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News and Opinions about MS, Health & Disability

Doubt that ‘missing’ benefits letter was ever sent

Postal delivery services make mistakes. They all do, from time to time. To err is human and those services are run by …. wait for it …. humans.

Those services can deliver mail after a delay and sometimes, but extremely rarely, they manage to lose it, so it never turns up at the intended destination.

Then, there are those “it’s in the post” people who say they have sent you a letter, but haven’t really. Worse still, though, are organisations that make a habit of saying “we sent you a letter”, when they didn’t.

The UK government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) causes numerous allegations of this sort of behavior. Just look at these examples, originally published by voxpolitical.com website.

Example 1 A new mother – and her baby – are facing eviction because the DWP cut off her Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Why? The DWP claimed she had missed an appointment for a Work Capability Assessment (WCA) even though she protests that she was not told about the appointment.

Letter delivery assumed by DWP

letterThe department says it “can be assumed” that the letter was delivered as there was no evidence to the contrary. But, how can anyone prove they did NOT receive a letter? Evidence of something not happening never exists. As some organisations say ‘proof of posting is not proof of delivery’.

This young mother says she had no idea any letter had been sent, until the DWP sent her one – which did arrive – asking her why she hadn’t turned up to the WCA.

Example 2 Nicol Hart, on the Vox Political Facebook page, wrote: “They (the DWP) DON’T care…!! No one believes that the letters are even sent out…!! It is a deliberate ploy by the DWP to manufacture a reason to stop paying people benefits…!! I know people who have never had the letters and have had their benefits stopped because they never received any letter informing them of an interview that had been arranged for them.

Sitting in the home of a claimant, I watched him open his mail and there WAS a letter there notifying him of an appointment made for him by the DWP…!! The only PROBLEM was – that the appointment was for 2 days BEFORE the letter arrived at his house…!!

Example 3 A lone parent family member arrived at usual signing on time. She was told: “You should have been here two hours ago. We sent a letter. You’re sanctioned.” “I didn’t get a letter,” she said. “We sent it,” they maintained.

She rang me in tears, I told her to go back in and ask to see a supervisor, and to ask the supervisor to print a copy of supposed letter or record thereof, off her file. Surprise, there wasn’t one, because it was never sent. Payments restored. Trust destroyed.

Letter of the law?

Vox Political  commented: “The evidence is clear: The Department for Work and Pensions lies about its activities. DWP officers either deliberately fail to send appointment letters to vulnerable people or they delay those letters until after the date of the appointments. Then they claim they are above suspicion and accuse innocent people of dishonesty.

“This has to end.”

I agree. It’s high time, that people who are sick, have a disability, or are vulnerable, were treated with respect and honesty. Whether or not the DWP is capable of that is another matter. It’s certainly open to doubt.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not blaming individuals here. The real problem is the all-pervading culture of the DWP, a culture that starts at the top.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Good news about WCAs and Scotland BUT Universal Credit to roll out faster

As dust settles following UK prime minister Theresa May’s farcical conference speech, there’s mixed news for people claiming disability benefits. This includes people with MS and other diseases that cause disability.

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Theresa May’s distress call at party conference (Pic: Daily Star).

Good news is some Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) recipients will no longer face repeated work capability assessments (WCAs).   

I say ‘some’ as this is only a limited concession. It affects claimants in the ESA support group or any with limited capability for work-related activity for Universal Credit (UC).

There are two further conditions to qualify for exemption from repeat WCAs. Firstly, claimants need to have a severe, lifelong disability, illness, or health condition. Secondly, they must be unlikely to ever be able to move into work.

Department for Work and Pensions secretary David Gauke said this week: “After early tests of this approach, it has now been implemented and I can tell you that around twice as many people are expected to benefit from this reform than were originally thought.”

The government has devolved, to the Scottish parliament at Holyrood, control of some benefits paid to people living in Scotland. These benefits include Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Disabled Living Allowance (DLA), and Carer’s Allowance.

Holyrood has decided that Scottish people should get a better deal than anyone elsewhere in the UK.

Disability benefit changes for the Scots

It has decided that, in Scotland:

  • Benefits will rise annually by at least the rate of inflation.
  • Private companies will no longer be allowed to carry out assessments for disability benefits such as PIP, DLA, and Attendance Allowance.
  • Any child in receipt of DLA will be given an automatic award of that DLA to age 18, to allow for continuity for families.
  • Mandatory reconsiderations of claim denials will have to take place within a set time limit or claimants will be able to take their case to a tribunal without needing to wait any longer.

Perhaps, other parts of the UK will follow suit in due course. We can only live in hope – certainly not in expectation.

On the downside, the government has decided to continue to roll out the highly criticized Universal Credit. However, it is now doing so 10 times faster than originally planned. Now, 50 areas a month will transfer to the new benefit, instead of just 5.

Compassionate? DWP secretary David Gauke (Picture: South West Herts Conservatives Association).

The government decided to proceed despite warnings of ‘disaster’ and a ‘human and political catastrophe’ from the Citizens’ Advice Bureau and politicians from all parties, including 12 Conservative MPs

What seems perverse to me is that this government takes pride iin the harshness with which it treats claimants, while always claiming to be compassionate.

In his speech, Gauke also spoke of the government’s vision. He said: “It is a vision of the welfare state that is compassionate, practical and aspirational. It is, in short, a Conservative vision for a modern welfare state.”

Compassionate? No, just some sick joke.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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DWP fights to hide WCA ‘under-performance’ and PIP assessments

I suppose, by now, that the ineptitude of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should not surprise me. And while that is true, what does amaze me is its ability to keep proving it – over and over again.

Right now, besides all its usual carryings on, the department is fighting two similar but separate battles. It is trying its best, or maybe its worst, to hide information from the public. Information that we have a right to know.

