Welfare Rights CASE studies

CASE Central has acquired a reputation for challenging very difficult cases.  – sometime, cases which could not be dealt by other agencies. We have, for example, received referrals or request for specialist advice from Seaford CAB, Brighton Housing Trust, Amaze, St Luke’s, from NHS Community Psychiatric Nurses, and from Peter Kyle MP. We have also helped people, especially migrant workers from the EU, referred to us by the Hospitality Workers, a branch of Solidarity Federation.

We summarise here some challenging cases seen by our advisers, which presented a range of difficulties, from bureaucratic entanglements to language and mental health barriers.  Tax credits overpayments and benefits sanctions are particularly challenging, because the rules place most of the responsibility on the claimant. Most referrals we receive are cases of ‘EU Right of Residence’: CASE Central’s advisers have accumulated many years of specialist experience in this specific field.


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Section 1

Tax Credits and issues with Concentrix

CASE Central are proud of having successfully tackled desperate cases of single parents accused of living with ‘partners’ with no evidence by Concentrix,  a private company paid by HMRC to tackle ‘benefit fraud’. Parents had their Tax Credits stopped and it was impossible for them to prove the negative – that they were not living with someone!

S. for example was accused of living with a partner – no name given. He thought that Concentrix meant the mother of his child and submitted evidence of his separation from her. Concentrix replied that they could not accept the evidence, but did not explain why. When we saw S. he was desperate.  We unblocked the case by discovering that the evidence was not accepted because the allegation had nothing to do with S.’s ex wife at all! S. was accused of living a ‘Jemma D.’ he had never heard of before. We then obtained a speedy reconsideration by complaining that S. could not prove anything about ‘Jemma D.’ simply because he did not know her. We thank Peter Kyle MP and his worker Stella for havign supported this case.

Cases of Tax Credits overpayments are also very difficult, because there is no right of appeal against the recovery of an overpayment. HMRC are only bound to a guidance, or ‘Code of Practice’, which gives to the claimants the responsibility to provide the correct information as well as the responsibility to spot any mistakes made by HMRC in their awards! However, sometimes the awards themselves are impossible to understand, let alone find any mistakes in them! For example, J., a young woman in part-time employment, was asked to repay nearly £900 Working Tax Credits overpaid to her. We disputed the recovery of the overpayment up to the ‘Adjudicator’, obtaining a write off. HMRC admitted that the overpayment had been caused by their incorrect processing of correct information and that their awards were a real mess. They also agreed to pay compensation for poor service!

Sometimes Tax Credits claimants who are accused of having been ‘overpaid’ are actually entitled to their payments and are not ‘overpaid’ at all.  In this case, the claimants must appeal against the decision that created the overpayment, instead of ‘disputing’ whether the overpayment should be repaid. CASE Central advisers have seen claimants stuck in endless disputes about the repayment of alleged overpayments, with their 13 month deadlines for an appeal dangerously running out. For example, M., a lady with a young baby had her Child Tax Credits cancelled because her husband was a person from abroad, and HMRC asked for about £9,000 back! We made it just in time to appeal, five days before the ultimate 13 month deadline, and won.

A painful situation is that encountered by self employed Tax Credits claimants who have been told that their work was not ‘remunerative’, and for this reason they had never been entitled to Working Tax Credits from the start. In Brighton we have seen graphic designers, people who produce or sell in the art/music scene, and craft artisans in this situation. Although HMRC had been happy to pay these claimants in the first instance, three years later they decided that their work had always been ‘a hobby’ and wanted all the money back! Recently, HMRC have also refused to pay Working Tax Credit to some new self employed claimants. We have supported people in providing the Tribunal with evidence of their commercial work. So far, we have had an excellent rate of success having won all our cases except one.

For example N., a CD seller who opened a business was denied Tax Credits from day one. HMRC refused to accept that half of his sales were part of his business because his online web page had a different name from the business. We had to track the payments from N.’s clients to his bank via PayPal – then HMRC reconsidered their decision and paid!

Last but not least the bureaucracy of Tax Credits can confuse anyone, but not CASE Central! To read how a new Tax Credits claim became a real nightmare, and how we unblocked it, click here.

To go back to the list of issues click here.  

