain', published by the DWP on 17 December 2014 sets out the first statistics on the mandatory reconsideration process that was introduced in April 2013 for DWP administered benefits. The main findings include:

  • since October 2013, there have been over 362,000 mandatory reconsideration requests made;
  • of these, 49 per cent were related to ESA and 30 per cent related to jobseeker's allowance
  • 75 per cent ESA mandatory reconsiderations were cleared within 30 days;
  • 52 per cent were cleared within 14 calendar days;
  • 25 per cent took more than 30 days to clear; and
  • an additional 4,000 ESA cases remained outstanding at 31 October 2014.

The statistical report is available from gov.uk.

Case law

In Secretary of Secretary of State for work and Pensions v David Nelson and Fife Council (Housing and council tax benefits : other) [2014] UKUT 525 (AAC) (Mr Justice Charles, Lady Stacey and Upper Tribunal Judge May QC). The claimant was a social housing tenant, the landlord being Fife Council. It was accepted that there were two bedrooms in the property to which he was entitled. However, Fife Council, assessed the property as having three bedrooms and reduced the claimant's housing benefit by 14 per cent under Regulation B13 of the Housing Benefit Regulations 2006, SI No 2013. The claimant appealed to the First-tier Tribunal who allowed the appeal on the grounds that the third room was not a bedroom because its floor area was not large enough. The Secretary of State appealed to the Upper Tribunal. The UT found that the 'space standards' set out in the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 are not determinative as to whether a room is a bedroom for the purposes of the Removal of the Spare Room Subsidy policy (aka the bedroom tax) in regulation B13. But size is a factor. Where there is a dispute as to whether a room is in fact a bedroom and a local authority decides that it is, it should provide the tenant with reasons for its decision. The panel of judges held that the starting point for determining whether a room is a bedroom is the landlord’s description of the property. The assessment would normally ignore what it is actually being used for by the tenant. However, it might still be open to a claimant to argue that a room should not be regarded as a bedroom if it is being used to help a claimant cope with his or her disability.

“27 In our view, when read as a whole Regulation B13 provides that in determining whether there is under occupancy that triggers a reduction in housing benefit:

  1. the use or potential use of the relevant room or rooms can be by any of the people listed in sub-paragraphs (5) and (6), [i.e a child, an overnight carer or an adult].
  2. the impact of this is that it has to be considered whether the relevant room or rooms could be used by any of the listed people, and
  3. designation or choices made by the family as to who should occupy rooms as bedrooms or how rooms should be used is unlikely to have an impact on the application of the regulation.

(We have not expressed point (iii) in absolute terms because it was not the focus of argument in this case and without such focused argument we do not consider that it would be appropriate to say that such designation or choice can never be relevant and the qualification made in paragraph 29 below is relevant.)

28 As to the points made in paragraph 27(ii) and (iii). It is in our view clear:

  1. that the underlying purpose of Regulation B13 would be undermined if this was not the case, and
  2. that purpose and that interpretation of the regulation shows that the test is focused on the availability of rooms that could be used as bedrooms by any of the listed people and thus essentially the assessment of a property when vacant; rather than how it is actually being used from time to time. It seems to us that this is so because a part of the underlying purpose must be to free up homes that are being under occupied so that they can be used by others with an entitlement to the number of bedrooms in the property or to encourage the existing occupiers to make under occupied bedrooms available to others.

29 However, this does not mean that issues concerning the designation of rooms as between living room(s), kitchen, bathroom, lavatory, storeroom and bedroom do not arise. For example, issues could arise (a) as to what should be designated as the living /dining areas of a property, and (b) the impact of a conversion of room to a bathroom or wet room (which could normally only be done lawfully with the consent of the landlord).”

In disposing of the case the panel found that in this case the room in question was designed to be a bedroom, and had always been designated by the landlord as a bedroom, and that: -

i) it can accommodate a single bed in a way that enables access to the built in cupboard and free floor space,

ii) it is of a normal height,

iii) it has a window,

iv) it is heated and ventilated in a similar way to the other rooms used as bedrooms and living rooms, and

v) albeit that it is a small room (8 ft by 8 ft) it does not have any physical features or drawbacks that prevent it being used as a bedroom for a child, an overnight carer or indeed an adult (on a full or part time basis).” (para [64])

Click here for a transcrip of the judgment.

See also ‘The elephant in the bedroom’ on Nearly Legal.

The DWP has issued guidance on the decision in HB U6/2014. See also the article on the DWP guidance in Nearly Legal - Not quite, Minister.

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