the number of sick and disabled people who have had their sickness benefit sanctioned is on the rise.

Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that the number of sick and disabled people who have had their sickness benefit sanctioned is on the rise.

According to available figures, which were released in response to a freedom of information request (pdf), sickness benefit claimants with mental health problems are far more likely to have their benefit slashed than those with a physical disability

Read this article on the Welfare News Service here:

Stitching-up claimants is all part of the job, says Jobcentre insider

Last week Iain Duncan Smith met a whistle-blower who has worked for his Department for Work and Pensions for more than 20 years.

Giving the Secretary of State a dossier of evidence, the former Jobcentre Plus adviser told him of a “brutal and bullying” culture of “setting claimants up to fail”.

“The pressure to sanction customers was constant,” he said. “It led to people being stitched-up on a daily basis.”

The man wishes to be anonymous but gave his details to IDS, DWP minister Esther McVey and Neil Couling, Head of Jobcentre Plus, who also attended the meeting.

“We were constantly told ‘agitate the customer’ and that ‘any engagement with the customer is an opportunity to ­sanction’,” he told them.

Labour MP Debbie Abrahams, the member of the DWP Select Committee who set up the meeting, has renewed her call for an inquiry into inappropriate sanctioning.

“I am deeply concerned that sanctions are being used to create the illusion the Government is bringing down unemployment,” she said.

End disability benefits ‘fiasco’, ministers told

Thousands of vulnerable people have suffered pain, distress and penury because of blunders made by the Government during the launch of a key disability reform, a devastating report warns today. MPs denounced the introduction of the personal independence payment (PIP) as a “fiasco” which had resulted in a huge backlog of claims and lengthy delays over decisions.

They pinned the blame for the chaos on Iain Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), accusing it of making basic mistakes ahead of last year’s launch. Eligibility to qualify for the payments, which have replaced disability living allowance (DLA), is assessed by medics employed by private companies. The benefit is intended to help the disabled to live independently and, in some cases, go to work. The Commons Public Accounts Committee said the DWP had failed to pilot the scheme adequately, with disastrous results when it was rolled out nationwide.

They reported “shocking personal stories”, including one person hospitalised with the stress caused by the wait for a decision and another who could not afford a special diet for gastric and diabetes problems until the cash arrived.

Margaret Hodge, the committee’s chair, said: “The implementation of PIPs has been nothing short of a fiasco. The DWP has let down some of the most vulnerable in our society.”

read the rest of this article from the Independent here:

Tribunal system in limbo whilst Atos holds medical files back due to contract dispute with DWP?

A person who says they work at the Tribunals service gives a very plausible explanation for why there are such serious delays in disability benefit decisions.

If this is true, it represents a new low in the corporate stance of ATOS. Is this multinational information technology firm holding the health of sick and disabled people as a bargaining chip in a contract dispute?

Thanks to the facebook page Atos Miracles for spotting this comment to an article posted on the website ‘’.

“I actually work in the tribunals office, for DLA, ESA, etc etc, I will be quite honest and tell you that we have had no work at all for the past 6 months, this is why no one are having appeals, or reassessments done. At the end of last year our office recruited and trained, 32 extra staff to deal with appeals, these people have now been dismissed, because of the lack of work, many of the experienced staff in our department have been advised to apply for voluntary redundancy, or apply for a posting in a different department.

The reason why we have no work is because ATOS will not release all the medical files that they have, until their contract has been resolved. ATOS were not up to doing the job, they did not realise how difficult it will be. We have some people on our system that have been waiting for 3/4 years for answers, and we can not do anything about it.

Our bosses told us this morning, that this is going to be like this for at least another 6 months. And in the meantime, the trained staff are leaving for other postings, and when the work does start coming in. There will be no staff capable of doing the job everyone will have to start from scratch. It is so damned annoying, all I do all day is play solitaire on the computer, or read magazines, I want to work, but there is no work to do.

