Disabled woman left in limbo wins £4000 Universal Credit Disability Payments
Universal Credit is not the answer but no one should have to wait 16 months for their entitlement
We are pleased to publish this blog from our partners and friends at Winvisible.
It tells the success of a long advocacy campaign by a disabled woman supported by Winvisible to win over £4,000 disability payments earlier this year. Ms S had been left in limbo by the DWP and was stuck on the basic universal Credit rate.
Reverend Paul Nicolson and TAP opposed the introduction of Universal Credit and recognised that it was going to disadvantage many already disadvantaged individuals and families.
Sadly Ms S’ experience is all too common. We salute her and Winvisible for their lengthy campaign to gain her disability payments.
Universal Credit needs to be removed or radically reformed. We need social security system based on equity, meeting need, easy access to financial income and fairness. The current Universal Credit system does not meet these objectives. TAP is strongly in favour of a national minimum income standard.
Disabled woman left in limbo wins £4,000 UC disability payments
Under COVID, sick and disabled claimants are losing vital benefits due to delays with assessments and decisions. But with WinVisible’s support, Ms S finally won over £4,000 disability payments in May 2021 plus ongoing payments, after being left in limbo for 16 months stuck on Universal Credit (UC) basic rate.
Ms S has a severe auto-immune condition similar to Lupus, and anxiety. Her telephone Work Capability Assessment interview in July 2020 by the assessor company Maximus (also known as CHDA/HAAS) was deemed “inconclusive”. She was told no decision could be made until face-to-face interviews – suspended under COVID – restarted. She contacted WinVisible in October 2020.
We initially wrote to Maximus. After our advocacy and writing to the DWP on “unreasonable delay” and a UC regulation that a face-to-face interview is not compulsory, we got her assessment reopened in April 2021. The decision to pay her disability element and backdated benefit was made within days of the second phone interview -- we conveyed that if there was any more delay we would begin legal action. While we worked together on her case, she joined our weekly group on Zoom, and spoke at our workshop, Women fighting for disability benefit rights under COVID on 17 March 2021.
About her experience, she says:
“Due to ill-health I was no longer able to work, that in itself was really difficult for me to accept. I was exhausted, deflated, depressed and felt like I wasn't worth it. Having to give up work, struggle at home being a lone parent of three children and dealing with my illnesses all at the same time has been traumatic. I was advised by my Jobcentre to apply for disability Universal Credit. 10 months of literally going around in circles, back and forth with CHDA [in relation to the Work Capability Assessment] made me extremely stressed which was definitely adding to my illnesses.
I was introduced to WinVisible via a link worker at my GP surgery because my GP couldn't understand why they still had to give me sick notes every three months especially being in the middle of a pandemic and with me being high risk, plus they had filled out and sent a report back to CHDA and the GP told me that I should have been receiving disability allowance by now.
WinVisible has been fantastic and I really wouldn't have been able to deal with this on my own. They have helped me every step of the way and I no longer felt alone. I am so grateful for all of their help and support and have recommended them to others. When I joined the support group and after listening to other women's stories and how badly they have been treated, who were even worse off than myself with various ill-health, i.e. cancer, MS, etc., I was absolutely mortified that they too were fighting this uphill battle not only with their health but with disability allowance which they are clearly entitled to. I felt disgusted with CHDA and my heart sank for each and every single one of those women. It’s outrageous how they treat us!
Public speaking has always been a struggle for me but I knew that I had to tell my story to help others, just as other women have supported me. I am yet still to be as courageous as them.
Thankfully after what felt like a never-ending nightmare, I have finally got what I had been entitled to. I feel so relieved that I can now afford the diet that I should have been on, I can focus on my health and my children without Jobcentre breathing down my neck about being sanctioned, me having to keep asking for sick notes from my GP and them pushing me to go back to work. I would like to continue with WinVisible support group to help others in any way that I can from my own personal experiences.”
