The right to take notes

Maximus doodle

Every so often we have to remind the powers that be that claimants and their friends always have a right to take notes at interviews – as is clearly stated in the DWP’s own guidance documents. Most recently, we had to write the following letter to Maximus, who run the Work Capability Assessments in Scotland:

We are writing because we are concerned that your Dundee assessment centre is giving confusing advice about taking notes in assessments. We have been informed by someone who accompanied a friend to her assessment recently that, rather than the usual warning that you can take notes but these won’t be treated as an official record, she was simply told that she couldn’t use her notes in a tribunal. This is both incorrect (they can be used but won’t necessarily be accepted as an accurate account), and likely to make an already worrying situation worse. Personal notes can be an important aide memoire, and it is very worrying if people are being discouraged from taking or keeping them. It is also unnecessary to raise the spectre of a future tribunal. The assessor had gone out of the room to ask advice on this, which suggests that this confusion is likely to be replicated by others. Please can you insure that all your assessors are fully aware of the rules on note taking and the correct procedures for conveying those rules?

We got an almost instant response from Maximus saying they would inform their Dundee centre. We have heard nothing from Dundee, but trust they have taken the message on board…

Please let us know if you are having similar problems anywhere. We know this sort of misinformation can be common as well as damaging. And always insist that you have a right to take notes – which you don’t have to show them.

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 Watch out for workfare!

boycott workfare new logo

Our last week’s post about unpaid work for M&S got a huge response. We have collected some of the comments below. Please let us know if you are being asked to work for nothing. Businesses that are exploiting the unemployed need to be NAMED AND SHAMED.

J – 3 years ago I worked for M&S for two weeks full time unpaid with the promise of a job at the end of it… guess what I’m still waiting

K – I’ll be getting put on this in October as “it will help get me experience”

A – I did 4 weeks with M&S. Got a job out of it for 3 months. Told they would extend my contract but didn’t
Went back on benefits and went from JSA to UC losing out on £250 a month

M – I was on that scheme for 4 weeks and it was horrible

Was hoping to get a job out if it
NOPE…

I was sent there by a scheme who help people who are struggling to find work…
It was a year ago and my experience told me not to work for M and S ever
They only care about sales and you have to be pushy even in food it was horrid…

What struck me is that I told the people who sent me to M and S that I’m not good at approaching customers and sales, assuming they’d pass this along to M and S. Nope, so when I was not very good at this and not pushy with upselling stuff I was told off, and I’m like I am not good at this and I hate it as a customer so why would I want to do it to other customers…

I mean, I was told that I could get a job out of it, that’s why I did it. Out of the 4 people who started including me, the only one who got a job was the guy who had come out of retirement. We weren’t all disabled we were just finding it hard to find work. There were 2 girls as well one who was in a wheelchair who didn’t get jobs; then again the store was not wheelchair friendly if you were staff…
I was getting shit from the Jobcentre for not looking for work at the same time, even though I thought it was better to concentrate on the placement to help improve my chances…

Also we had a £3 allowance for lunch each day but in M and S you’d be lucky if that got you a basic sandwich.

I did a similar scheme for Tesco but within 2 days of being there, they wanted to hire me cause I was able to stack shelves. I’ve been there 9 months almost.

[This writer liked the fact that he could prove he could do the Tesco job and didn’t have to struggle with an interview – but of course he could and should still have been paid for his trial period.]

C – M&S have been doing this for a long time. My friend did unpaid work for weeks and then had to apply for a 6 month post, at the end of which had to apply for another 6 month post. No job security, sick pay etc. Took years of this before she was eligible to apply for a permanent post.

N – The management there are terrible. They lie and cheat saying they help people with disabilities which is untrue, they just care about making money and profit. I used to work for them until November 2016. Only for 23 months.

W – Serial offenders. About 5 years ago, a friend’s daughter who was of 6th form age answered an M&S advert targeted at school leavers. She was attempting to do the right thing by working whilst her longer term plans materialised. After two weeks work in the store, she was given her first payslip which showed zero pay. She was told this was because those two weeks were ‘training’. It was the first she had heard of this and was very upset. Within weeks, her employment was terminated. The reason given for this was that she had reached the age where the minimum age applied (they had been paying less than the minimum wage). Other recruits in her cohort were subject to the same rule.

