Linthorpe mum was involved in benefits dispute before she took own life, inquest hears

Joanne Smith was involved in an ongoing dispute with the Department of Work and Pensions over sick pay before her death

A mum was embroiled in a row over benefits before she took her own life, an inquest heard.

Joanne Smith was involved in an ongoing dispute with the Department of Work and Pensions over sick pay before her death, Teesside Coroner’s Court was told.

The 46-year-old was found hanged at her Middlesbrough home on June 29.

Ms Smith had lived at her home on Wakefield Road, in Linthorpe , for 30 years.

She had two children to partner Lee Grace, who said he believed the dispute was the reason for her depressed state of mind.

In a statement read out to the inquest, he said: “I don’t know for sure but I think Joanne was depressed.

“She had a sick note but the DWP had stopped paying her and this did upset her.”

Ms Smith suffered from asthma and arthritis. Her knee was badly damaged in a car accident when she was just 11, the inquest heard.

She had no history of depression or suicide attempts in the past.

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If you are having suicidal thoughts please call the Samaritans on their free phone number 116 123


‘I’ve had a heart attack, two strokes and my kidneys are failing…but I’ve still been told I’m fit to work’

Former scientist Phil Williams from Caernarfon said he was devastated to find out he’ll be stripped of his disability benefits after a recent Government assessment

A former scientist who has to undergo 12 hours of dialysis treatment a week because his kidneys are failing has been told he is fit to work.

Philip Williams, 56, from Caernarfon has been plagued by health problems in recent years including kidney failure, loss of hearing and ulcerative colitis – which brings on bouts of extreme diarrhoea and vomiting.

He received a letter from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) on Monday saying that his Disability Living Allowance will be stopped next month after a recent medical assessment deemed him ineligible for benefits.

A nurse visited Mr Williams around six weeks ago to carry out an assessment using a points system to determine whether or not he is able to cope around the house alone.

But Mr Williams now feels that the nurse was “unqualified to carry out the assessment” due to her lack of experience in his particular illness.

Mr Williams said that he feels “disgusted” by their decision and claims that DWP made no attempt to contact his GP or renal consultant about his illnesses.

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Lower benefit cap to hit a quarter of a million poor children

Changes coming in this autumn will take an average of £60 a week from households affected, government analysis shows

Nearly a quarter of a million children from poor families will be hit by the extended household benefit cap due to be introduced this autumn, according to the government’s latest analysis of the impact of the policy.

The new cap will take an average of £60 a week out of the incomes of affected households, almost certainly pushing them deeper into poverty. About 61% of those affected will be female lone parents.

Anti-poverty campaigners said the cap would damage the life chances of hundreds of thousands of children, and force already poor families to drastically cut back on the amount they spend on food, fuel and clothing.

The new cap restricts the total amount an individual household can receive in benefits to £23,000 a year in London (£442 a week) and £20,000 in the rest of the UK (£385 a week). It replaces the existing cap level of £26,000.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has argued that the benefit cap acts as an incentive for people on benefits to move into employment, because getting a job automatically exempts them from cap penalties.

It claims the cap makes people more likely to search for work, and says that 23,000 affected households have taken a job since its introduction in 2013. “The benefit cap restored fairness to the system by ending the days of limitless benefit claims and provides a clear incentive to move into work,” said a DWP spokesman.

However, an official evaluation of the cap by the Institute for Fiscal Studies in 2014 found the “large majority” of capped claimants did not respond by moving into work, and a DWP-backed study in Oxford published in June found that cutting benefit entitlements made it less likely that unemployed people would get a job.

Joanna Kennedy, chief executive of the charity Z2K, said: “Our experience helping those affected by the original cap shows that many of those families will have to reduce even further the amount they spend on feeding and clothing their children, and heating their home to avoid falling into rent arrears and facing eviction and homelessness.”

The chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, Alison Garnham, said: “A lower cap that cuts family budgets will do nothing to help parents who want to work. Instead it will damage the life chances of hundreds of thousands more children.”

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Landlords association chairman blames universal credit for increase in rent arrears

The chairman of a landlords association has slammed the introduction of universal credit in Great Yarmouth as a “complete disaster” and said he had never had to serve so many eviction notices

The borough is so far the only one in the whole of the Central England region to have launched the full universal credit service for new claimants. Other areas had only implemented the service in the simplest of claims.