The late Rev Paul Nicolson and TAP opposed Universal Credit. Claimant groups including WinVisible, and many others, called for Universal Credit to be scrapped from the start. The harm it causes is spreading as more and more people have no choice but to claim it. UC is less than the benefits it replaces, creates rent arrears, other debts and hunger through the five-week wait, and in other ways harms women and children especially: via the two-child limit unless you disclose rape to the DWP; and the single payment to the head of household forces women in couples to be financially dependent. The residence test discriminates against immigrant people living and working in the UK. The abolition of severe disability premium cuts benefit to disabled people living alone, including disabled single mothers. UC has many brutal and bureaucratic rules, including that even if you are sending in sick notes (“fit notes”), you have to keep doing job search and work focussed interviews or your UC will be sanctioned – until a Work Capability Assessment decision has been made.
Key points to know:
- “Unreasonable delay” in benefit decisions is unlawful. This is based on a 2015 legal case brought by two PIP claimants. https://www.cloisters.com/pip-disability-benefits-delay-unlawful-1/
- Regulation 44 of the Universal Credit Regulations 2013, provides clearly that a face-to-face WCA is not obligatory: “the claimant may be called by or on behalf of a health care professional approved by the Secretary of State to attend a medical examination.” They can do a paper-based or alternative assessment instead.
- Maximus said they could not make a decision on Ms S at the time, they only had the power to place her in Limited Capability for Work and Work Related Activity (LCWRA) – Support Group equivalent. They said they didn’t have enough evidence for that, and they refused to take any more medical evidence as they said they had completed the procedure set by the DWP. When Ms S tried to get her assessment reopened, she was diverted to their complaints procedure. Later, their policy was changed: “Following a telephone Work Capability Assessment (WCA), Health Care Professionals (HCP) are recommending the full range of outcomes to decision makers. This includes Limited Capability for Work (LCW), Limited Capability for Work and Work Related Activity (LCWRA) and no LCW. " https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/716789/response/1721133/attach/html/3/Internal%20Review%20draft%20IR%2009816.pdf.html
- Ms S should have been placed in LCWRA (Support Group) under “substantial risk” to health (exceptional circumstances -- UC Regulations 2013 schedule 9) when WinVisible wrote to Maximus initially and when we quoted her: 'My back is killing me, I can barely move and my anxiety levels are through the roof! Apologies for offloading on to you but to be completely honest I cannot cope with much more of this.'
We refer to schedule 9 of The Universal Credit Regulations 2013 https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukdsi/2013/9780111531938/schedule/9 :
Risk to self or others
4. The claimant is suffering from a specific illness, disease or disablement by reason of which there would be a substantial risk to the physical or mental health of any person were the claimant found not to have limited capability for work and work-related activity.
- Bad response from MP when DWP was breaking the law. Ms S was devastated when she received a reply from her MP (Labour): Therefore, despite our immense support and sympathy for you under the circumstances outlined below, we unfortunately do not have the authority to intervene in, or give the DWP specific instructions regarding, your Universal Credit claim, including any specific demands about exactly how and when it should be completed, as well as any requests that it is prioritised or assisted in any way that is not part of official rules. (email, 23 December 2020)
- The report sent from the GP surgery was deemed “too vague” and after that the GP surgery declined to provide a letter, citing the pandemic, saying they had already sent the report. Maximus also said they were only allowed to commission a GP report once.
- A letter from Ms S’ consultant was included in her second telephone interview (you can read letters out to the assessor as part of evidence).
– With thanks to CPAG Universal Credit London Advice Project
Universal Credit must not be cut
Although TAP campaigns for a radical shift in the social security system and the introduction of a national minimum income we are strongly opposed to the government’s current mean and disgraceful proposal to cut the benefit by £20 a week or over £1000 a year for some of the poorest families and individuals in our country.
The £20 per week was introduced as means of addressing need during the Covid pandemic but it has become a lifeline to many thousands of families.
If the government seriously was committed to “levelling up” it would be increasing Universal Credit payments not making the biggest cuts to them since the second world war.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) calculates that a cut of £20 a week will mean around 16 million people lose £1,040 from their annual budget overnight, and 700,000 more people are likely to be pulled into poverty. People already in poverty and already struggling to stay afloat will face severe hardship, with half a million more likely to be plunged into deep poverty (more than 50% below the poverty line).
This is morally and economically wrong. Such a cut will lead to less money being spent and avoidable hardship.
TAP supports The Joseph Rowntree Foundation and others campaigning on this. In the long term we need a better system but in the meantime there must be no cuts to Universal Credit.