This is the reason why the decisions are being overturned, we know that we do not have the paperwork to fight an appeal, so until things change people are being allowed to keep there benefits.”


Caught out: DWP ministers who claimed a million sickness benefit claimants had been found ‘fit for work’ – kept real data from public view

Well over half a million sickness benefits appeals have succeeded – why has the DWP kept this quiet?

DWP ministers said only 9% of ESA decisions were wrong. Our research reveals the DWP have been quoting from figures which state 151,800 appeals have succeeded. Our evidence shows the true figure to be at least 567,634 – casting serious doubt over 43% of 1,302,200 ‘fit for work’ decisions.

ilegal Press Release – 16th June 2013

The DWP’s internal figures reveal a much higher number of successful ESA appeals than have been made publicly available.
A DWP reply on 13 June 2014 to a Freedom of Information Act request made as part of an investigation in to DWP figures relating to the controversial Work Capability Assessment by has revealed that of 1,287,323 ESA appeals, at least 567,634 claimants have had the original DWP decision overturned in their favour.

Read the rest of this article on ‘Illegal’ here:

Work capability assessment system at ‘virtual collapse’, says judge

Robert Martin, outgoing head of benefits appeal tribunal, says DWP was too optimistic about conducting fit-to-work tests

The outgoing head of the tribunal which hears appeals relating to social security benefits has said that the work capability assessment (WCA) has undergone “virtual collapse” and accused the Department for Work and Pensions of being overly optimistic about the pace at which fit-for-work tests were being carried out.

Writing in the Judicial Information Bulletin, a confidential journal distributed to tribunal members, Judge Robert Martin, who retired as president of the social entitlement chamber at the end of last month, says that the tribunal was advised by the DWP to expect a surge in its workload. But he says problems with delivery of the government’s welfare shakeup and the removal of legal aid funding for challenging benefits decisions meant there was actually a drop in cases, from more than 50,000 in July 2013 to 8,775 in March this year.

“The virtual collapse of the WCA process is the biggest single factor in the decline of the appeals intake,” he writes.

He says the DWP had advised the tribunal that there would be a “bow wave” of appeals after Atos Healthcare, which administered fit-for-work tests for sick and disabled people, had recovered from its initial problems which led to questions about the quality of its work. “The advice from DWP was unduly sanguine,” he observes.

In March, the government announced that the £500m contract with Atos, blighted by accusations that the tests were crude and inhumane, was going to end early.

Referring to the removal of funding under the legal aid scheme for advice and assistance on welfare rights matters, Martin writes: “This loss of funding, compounded by continuing cutbacks in local authority spending on advice services, has severely reduced the help and support available to claimants to pursue their legal rights in challenging benefit decisions.”

In the article, which appeared in the April edition of the Judicial Information Bulletin but was only published online last week, on a forum for welfare rights workers, Martin also has less than flattering words about other parts of the government’s welfare changes.

From the Guardian:

MPs to tell minister Norwich disability assessment centre situation is just not good enough

A minister will be told today that the scandal of a disability assessment centre with no wheelchair access is just not good enough.

MPs will take a catalogue of complaints about the way work capability assessments and personal independence payments are being handled in Norfolk to disability minister Mike Penning.  It comes as his department admitted it had no idea how much taxpayer money is being spent on taxi bills because of the assessment centre blunder.

MPs have branded the answer to the Evening News’ request for information “not good enough”, after the Department for Work and Pensions was unable to put a figure on transport costs.

Officials are trying to send Norwich disabled people, who have to be assessed before they can claim benefits, as far afield as Nottingham by taxi, and also to Ipswich and King’s Lynn. In the latest twist to the two-and-a-half year saga, which disability campaigners claim is causing undue stress to vulnerable people, now those needing an assessment are being sent a map and told to travel by public transport.

In a letter to Norwich MP Simon Wright, Mr Penning said his department was compliant with the Equalities Act, but said any new assessment centres would have ground floor rooms. But he said his department was not yet in a position to review the decision of relocating the Norwich Assessment Centre, after deciding to give the contract to another provider.