Section 2

Problems caused by mental health and other disabilities

Sometimes our client’s health problems add to the complications of their benefit claims, interfering with people’s efforts to help them. These are the most difficult cases, involving a range of skills – knowledge, patience, and a proactive, hand-on, attitude. In cases of clients with physical disabilities, we have needed to make special efforts to attend appointments or Tribunal hearing on their behalf, when they could not attend

A typical case we often encounter is that of clients who are so mentally ill to be in total denial of their needs and problems. N., a client who was born with severe deformities and learning impairment, only sought our help because a friend phoned CASE Central. When N. saw us, he told us that he did not need help. Yet his DLA had stopped for months, he had failed to claim PIP, and he was unaware of how much money he actually received. We helped N. though the claim. It was very difficult for us to highlight signs and consequences of extreme self neglect, and to obtain medical evidence of serious problems, in a sensitive way. We then accompanied him to the medical examination, where he denied all his problems – but, facing the information we had gathered, Atos accepted his care and mobility needs and awarded him excellent rates of PIP. Also, we also obtained the backdating of PIP to the day when DLA had stopped, months earlier.

K. suffered with severe bipolar disorder, which made her react wrongly to anyone who tried to help her. Even professionals such as NHS social workers and Council officers had given up with her. This was a difficult case as the client’s intransigent and paranoid behaviour interfered with any help that she would have deserved precisely because of her illness. When we saw K. she was in the middle of a reciprocal ‘war’ with a neighbour, which made both risk eviction. It took time and patience to earn K.’s trust. We convinced her to stop retaliating against the neighbour, supported her in moving home and claiming benefits there, and gave her the opportunity to talk to us confidentially about new issues, to prevent new conflicts.

G., a British disabled man whose daughter was in full time non-advanced education abroad, was told by the authorities that his daughter no longer lived with him. He was then deprived of Child Benefit and was charged with the Bedroom Tax, because of his daughter’s ’empty’ room. In addition to these problems, G. also failed to receive ESA after a claim, with no apparent reasons – simply, the claim got ‘stuck’. We saw G. when he was already threatened with eviction for rent arrears, surviving on food from relatives. We obtained the re-instatement and payment of many months of Child Benefit, ESA, full Housing Benefit, and the cancellation of the eviction notice. This case involved legal expertise. We needed to understand the stages of each claim, and use a strategical combination of appeals, requests for backdating and official complaints.

H., a single mother who suffered with severe physical problems, was denied Housing Benefit for her home because she owned a second property. H. appealed, explaining that the second property’s value was very small. However, due to her illness, she could not attend the hearing, she was not represented by her advisers on the day and lost the appeal. She then seek help from CASE Central. We obtained the set aside of the original decision from a District Judge, and helped H. with a second Tribunal hearing, which was, this time, successful.

To go back to the list of issues click here.

Section 3

Gender issues

Due to the nature of our work, CASE Central has rarely seen cases which are strictly related to gender issues. The reason is that the benefits system is equivalently confusing, frustrating, and frightening for all claimants, whatever their gender… However, we have met one case which was complicated by the client’s fight to successfully change her gender, while keeping her benefits.

R. was a transgender claimant of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), who suffered from depression and anxiety; she had been suicidal before deciding to change sex. Since the beginning of her claim for ESA, R. had been re-assessed every three months. This means a self-assessment ESA50 form and then a distressing medical examination every three months! On the top of this, R. was not informed about the outcome of the medical examinations – she knew she had passed them only because she received the next ESA50 form. This was a continuous torture, with no respite. The frequent re-assessments were caused by the fact that R. was unable to provide medical evidence for her depression, and there was for a reason: the clinic which over viewed her change of sex would interrupt the treatment if she told them that she was depressed. Yet, a return to her original gender would have caused more depression and new suicidal attempts. We supported R. with the ESA50, doing our best to make it detailed enough to stand up as good evidence in its own rights, and accompanied her to the medical examinations. With this help, R. has so far passed her assessments. We also complained about the too frequent assessments and lack of information, explaining the impact of this on R.’s anxiety. In response to the complaint, R. is now re-assessed only every two years.

 

To go back to the list of issues click here.

Section 4

Migrant workers and right of residence

Cases of ‘Right of Residence’ are very difficult and require specialist knowledge. CASE Central has advisers who have worked in the field for more than ten years, accumulating expertise and keeping updated about changes in the law. We have so far concluded successfully all the cases we have taken up, many more than 50. We have so far refused to represent only one client, and one client did not provide us us with evidence to continue his case.

A typical problem met by claimants from the EU who stop working because they have fallen ill is that the DWP refuse to acknowledge them as ‘EU workers’ with rights, if there is a gap between the end of their job and their claim for ESA. However, many EU migrants are unaware of the benefit system and may not claim immediately after losing their job. And more than one clients have been denied ESA due to gaps of only around ten days! One of them saw CASE Central after an adviser from another agency just said ‘pity’ and refused to take the case further. CASE Central has successfully obtained reconsiderations in all these cases.

Another problem faced by claimants from the EU is to prove their previous work, sometimes done many years before. C. was a EU citizen who left his professional job because of severe depression. He lost all his possessions and was homeless for several months. He was then refused Employment and Support Allowance as he could not prove his past work, having lost everything. We found out that if C.’s claim for ESA had been backdated only one month, he would have had a right to benefit based on the National Insurance paid at work. We obtained the backdating of ESA, stabilising C.’s life. We then helped C. to retrieve evidence of work and prove his Permanent Right of Residence.

EU migrants often work in areas such as hospitality, where many employers recruit workers illegally and fail to register their jobs with HMRC. This is a stumbling stone when our clients’ have to prove their past job. CASE Central advisers have been refused co-operation from many rogue employers. One of us has even been threatened with physical assault by the owner of a Chinese take away, who was asked about an ex employee. To prove jobs at Tribunals we have creatively resorted to any odd evidence, such as witnesses’ statements, email exchanges, old photos of rosters, etc. Another problem is the fact that many restaurant or take away managers deny responsibility to confirm jobs because the actual employer is a remote franchise. To win the appeal of an Italian client we had to track down the franchise of Domino Pizza to another town, and then struggle to speak to someone there – which was not easy at all.

In 2014 the government imposed new conditions on EU claimants who were unemployed, which has made our work more difficult. First, only workers who retain their status as ‘workers’ after losing their job can claim, or continue to claim, Housing Benefit. Pure ‘jobseekers’ cannot claim Housing Benefit. Also, all unemployed, whether they have retained their ‘workers’ status or are simply ‘jobseekers’, will be deprived of all benefits if they fail to get a job after 3-6 months. This period can be extended, but the conditions are so strict that it is near to impossible. Recently a CASE Central client successfully received a two months extensions. The client was later told by his Jobcentre adviser that she was surprised, as she had never seen anyone getting an extension before! However limited, this extension was a little help. This client is now in work.

Sometimes, we have won residence appeals beyond the odds, and beyond the ‘normal’ reach of the law. Y. moved to the UK and had a very skilled job for some time. When had children with a British man, who left her, she claimed Income Support and a Tribunal decided that she was ‘habitually resident’ and entitled to claim. She therefore received Income Support for many years as a single mother, to concentrate on her children’s education and health. Ten years later, Y. fell ill but was denied sickness benefit (ESA) because she had been ‘economically inactive’ for many years. We argued that Y. had acquired a Right of Residence due to her, and her children, social integration in the UK and won a Tribunal appeal. Y. had her ESA paid, which helped her to recover. She is now running a successful business.

To go back to the list of issues click here.

Section 5

The nightmare of bureaucracy: confusion, mistakes and legal paradoxes

Sometimes the law has challenging or paradoxical repercussions which even the law makers did not forecast or desired, but this does not deter CASE Central!

Through the year 2017 we achieved a groundbreaking victory in a very difficult case caused by a new, mad, legal cul-de-sac. An elderly gentleman became homeless after his wife threw him out of home, but he could not get benefits because he still formally owned the house where his wife lived. The law says that, in these cases, in order to get means tested benefits, one has to ‘take reasonable steps’ to divorce and sell the property. However, the law was written long time ago: now, with the cuts to legal aid, the client didn’t have the money to see a solicitor. This caused a destrictive vicious circle: no money, no solicitor, no divorce proceedings, no benefits, even less money… But after a request for reconsideration and a complaint, the DWP eventually accepted that the time spent by our client trying to convince friends and family to lend him the money necessary to see a solicitor counted as ‘taking steps’ to divorce, and paid nearly £2,500 backdated benefit! With this, the client was also ‘passported’ to receive a backdated £6,300+ Housing Benefit and no longer risks eviction.

Sometimes we have cases that are complicated for no reason, except for mad bureaucracy.