L – They [M&S] joined [this scheme] a few years ago using the Prince’s Trust… only a few [people] are kept on temporary to see them over their busy period, then they are let go. Very few if any will actually get a permanent job as most of the staff are on short term contracts

B – Brilliant! That means we can go into an M&S and just take stuff without paying.

G – Total sham – so every manager should work for free too then

D – Let the shareholders work for nothing.

P – I have boycotted Marks & Spencer since Rose was CEO and said that Companies which stopped using workfare because of protests were cowards. M & S has always not only used it but promoted it.

[Here’s a link to what the writer is referring to.] 

R – My wife did 3 unpaid trials for Premier Inn at 3 different hotels. They just wanted extra people to help with their breakfasts. Absolutely disgraceful

Remember that a task set by the jobcentre is only mandatory if it is part of your claimant commitment, or you are given a Jobseeker’s Direction (JSA) or a Requirement (Universal Credit). If you are 18-21 and have been unemployed on UC for 6 months you can be mandated to go on training or a work placement.  If you are sent on a mandatory work placement you can still refuse to sign the documents that are needed for them to process it, so long as you show willing to do everything else. (See our Work Programme Survival Guide.)

 

 

 

 

Unpaid labour for M and S, anyone?

M and S

So, Markies have joined the list of companies expecting people to work for free in order to win the privilege of a job interview: four weeks’ work receiving only unemployment benefit (paid out of the public purse), and just the promise of an interview at the end. And, of course, with lots of people working for free, they should actually need to employ fewer paid workers. The young graduate who told us of this offer from the jobcentre was far from impressed, but others will no doubt be persuaded that they have little choice, either through fear of saying no to the jobcentre – although this scheme is not actually mandatory – or through lack of other opportunities.

And last week we also talked with Paul, an angry and frustrated man with serious health problems, who had been on ESA and PIP but had had his ESA claim stopped when he went into hospital for six days. He had been made to reapply through the Universal Credit system, and had thereby lost hundreds of pounds in disability premiums. The ending of these premiums in Universal Credit is a major cut for disabled people that is rarely talked about. In Paul’s case this should also never have happened, because the original ESA claim should not have been closed.  Paul was already getting help to appeal, but we also came across a couple of people with complicated problems who weren’t getting help, who we sent to the Shelter drop-in.

And talking of limited job opportunities – the army was in the jobcentre again, carrying out their economic conscription.

‘Dignity, Fairness and Respect’ – please not another empty phrase!

Shirley-Anne-Somerville1-768x481

This post has been updated and rewritten (29 August) as I got confused between the various consultations (sorry) and some of the previous comments are already water under the bridge. However our main concerns still stand and we will be raising them with the Scottish Government.

1. We are very alarmed by the report that the Scottish Government is considering using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act to allow covert surveillance of people suspected of cheating the system. Even the fact that this is being considered at all has seriously damaged people’s faith that the new system will value dignity and respect. When people apply for disability benefits they expect to have to provide evidence of eligibility in the first place, but they do not expect their need for benefits to give the government carte blanche to spy on their lives. We hope and anticipate that this idea will be removed from the table at the earliest opportunity, before people are given more cause for worry and distress, and before the Scottish benefit system becomes as feared as the UK one.

There is an ongoing consultation on the investigation of offences, which you can respond to here. The detailed proposals are here, and the bit about covert surveillance is in Annex A pages 8-9

2. We have been very concerned to discover that DLA and PIP are commonly treated as disposable income when calculating eligibility for DHP. Our blog on this issue from last Sunday has generated a huge amount of interest and support.

3. We are worried about the consultation process itself. The Scottish Government has provided a lot of opportunities for people to give their views. This has generated a lot of effort and paperwork, but we are not sure how much these views are taken notice of.  We have tried to raise issues about the need for more welfare spending via the Scottish Government’s official petition system, (Petition no PE01677), only to experience this being continually kicked into the long grass. The petition was briefly mentioned at the Scottish Social Security Committee meeting on 24th May, but as far as we know, nothing more has been discussed. (It may have been looked at at the discussion of the Scottish Welfare fund on 21 June, but this was done in private – which is another problem.) Our petition was originally designed to feed into last year’s budget. The process is so slow that it will soon be budget time again.

There are still hopes that the Scottish Social Security system will make a big difference to people’s lives – please Shirley-Anne Somerville, don’t let it be a disappointment!

(The picture shows Shirley-Anne Somerville, the Scottish Government’s new Cabinet Secretary for Social Security.)

