The impact of the recent loss of 160 jobs at the Galloway engineering group was clear today, as we met 3-4 very angry workers who were at Dundee buroo for the first time since losing their jobs. One guy was apoplectic with rage, as he had been told that he qualified for no help as he had savings. He complained that he had paid NI stamps all his working life, but was now expected to eat into his savings in order to survive, whilst also adding that ‘if I was a junky or a refugee, I’d be fine.’ Whilst sympathising with his plight we were able to inform him that he wasn’t being picked on, as everybody, including ‘junkies’ and ‘refugees’ were also ‘getting it large fae the DWP’. We also believe that the ‘advice’ that he received from the buroo was wrong, as, with having up-to-date NI contributions, he should be receiving contribution based JSA for six months.
We have recently heard that a welfare rights team is now stationed in Dundee buroo on a daily basis, working either mornings or afternoons. We, therefore, turned up to this week’s stalls with an expectation that things would be quiet – how wrong we were. At Monday’s stall our first case was Catherine, a young woman with quite severe cerebral palsy and anxiety and depression, who was in a right state due to delays with her claim for ESA – close to tears and totally confused with regards to the situation with her claim. We managed, with some difficulty, to calm her down. As she had no credit on her phone, one of our volunteers made a call to the ESA helpline in order to chase up her case. After an interminable wait of around 20-25 minutes she was eventually able to talk to an advisor, who was, though, unable to put her mind at rest. We advised her to get in contact with welfare rights, so that they could take up her case, and we took her contact details in order that we could monitor her progress – after a short chat on the phone today, Catherine was in a much better state, and was able to confirm that her claim was now back on track.
On Monday, we also met Joe, an ex-prisoner who was visiting the buroo for the first time after he was removed from ESA. He explained that he was meant to be accompanied into a work capability assessment by a welfare worker, who, unfortunately, did not turn up. He was not prepared to go into a WCA on his own, and, as a result, found his ESA claim was shut down and he was forced to apply for JSA – he should be able to have a further WCA arranged by phoning the ESA helpline and showing ‘good cause’ as to why he missed his WCA. We urged him to phone in his mandatory reconsideration asap – in order to clear the way for the second appeal stage, as, in our experience, mandatory reconsiderations are simply an unnecessary hurdle that rarely succeed, as they are judged by an internal ‘decision maker’. We further advised him to contact welfare rights as soon as he hears that his mandy recon has failed, which it will, so that they could help with the second stage of the appeal process – the independent tribunal.
In addition to 3-4 other inquiries of a less urgent nature, we also made a referral to the Taught by Muhammad food parcel delivery service, for John, a Universal Credit claimant, who was facing major delays with receiving full housing benefit allowance. This is a problem we have come across a few time before, with some people having to use the reduced UC payments they do receive in order to pay their rent, thus leaving them short of money for food, whilst the cumbersome UC bureaucratic machine attempts to solve the problem. John was not due to receive a payment for four days, but was completely out of money and food, as he had to use the last of his money to keep his electric switched on.
At today’s stall, Friday, SUWN advocates were required to accompany three people into the buroo, including Jess, a woman in her late fifties who had attended her daughter’s wedding in Portugal, and when she returned had found that her JSA claim had been shut down in her absence. Our advocate advised Jess to put in a mandatory reconsideration, and then to ask for a rapid reclaim of her JSA. The advisor, however, wouldn’t have it, and forced Jess to open a new claim for JSA, which would mean she would lose money as well as experiencing a delay whilst her new claim was being processed. We helped Jess complete her mandatory reconsideration and JSA application form, and advised her to contact Dundee City Council housing office in order to ensure that her housing benefit was not affected by her JSA claim having been closed. We also took her contact details in order that we can monitor her case and provide further help, if required.
We also met Ewan who had recently had his ESA claim shut down – a major problem that we are coming across on a regular basis – due to the failure of ESA to inform him of the correct date for his Work Capability Assessment. Ewan had already submitted a mandatory reconsideration to challenge this decision, and was now being forced to claim JSA. We advised him to ask for a 13 week extended period of sickness (EPS), whilst his mandatory reconsideration was being dealt with, and, if his mandy recon failed, urged him to take his case to the next stage of the appeal process, the independent tribunal. Readers, who are single people on JSA or ESA, should note that if your claim is shut down, that you should ensure that you submit a mandatory reconsideration before re-applying, as, if you re-apply for JSA or ESA first, you are liable to find yourself being forced onto Universal Credit.
This by no means exhausts this week’s case load, which also involved SUWN advocates accompanying people into ESA and PIP assessments. We had hoped for a bit of boredom outside the buroo this summer, but, it appears, that this is not to be. Thanks to Gordon, Susan, Chris, Jonathan, Gary, Grant, Sarah and Tony for helping out at this week’s stalls.