For example, the young parents of a new born baby made a new claim for Tax Credit, but heard nothing for months. Eventually they were told that their claim had been ‘disallowed’, so they wrote a request for mandatory reconsideration. They again heard nothing for weeks, until they saw a CASE Central adviser.

We discovered that the client’s request for reconsideration had been put in the bin. The unbelievable reason was this: in order to reconsider a decision you need a decision, but there was no decision. In order to have a decision, there had to be a claim, but there was no claim because the claim… had been ‘disallowed’ at the onset. Stuck! But our advisers were eventually able to speak to an excellent HMRC officer who managed to ‘resurrect’ the couple’s claim. Just to complete the picture: the ‘disallowance’ had been caused by the fact that the couple’s hand written claim form had been misread by an automatic scanner!

To go back to the list of issues click here.

Section 6

Benefit sanctions penalising sick people or people with caring responsibilities

A. , a single parent with the responsibility of two children, was sanctioned for allegedly failing to attend a work-focused interview with a DWP’s private provider. In fact the private company had cancelled the interview on the day and had tried to re-book the client without even a day warning. We took the case to Tribunal and won. This case was very difficult because it was our client’s word against that of the private provider, who didn’t want to admit to have made a mess with a person’s life. But the judge decided that our client’s testimony was credible and lifted the sanction.

M., who was on Jobseeker’s Allowance at the time, broke her foot. Her partner had to care for her for a couple of weeks, and received a benefits sanction for not being ‘actively seeking work’ in that period. The couple asked us for help with the appeal. But when we took up the case, we realised that the sanction was not one but… two: M. had been sanctioned as well for not being ‘actively seeking work’ in those two weeks! Since the two sanctions had been imposed during the same period, M was not aware of hers and had never appealed. We made a late request for reconsideration for her very sanction obtaining an immediate reconsideration. We later helped her partner to win his Tribunal appeal. During this period, we also accompanied the couple to further Jobcentre interviews, to protect them from further unfair sanctions.

R., a Jobseeker’s Allowance claimant received a sanction for failing to attend an appointment with a private company, which was paid to overview her ‘work seeking’. R. saw us after the DWP had already refused to reconsider their decision. We managed to obtain all records of communications between R. and her ‘advisers’ and to prove that R had been given very contradictory information about her appointments; and obtain a second reconsideration! Many thanks to Caroline Lucas MP and her workers Tess and Liz for having supported this case.

H., an unemployed father of two children on Jobseeker’s Allowance, received a three-months sanction because he was unable to attend a full time Mandatory Work Placement. When he asked for a reconsideration, H. explained that he could not attend because he had to pick his children from school every day. Yet, he was immediately asked to attend a second full time placement. The DWP refused to consider H.’s parental responsibilities because the children’s main home was at his ex wife. A second refusal would lead to a second sanction, this time as long as six months. We successfully asked the DWP to consider H. parental duties, whether or not he was the primary carer, and obtained the cancellation of the second referral and a reconsideration of the first sanction.

To go back to the list of issues click here.

Section 7

The Work Programme and other similar schemes

CASE Central has been able to interrupt ‘Work Programme’ or similar scheme when vulnerable clients risked sanctions for no fault of their own. There is no law that give respite from a scheme to claimants once they are directed to attend, even if they are very ill and have claimed ESA. But CASE Central does not use just the law, but… human communication. And it works!

Unemployed claimant of Jobseeker’s Allowance R. was referred by Jobcentre Plus to a private company under the ‘Work Programme’, to be helped with her jobsearch. R., a vulnerable woman who was already very anxious, became even more anxious while in the scheme. For weeks she was given contradictory appointment dates and was threatened with sanction for failing to attend. She felt increasingly ‘gas lighted’, and had panic attacks and suicidal thoughts. She then claimed sickness benefit, for a respite. But the respite she expected to have was not allowed by the law: according to the law, her placement would continue under her new benefit, with the same company, and in the same setting that had made her ill! CASE Central’s first asked the Jobcentre to refer her to see a different private providers. This request was refused – it’s the law, an officer said. Two CASE Central advisers then visited the private company and obtained from them a suspension of R.’s interviews pending assessment for her sickness benefit. The client was later assessed as being so ill to be put in the Support Group and be legally exempted from all ‘schemes’.

To go back to the list of issues click here.