Getting DLA/PIP? – then you won’t need Discretionary Housing Payments!

Dundee housing

Whatever happened to ‘dignity, fairness and respect’? Yes, it is legal for councils to refuse Discretionary Housing Payments on the grounds that people can use their disability benefit to pay the rent – these payments are, after all, discretionary – but that doesn’t make it right. We were shocked to learn that this is happening in Dundee – especially as the council has generally been good at helping and advising people on benefits – and have written the following letter to the council leader, with copies to our two MSPs. Please tell us if you know of other councils that are demonstrating a similar lack of basic empathy.

We are writing because we were recently informed that the council regularly takes account of DLA/PIP income when deciding whether to award Discretionary Housing Payments. We realise that DWP Guidance allows care/daily living payments to be considered ‘on a case by case basis’[1], but this expressly should not be a general rule. And even if this is permitted for individual cases, it flies in the face of the purpose of those disability benefits, as well as of common decency.

DLA and PIP are supposed to compensate for the extra costs of being disabled, and are only awarded after a gruelling assessment process. In recognition of this, the benefit system acknowledges that these benefits should not be considered like other income, and should be disregarded when doing means testing or benefit cap calculations. The DWP may regard it as OK to ditch their own principles when it comes to discretionary help, but there is no need for the council to follow suit – especially as Discretionary Housing Payments are now devolved.  We are constantly told that when the Scottish government eventually takes over PIP, we will experience a different approach based on ‘dignity, fairness and respect’. We would expect to see dignity, fairness and respect in the allocation of Discretionary Housing Payments too – and that means not making people spend vital disability benefits on housing costs.

We have been happy to see Dundee City Council spend a lot of time and effort looking at issues of fairness in the city, but, if this is to be reflected in council practice, there can be no room for squeezing the meagre finances of Dundee’s disabled citizens.  


[1] ‘When deciding how to treat income from disability-related benefits such as Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), you must have regard to the decision of the High Court in R v. Sandwell MBC, ex parte Hardy. This decision places an obligation on LAs to consider each DHP application on a case by case basis having regard to the purpose of those disability related benefits and whether the money from those benefits has been committed to other liabilities associated with disability.’ (Discretionary Housing Payments Guidance Manual)

PS Thanks to Jimmy Black for sending us this link to an article on the legal case mentioned in the DWP Guidance above

Red Yes City

SUWN group 2

SUWN and Stobbie4Aye and some 16,000 others marched through Dundee to demand Independence this afternoon. The message on our leaflets (below) and in Tony’s speech was clear: the call for radical change must be at the heart of our campaign. It is a message that is always well received!

You can watch Tony’s speech here:

This is what we wrote on our leaflet:

EH! TAE INDY

It is nearly four years since Scotland narrowly failed to achieve independence, following the desperate last minute intervention of ALL the major Unionist party leaders of the disunited Kingdom, who gave a ‘VOW’ of sweeping new powers for Holyrood to all those who voted NO. Needless to say, that promise was honoured more in the breach than the observance, and Dundee remains a city under siege from the Wastemonster elites with their welfare reforms, public-sector cuts and continued de-industrialisation. Indeed, as recent events have demonstrated, Wastemonster cannot even be trusted to respect the limited powers currently held by Holyrood. Theresa Mayhem and her minions are currently attempting a power grab in areas such as Scottish farming and fishing, currently controlled by the EU, and there is no indication that their appetite for gobbling up more Scottish powers has been satisfied. Meanwhile, the prospect of secure and decently rewarded work remains an impossible pipedream for far too many Scots. It does not, however, have to be this way, because

ANOTHER WORLD IS STILL POSSIBLE

The SUWN  campaigns for the freedom to make a better future.  We support the fight for Indy and insist that socialist principles are central to that fight. We can’t just wait for improvements after independence but must act now to achieve every improvement we can and create an unstoppable momentum for positive change.

Everyday activism and wider campaigns for social and political change are two sides of the same coin and boost each other.

STOBBIE4AYE is a local pro-Indy group of working-class folk who are committed to fighting for another and better Scotland by maximising support for Indy amongst our fellow Dundonians. Whilst our group includes members of pro-Indy parties, we hold no candle for any political party. We still look to the creation of an independent Scotland that will provide the ‘threat of a good example’ and so a springboard for a radical political and social transformation of the British Isles. In order to achieve Scottish independence, and for independence to make a difference to people’s lives, we are determined to keep the social (or class) question front and centre of the emergent Indy movement.

Our aim is to ensure that the voice, needs and aspirations of working-class folk take a central place within the wider Indy movement, and continue to do so when this country, inevitably, achieves independence.

We focus on what independence can offer to hard-hit working-class communities in this city and others like it throughout Scotland. So, for example, we envisage a socially just Scotland that would invest in developing our huge potential for renewable energy as a publicly owned resource, including developing the associated technologies that provide skilled jobs. A Scotland where public investment and fair taxation can fund a universal basic income, and Universal Credit, with its controls and punishments, is sent to the scrap heap.  We have the natural, and human, resources to re-shape our society and nation for the better, and to make the last four decades of Westminster Tory/New Labour misrule a distant memory.

If you want to have your voice heard, if you want to take your future and that of your family into your own hands, we urge you to join us, and to discover what an independent Scotland can become and how we can help create that better society.

UC – preparing you for the insecurity of the gig economy

18-07-19

Malkie rang us after we had met him outside the jobcentre. He had received no money that month and had no idea when he would next be paid. Like so many others he was discovering the reality of the benefit that was supposed to make it easier to move in and out of work and to help people learn to manage their money! It took some time to work out what had happened. He had received wages from his last job at the beginning of the period in which the DWP assessed his benefits, and that had taken him over the income threshold for receiving anything from Universal Credit that month. So he wouldn’t receive anything before the end of the following month. And he was also paying off his benefit advance that he had had to get to tide him over when he signed onto Universal Credit, which was taking big chunks out of his payments and forcing him ever further into debt. Sorting out what was going on and getting some temporary help from the Scottish Welfare Fund took a long time and a visit to his MSP. In the course of this Malkie needed to get a photocopy of his award letter. The jobcentre wouldn’t even help with that and he had to spend his last pound at the print shop.

John, who we met a couple of weeks later, was also unable to find out how much and when he was getting paid. He was recently out of prison – I’m sure this uncertainty will help him keep to the straight and narrow!

Another Universal Credit claim is that it is supposed to provide practice for being in work by being as like a job as possible. That is the stated justification for expecting people to spend 35 hours a week looking for work: the only difference from having a job is you don’t get paid! I suppose you could argue that this financial insecurity might prepare you for work in the insecurity of the gig economy.

The idea that ‘work coaches’ are training you to be ‘employable’ promotes a very condescending attitude. One of our activists was told that it would be better if he didn’t arrange for his housing element to go directly to his landlord because he should learn to look after his money. As he observed, they could almost have added ‘like a grown-up’.

And the ‘work coaches’ are very keen to get as many people as possible into this improving regime. Another of our activists, who is on Jobseeker’s Allowance, repeatedly has to inform his coach that he does not want to change over to Universal Credit, and to remind her that he doesn’t yet have to.

Thanks to Tony, Norma, Gary, Duncan and Dave for help with recent stalls

Don’t be punished for DWP delays

piggy-bank-broken-broke-iou

Steve told us that his landlord had taken three months to produce documents corroborating his rent. During that time the DWP paid no housing element on his Universal Credit, but the landlord still expected his rent. Steve was forced to pay this out of the money he was meant to live on, and then had to rely on family and friends for food and other necessities. The jobcentre had told him that there was nothing they could do and that his housing element could not be backdated. This didn’t seem right so we thought we would ask those nice people at CPAG what he could do about it.

If you are asked to supply evidence of your rental arrangements – and the DWP don’t have to request this though in our experience they always do – then a letter from the landlord or letting agent should be acceptable. If you don’t even have that and need to ask your landlord to produce something, then they are required to do this within a month. If you are eligible for help with housing costs and have supplied all the requested information that you are able to, the rules don’t allow you to be penalised for your landlord failing to do their bit. So Steve can put in a Mandatory Reconsideration to recover his missing Housing Elements payments. As with all important communications it is best to do this by letter as well as via the Universal Credit web journal and keep your own record of everything. You need to point out that you are eligible for the benefit and have done all that was asked of you, and that there is nothing in the regulations that says you should be penalised for the landlord’s failure to comply.

More often, though, delays are not due to the landlord (who has a vested interest in you receiving your benefit and being able to pay them) but to DWP inefficiency – especially people only being asked to supply evidence several weeks after they have submitted their claim. If the DWP is taking ages to come to a decision, your only redress is a letter of complaint, where you can make it clear that if they don’t sort your benefit you will take them to judicial review.