Mr Wright said: “It cannot be right that those in need of an assessment are sent on a nearly 90-mile round trip.”

Norwich MP Chloe Smith said: “The current situation is completely unacceptable. We hope to cut through DWP red tape and find a common sense solution to ensure our constituents have equality of access to assessment centres in Norwich”.

Mark Harrison, of the charity Equal Lives, said: “People are just tearing their hair out. This is unacceptable.  This government is putting the profits of providers before the needs of disabled people.”  He added: “Iain Duncan Smith and the DWP need to be held to account. The DWP is a failing department.”

He also called for urgent action on the delays to personal independence payments. He added: “The DWP promised us the PIP would work – it is clear that it is yet another cock-up by Iain Duncan Smith, Atos and Capita. We said it was just a cost-cutting exercise and we have been proved right.”

Pursuit of tax credit overpayments turns nasty as debt collectors hound the poorest

Campaigners say families living below the breadline are being harassed by phone and text message for money they do not have

Hundreds of thousands of Britain’s poorest people are being targeted by private debt collectors hired by the Government after their tax credits were overpaid because of errors made by HMRC.

A joint investigation by The Independent and the campaign group False Economy has uncovered the Coalition’s increasingly forceful methods of pursuing more than 4.7 million cases of overpaid tax credits, which amount to debts of £1.6bn. The hardline stance follows pledges by Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, to bring down the benefits bill.

The debt collectors hired by HMRC  phone the people they are targeting on their mobiles, send them text messages and write to them at home. Some of those targeted say they feel harassed and frightened. In at least 80 tax credit cases, assets have been seized directly. In total, HMRC made 215,144 referrals to debt collection agencies in 2013-14 to “secure direct recovery of overpaid personal tax credits”, according to data obtained through Freedom of Information requests. 

In many cases the overpayment is thanks to an HMRC error in calculation. The families involved are already living on very low incomes, making it impossible to pay back the accumulated sums.

read the rest of this article in the Independent here:

Mum loses car and disability benefits after ‘DWP mistake’

A DISABLED single mother who was stripped of her disability allowance and specially designed car after her benefits form was received late has blamed the Department for Work and Pensions for the error.

Sharon McWalter, of Alexander Grove, North Finchley, has been told she must wait up to 24 weeks for a face-to-face assessment before her benefits and Motability car are reinstated, after she sent her Disability Living Allowance renewal form just a few days late.

However, Ms McWalter, inset, who suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which affects the joints, says she was given permission by a DWP adviser to send in her application late. And she has hit out at the government department for leaving her and her eightyear- old daughter Sophie trapped in their home. “It’s awful,” she told The Press. “I cannot get out of my house unless I absolutely have to and even that takes a whole lot of organisation and a lot of money. I feel trapped.”

Ms McWalter said she had been supposed to send back her completed DLA renewal form on February 23, but only remembered two days beforehand. She immediately rang the DWP and offered to fax the document, but was repeatedly told by an adviser that a note would be made on the system indicating that her late form would be accepted.

“She said it was all going to be fine,” said Ms McWalter. “I asked her over and over again.”

However, in March she received a letter saying that due to its lateness, her application was being treated as a new Personal Independence Payment claim, which must be assessed in person, and her car and disability benefits were withdrawn.

Ms McWalter, who suffers “uncontrollable” pain if forced to walk more than 50 metres, said that she must now pay carers to collect her daughter from school and is relying on handouts from foodbanks. “Sophie has become really anxious and is really worried every day about who is going to pick her up from school,” said the single mum. “I just think the DWP should listen to the conversation I had with the adviser and realise that they were the ones who made the mistake.”

Despite repeated requests by Ms McWalter and The Press, the DWP has refused to release a recording or transcript of her conversation with the adviser. A spokesman said: “The proper procedures was followed in this case. If people don’t complete the forms on time, we can’t process their claim.”

From Barnet Today: