Holding the DWP to account and how to complain when your benefits go wrong

Nick at The Complaining Cow

Nick  Dilworth writes a guest post on the state of the benefits system and what to do if you have problems with benefits.

 

Holding the state to account
Having helped many hundreds of people battle with the Secretary of State over benefit decisions which are often full of flaws, badly reasoned and which are all too often overturned by independent Tribunals allowing appeals in favour of the claimant, I am increasingly concerned about the gross erosion of access to justice following cut backs in legal aid and cuts backs in the advice sector.  As a front line benefit specialist we are fully stretched in trying to help more people than our limited resources can adequately properly provide for.

I’m seeing large numbers of people turn to social media in an effort to find online solutions, its soul destroying to see so many people out on a limb and alarming that much of the advice available simply isn’t right.

So here’s a few handy hints.

What should you do if you find your benefits stopped, reduced or subject to sanction?

  • In all cases you should try and get help from a reputable advice agency such as the CAB or a recognised law centre. Despite savage cut backs the advice sector is still there to help you and even if they can’t offer you one to one help you can access updated advice resources which enable some people to resolve their problems by empowering them to follow the correct procedure.  Agencies have proper indemnity insurance if anything goes wrong and rigid training is in place for staff who provide advice, so speak to someone in the know.
  • Make sure you know which process to follow. If your benefits have stopped or been reduced or you are subject to a sanction, you will generally have a statutory right of appeal and a right to request written reasons as to how the decision was arrived at.  Most statutory authorities use fairly standard stock phrased letters, sometimes it pays to ask for more detailed information so you can be sure of exactly what it is that you disagree with.  Many disputes have to be resolved by initially requesting a ‘mandatory reconsideration’.  After this you should be sent a ‘mandatory reconsideration notice’; if you still disagree with the decision you can request a formal appeal to an independent tribunal arranged by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS); you’ll need to send a copy of the mandatory reconsideration notice with form SSCS1 to the HMCTS Appeals Centre to the address given on the form.  These types of disputes are known as formal reconsideration requests, revisions/supersessions and lodging formal appeal.
  • Always put your reconsideration request, request for reasons or formal appeal in writing, keep a copy and send it by some form of recorded mail so you have proof of postage and receipt. Authorities try and resolve disputes of this nature by telephone, by all means use it to speed things up but always back everything up in writing and make sure you keep a record of when the call was made, what was said and who you spoke to. Why you should write not phone. If you have been given a valid email then use it as it enables you to show evidence of communication. Do everything in the time limits, if this isn’t possible then provide some reasons for lateness.
  • Top 20 Tips for complaning gives more advice on how to write a complaint

Complaining

  • If you are unhappy over treatment you have received from a statutory agency you can complain. This may be appropriate in cases of delay, where standards expected fall below what they should be or where you believe you have been mistreated or treated unfairly.   Write to the Customer Complaints Manager of the department concerned and set out your complaint to provide a brief history followed by specific grounds under different headings followed by a summary and an idea of what you consider to be a suitable remedy.  Remember to be clear between the process of disputing/appealing and complaining otherwise your appeal may get lost in the wording of a complaint.  Break your letter down in to concise sections setting out the complaint in such a way that it is relevant, easy to follow and likely to draw attention to what’s gone wrong and who you consider to be at fault.  Set a timescale in which you should expect a reply.  Refer to any guidance of the department as to their complaints procedure.  You can always complain to MPs and other statutory bodies if you remain dissatisfied with trying to sort things out with the agency involved.
  • Contact details for key personnel responsible and for the DWP can be found here.

Discretionary

  • Some agencies and disputes, often concerning tax credits for instance, may be subject to a discretionary code where you don’t have a formal right of appeal. This doesn’t apply in all tax credit cases but for the majority you will need to follow the HMRC Code of Practice (COP 26) and set out your dispute in writing, you should argue your dispute and seek to persuade the agency on using their discretion to resolve it in your favour, it’s always good to cite the code and illustrate how it applies.

Caution when complaining Caution!

In cases involving a large loss of money, where the impact on you is serious, when being investigated or where issues of law arise you should always seek proper professional help.

Just a note from the site editor – heck of a lot of comments on here asking for help without a “please” or “thank you”. These words will get you a long way when a) asking for help and b) trying to get your complaint heard. People are less likely to want to help you if you don’t have any manners when speaking to them regardless of how appalling the situation.

Debt
If you are in debt please contact your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau for advice. Also Debt Camel is a great website for covering all things debt.

Further resources for information and advice about benefits
Advice Now is a great self help website for benefits (and lots of other things). https://www.advicenow.org.uk/tags/benefit-administration

The yourable forum  http://www.youreable.com/ is good. It is a forum so answers to questions may not always be answered.

About the author
Nick Dilworth is a welfare benefit specialist of over 20 years full time experience, alongside his day job in the advice sector he writes for the popular online website ilegal.org.uk where’s he’s received over 2 million views for his many articles tracking the chaotic reforms of the DWP and taken apart many government statistics to enable people to get a better concept of what’s really going on in the world of welfare.

Iain Duncan Smith
Helen Dewdney who runs this blog went to a couple of surgeries with IDS when he was in charge of the fiasco known as the DWP to challenge him and recorded the meetings. You can see:

The Complaining Cow Meets Iain Duncan Smith #IDSfail and

Round 2 The Complaining Cow Meets IDS

Other sectors
How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

 

For help with consumer rights and how to complain in other sectors such as energy, telecoms, retail, finance etc. do look round the blog and for more with template letters GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!

 

 

Round 2 The Complaining Cow Meets IDS

On the 17th January I went to see IDS in a surgery. No personal issue but I had decided to take on others’ issues just because I could. I thought I’d go again. Here’s how easy it was to make another appointment……

22/01/14 Emailed the office asking for further appointment
28/01/14 Emailed pointing out that IDS told me emails were answered within 48 hours but not had a response hoped I wouldn’t have to go to the media…
04/02/14 Response to say email forwarded to Jo Nash (IDS’ researcher/assistant) and shortly afterwards response from Jo Nash to say FOI had been forwarded and to give details of new case to “…see if an appointment will be necessary” (with Iain) 🙂 (That smiley face was mine not hers!)
06/02/14 Emailed Jo saying how nice it was that we were all on first name terms and I shall put them on my Xmas card list. Pointed out discrepancy in how long it had taken to forward FOI, I had not had a response to letter re the #WowPetition and I wished to discuss further the issues that we had run out of time with before and that Iain had agreed to this
10/02/14 Forwarded email asking for response
10/02/14 Response referring only to FOI
10/02/14 Jo forwarded email showing she had asked someone to draft a response to the #wowpetition letter. You can see the response here, here and here
10/02/14 Responded pointing out it was the last two paragraphs of the email I needed a response for. One of which said specifically “As regards the next appointment, I am sure you will recall that Iain very politely said that he would answer another question after we were out of time and that I said it was fine I could arrange another appointment to which he agreed. So in summary I would like to finish that discussion regarding benefits and fraud and also ask Iain about ATOS.”
13/02/14 Response saying copied in Lynn into email to make appointment
13/02/14 Email booking me in for the 21/02/14

Five emails and 22 days to get another appointment….. 🙂 🙂 🙂
Wait ’til you see the response to my request for a third go…!

Anyway, here follows 3 clips of my surgery with IDS.

Firstly “bedroom tax” he blames councils, housing associations and doesn’t agree with the National Housing Federation figures….. he was a little confused when I mentioned James from LBC (he had quite a row with him on LBC radio)

 

The Bull heard me editing these and told me to  “Leave the poor bloke alone” Frankly he’s heard me give a lot worse so don’t know what that was about! Then we talked about ATOS. Unfortunately not enough ammo at my finger tips but I had a little stab. I raised my voice a little but controlled myself! Not really the grilling that he got at the committee hearing on Universal Credit last December but every little helps and we know I love that phrase! (Too many of my posts to which I could link!) Look to see how he doesn’t answer a question, blames the last Government, dismisses stories of people in comas and with degenerative diseases as isolated and media spin.