 

 

 

Leukaemia on the dole – a guest blog

Acute-Leukaemia-2

Last April I took a job in Airdrie, with a good salary, paying over £100 per day. Unfortunately I was diagnosed with Leukaemia two days into the job and hospitalised. UC deducted £145 from my monthly payment for those two days’ work (for which I had received £229 Gross). After I’d paid for travel and lunches I ended up about £10 per day better off in work – while suffering from cancer and having to make a 2 hour commute each way. The £145 deduction is equivalent to approximately two weeks’ UC payment, so I lost two weeks’ benefit for working just two days. The whole system is fucked and caused me great stress at a time when I least needed it.

Things have calmed down a bit now, after help from the staff at the Macmillan Trust’s Maggie Centre and my doctors in the chemotherapy ward, but not without payment delays and threats of sanction over repeated missed appointments because I was in hospital and not doing enough to look for work, even though I’d supplied them with “fitness notes”. They have now allowed me to forgo sending in fitness notes and looking for work, though I have a work-search appointment in September, when I will probably be in Glasgow for a bone marrow transplant and have to argue with them again over missing another appointment.

PIP (with assessments now run by ATOS I note) have scheduled two appointments to visit me at home, one of which they cancelled, and the second I couldn’t be at home for because I was in hospital.  I’m waiting for a third appointment, which I will not be allowed to change as you are only allowed to change it once – and, no, they can’t visit me in hospital (their rule).

Because of the treatments I am receiving, I have been taken off the antidepressants I have been on for the last 25 years, so coping is becoming very difficult. At least they are feeding me in hospital, though I note that PIP does not pay out while you’re in hospital as an in-patient.

Ninewells Hospital, Dundee

Temporary work tangles in Universal Credit

Strawberry

Blair, who we met this week, lost his job some weeks back and is still waiting for his first payment of Universal Credit. He is also young and fit and responded to an advertisement for a picking job at a local fruit farm. When he rang them he was surprised to be asked about his nationality and whether he spoke English. The farm never got back to him.

As we explained in last week’s post on the use of migrant labour for berry picking, Blair doesn’t fit fruit-farming’s current business model. This relies on a labour force that will put up with pressured conditions without complaint, because if they are sacked they will be left without anything in a foreign country, and because the pay they are getting is worth more when they get back to Eastern Europe. Our blog was widely shared, but only one person mentioned doing recent work on a fruit farm. They wrote ‘My son tried fruit picking and can attest to the intolerable pressure put on the workers to “pick until they drop”’. Clearly we would like to see fruit picking jobs made available to local people, but also for conditions to be improved, so that no-one is forced into such poor quality work.

And there is another problem with temporary work. This has always caused workers additional hassle and cost because of the problems of signing off and on again. Under Universal Credit, it has become harder and more complicated. If you get work that pays enough to take you out of Universal Credit for more than 6 months, then when you sign on you start all over again with another 5 weeks’ wait for benefits. If you are off UC for less than 6 months, then signing on again is simpler as your information is still in the system, but the wait to get your first benefit payment can be considerably worse. You keep the same assessment period as you had previously: so if they calculated your benefits by looking at your income from the 15th of one month to the 14th of the next month, and then paid you on 21st, say, they will continue to do this.  How soon you get your first benefit payment depends on how this assessment period lines up with your final pay cheque. A days’ difference in when you are paid could make almost a month’s difference in when you receive your first benefit payment. In the worst case scenario, if your final payment from your job came at the beginning of an assessment period, then you could be awarded no benefits that month. You would receive nothing until the end of the next assessment month plus 7 days for the money to go through – i.e. 2 months and 6 days after your final pay cheque.

And this is the benefit that was supposed to simplify the system and make it easier to move in and out of work!

WHEN YOU SIGN ON MATTERS:

You will only receive benefits for the first assessment period when you return to UC after less than 6 months if your final payment was smaller than usual and didn’t take you over the UC threshold – e.g. you might be being paid for less than a month’s work. If this is the case it is important to sign on again within 7 days of your job ending in order to qualify for payment for the full month.

On the other hand, if you have been off UC for more than 6 months and need to start again, then you should delay making a claim till after you have received your final pay so that it is not included in your first month’s assessment.

Good luck!

(Thanks to CPAG for helping to clarify this.)