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Photo: The Independent

First, the DWP is trying to hide from public scrutiny a report showing how well assessment company Maximus is doing. The company carries out the controversial, and widely despised, work capability assessment (WCA) for the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). It also includes a look at Atos’s record as far back as 2011.

The Information Commissioner has already ordered the release of a copy of the report, which would give a breakdown of Maximus’s performance at each assessment centre. The DWP, however, is refusing to publish it and is now taking the case to an information tribunal.

Under-performance could damage reputations

The DWP claims that the information could “give a perception of under-performance’ which could ‘damage the reputation and standing of the companies involved”.

Duh, that’s the point. We all know the WCAs are a mess, this report would go towards proving just how bad it is. And the DWP as good as admits that the report could damage the standing of both Maximus and Atos.

The government ministry is therefore claiming that the report is exempt from disclosure because publishing it could damage the commercial interests of both Maximus and Atos, as well as the DWP itself.

Its second fight is to hide differences between Atos and Capita assessments, this time for the Personal Independence Payment (PIP),

This time the DWP is refusing to release training materials which would potentially highlight difference between the way that Atos and Capita carry out PIP assessments, according to Benefits and Work (B&W).

DWP refuses Freedom of Information request to hide facts

hideBack in June, Benefits and Work made a Freedom of Information Act request for training and guidance materials issued by Atos to staff carrying out PIP assessments. Detailed guidance covers issues such as the way in which requests for the recording of PIP assessments are dealt with.

However, the DWP refused to release the guidance on the grounds that it was commercially confidential.

The campaigning website asked the DWP to reconsider its decision. B&W says these are not commercially confidential matters and there is a strong public interest in how PIP is administered on a day-to-day basis.

It says: “If there is a difference in how PIP is managed by different companies, then this is also a strong matter of public interest. Claimants ought to be able to be sure that their assessment is a standardised one and not one based on which company carries it out.”

The DWP, however, is having none of it. Once again, it continues to hide the documents because it considers them to be commercially confidential.

DWP says “commercially confidential” tag exempts it from FoI

The DWP said: “Release of this information would reveal to their competitors commercially sensitive information which would disadvantage IAS’s (Independent Assessment Service, the name that Atos now uses) competitive position in the marketplace.

“This in turn would prejudice the ability of the department to secure best value for the taxpayer when the contract is re-tendered. Release of this type of key financial information would also undermine the effectiveness of the department’s future dealings with IAS or other service providers.”

A B&W spokesman said: “The DWP now routinely refuses a large proportion of freedom of information requests on the grounds of commercial confidentiality. It does this without attempting to justify in any way how anyone’s interests would be threatened.

“Benefits and Work is now applying to the Information Commissioner to have the documents disclosed.”

I receive both ESA and DLA, because of disability caused by MS. As such, I cannot allow horrendous cover-ups like these to go unchallenged – and I urge you to do the same. Public interest and freedom of information must triumph over so-called ‘commercial confidentiality’.

That is just a smokescreen behind which the DWP is using to hide the facts…the facts we need and deserve to see.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Clinical Writer with Healthline, the fastest growing health information site. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Charity vilified as it lends manager to government

Unbelievable, grossly inconsiderate and just plain barmy.

Why UK mental health charity Mind would agree to the one-year secondment of one of its senior managers to the government’s tainted Department of Work and Pensions is as incomprehensible as it is stupid.

It has been reported that the charity’s policy and campaigns manager Tom Pollard will be working with DWP on secondment as a senior policy adviser.

And, as a slap in the face for all people with disabilities, including those with multiple sclerosis, he will be working on areas such as the government’s upcoming green paper on employment support for disabled people, the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and support in jobcentres.

The news has been met with derision and fury along with calls for MIND chief executive Paul Farmer to resign.

Disability activists say the charity has betrayed al people with disabilities by failing to speak out strongly enough on behalf of benefit claimants who have been harmed, or even died, as a result of DWP’s much-criticised WCA “fitness for work” test.

The Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) is also angry about Mind’s decision to quit a long-running court case to force government ministers to make the WCA safer. Denise McKenna, co-founder of MHRN, said Mind was “a disgrace”, and had only pulled out of involvement with the court case because it wanted to secure back-to-work contracts from DWP.

She said: “MHRN won’t be leaving things at this, we want change at the very top of national Mind and will be demanding Farmer’s resignation. He was rewarded with a CBE for colluding with the Tories.”

According to the Disability News Service, Ms McKenna wrote to Farmer after hearing of Pollard’s secondment, telling him: “On looking at your strategy for the next five years we see that there is no mention of the devastating welfare reforms that are destroying the lives of many people with mental health problems.

“Are we to take it that you are blissfully unaware of the misery and devastation being visited upon people who live with mental distress?”

She added: “MHRN cannot accept the role that Mind is playing in helping the government push through policies that are deeply damaging to the people you claim to represent.

“We do not recognise you as an ally of people who live with mental health problems and would like to hear what plans you have to redeem yourself in our eyes.”

Vicki Nash, head of policy and campaigns for Mind, said Pollard would be “advising on the most appropriate and effective ways to support and engage with people with mental health problems across a range of policy issues”, and that his “longstanding work on these issues gives him the expertise to advise the DWP”.

She said: “We have long been calling for greater mental health expertise within the department.

“This is a great opportunity to help ensure that these policies are as supportive and effective as possible for people with mental health problems.”

She said that Mind was “politically-neutral” and claimed that it had “continued to push the DWP to reform the WCA through meetings with MPs and civil servants” and through campaign and media work.”

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ian profile50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, who is Managing Editor (columns division) of BioNews Services. BioNews is owner of 50 disease-specific news and information websites – including MS News Today. Ian has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.

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