But full-time landlord of 25 years Paul Cunningham said delays in processing claims were causing tenants to fall into arrears. Mr Cunningham – who is vice chair of the Great Yarmouth Landlord’s Association and chair of the Eastern Landlords Association – said: “I’ve issued more eviction notices to tenants on universal credit than I have over the last three years.”

Mr Cunningham said one of his tenants, who did not wish to be named, had been caused so much stress by being in arrears he had developed angina.   And some of his tenants on benefits were in arrears of more than £1000 because of the changes.

The picture nationally is much the same, with a report published by the National Federation of ALMOs (NFA) and the Association of Retained Council Housing (ARCH) in June revealing universal credit was to blame for 79pc of rent arrears cases in council tenants.

Mr Cunningham said issues were more difficult to sort out too. He said whereas before the switch to universal credit he could speak directly to the council about any housing benefit issues, this now wasn’t the case.

“Under the old system I could ring the council and discuss any problems direct with the housing department, now, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) will not discuss any aspect of an individual’s claim even if I explain they are in imminent danger of eviction. There will be an increase in homelessness which the council will have to pick up. It’s just the most inefficient system ever.”

He added there were also complications in tenants asking for their rent to be paid straight from their benefits. Some people prefer to do this to help manage their money, and the new system benefits are paid monthly instead of fortnightly, making it even more vital. He said while previously this was a simple thing to set up through the housing department, a form now had to be sent away.

“I’ve sent off four of these forms,” he said. But he was yet to hear back about them.

He was worried landlords would begin to think taking tenants on universal credit was more trouble than it was worth. “It’s an awful situation for tenants, I have a lot of sympathy for them,” he added.

Mr Cunningham said he was also hearing similar things from other members of the landlord’s associations he headed up.

“This isn’t because of the tenants, but because the system has let them down,” he said.

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Housing benefit pumped into the private rented sector is dead money

If the government truly cared about value for money for taxpayers rather than the profits of private landlords, they’d build social housing

Last year, the government handed £9.3bn in housing benefit to private landlords – almost double the amount spent 10 years ago, according to a survey this week by the National Housing Federation (NHF). The rise is partly down to higher rents and stalled earnings, but also because the number of people in private rented accommodation claiming housing benefit has risen since 2008 from 1 million to 1.5 million.

Why does this matter, if people are being housed? First, cost – in many parts of the UK, the cost of private renting far outstrips the rents offered by local authorities and housing associations. The NHF estimates that if those claiming housing benefit in private rentals were in affordable housing, taxpayers would save £1.5bn a year. And many of those taxpayers claim housing benefit themselves.

But housing benefit pumped into the private rented sector is also dead money. Paying rent to your local council means the money is reinvested, in housing and other services. As long as the house stands, the revenue raised benefits the community. Paying rent to a private landlord lines their pockets, contributing to the upwards transfer of wealth from the poorest to the richest. It’s an inefficient, short-term way to spend state cash.

Landlord lobbying groups, acting in the interests of those landlords with multiple properties who view themselves as entrepreneurs, always argue their members are philanthropic, providing a service out of the kindness of their hearts, and are a vital part of the economy. In reality, renting property privately is a money spinner, and each day I am inundated with tales of the miserly and dangerous ways landlords have fitted out properties and their endless refusal to fix basic problems.

But the rent continues to flow. Many people on housing benefit feel they have no choice – there are landlords who won’t let to anyone in recipient of benefits, or with children, and the fees at the beginning of tenancies are often so exorbitant that people in poverty simply cannot move.

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Working instead of coming in to the Jobcentre? You’ll get sanctioned!

Andrew Dutton of the Derbyshire Welfare Rights Service writes on Rightsnet:

Client works part-time on Universal Credit.

Gets offered an extra day’s work, which clashes with a fixed Jobcentre+ meeting. Calls JC+, explains, all seems to be well.

Sanctioned for non-attendance.

Requests Mandatory Reconsideration on 8/8/16 and sends letter from employer dated 12/8/16 proving he was at work on the day in question.

Mandatory Reconsideration  Notice (MRN) 14/8/16 – no change to decision, says he has not produced evidence he was at work.

Apart from the sheer haste behind the issuing of the MRN, this is a decision that places attending JC+ appointments telling you how to get work over and above…. actually working.