Wouldn’t be me without a little bit of fun, so a couple of clips of taking something, can’t think what….! Asked him to take a selfie… see what happened! I gave him cake. Well I did offer to Jo and him to come to my house where the kettle was always on and if I knew they were coming I’d bake them a cake. But unfortunately despite saying he makes home visits they are only for disabled people. No mention of sick people though. They may have thought I fell into this category of course though…

So yes, I asked for another surgery with Iain. He’s my mate now don’t you know? This is the response I got:

“Hi Helen,
I understand from CWGCA that you are seeking another surgery appointment with IDS. As I’m sure you can appreciate, we have a large number of constituents requesting surgery appointments, and it would not be fair for us to see one constituent on a monthly basis and not other constituents. Our next surgery is on Friday 28th March and I know that this is already getting full up with some very urgent cases. I would therefore ask if you could be patient and wait for a surgery appointment in April or May, once we have dealt with some of the much more urgent cases.
Thanks.
Jo”

So, that’s it then. No more meetings, obviously hoping to put me off indefinitely.

Ok, so who believed that then? What? Are you new to this blog?! I’m just lulling her into a false sense of security and not responding for a few days… but I will… keep an eye out on my Facebook page and Twitter to keep updated!

06/03/14 update – emailed 12 follow up questions last week and chased today for answers, still no reply. I will NOT give up!

Would be interested in your comments. Do you think things will improve? Do you think he’s getting a handle on it? Will those error figures go down? Do you think he cares? Are the cases we hear about just isolated? How much should that percentage error decrease? What do you think of the “bedroom tax”? Were enough homes built in your area? Do you think it is incompetence or targets or both? Would you like one of our cakes? Should I leave him alone now?

 

Related articles across the web

The Complaining Cow Meets Iain Duncan Smith #IDSfail

I am lucky enough to have Iain Duncan Smith as my MP! As a constituent of his I thought I’d go and have a chat. Well, poor old IDS he does get a bad press and I like to support the underdog so thought I’d give him a chance to put across how much he knows about the area for which he is an MP. He should know it well, he’s been MP since 1992 in Chingford and 1997 someone somewhere redrew the boundaries and he got Woodford Green as well. I was sure he visited often, (he doesn’t live in Chingford he lives here.) I thought I’d find out what he thinks about how people are affected by benefit reforms and cost of living rises.

So, I thought I’d go see him. Well why not? I went to see him as a concerned human being about my fellow man. I emailed him, 4 emails actually (that will be another story coming soon) and after 8 working days I got an email to ask if I could make a surgery on Friday. I asked her where it was and if I could record it. I was told that I could ask this at the surgery. Bit difficult when I didn’t know where the surgery was. I also was very very good and didn’t point out that there are no apostrophes in the words “Tuesdays” and “Thursdays” and those of you who know me and follow this blog know just how kind of me that was! For those that don’t see here!

Now, I have a new little gift for people when I meet them as The Complaining Cow. I thought I’d go bearing a present for IDS. Oh come on, how many presents do you think IDS gets from normal people? Anyway, It’s this:

"What is it?"

If you got this from someone what would you say? I asked on my Facebook page and generally, it was “Thank you”, and lots of “Clever idea” “Tell me about what you do” sort of things. So, given that it is a retro milk bottle (remember those milk bottles we had in school before Thatcher the Milk Snatcher?) with sweets in it and it clearly has a business card on it you’d think he would say something along the lines of “This is your business?” “Is this you?” “This looks interesting” Nope. He looked at it very suspiciously and said “What is it?” I explained, he did then say “Oh interesting, hope it works well for you, it’s what we need for the economy more people taking on challenges and risks” Did he Hell, he did say “Thank you” though.

So, I had my long long list. A few pages in fact, but sadly didn’t get very far. 15 minutes is a very short time you know. BUT! I have not been banned from going back and making regular appointments 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 So back I will go. Mind you if he see this and hears some of the clips he might decided against it, although as my MP I’m not sure he can do that?

So, you want to know what he said don’t you? Ok, after talking about the delay in responding to me I sort of mentioned social media:


 

Catch the part about emailing being as quick as tweeting? I’d already told him it had taken 8 working days for his office to respond to me. Watch out for a follow up post there were FOIs in them there emails which as far as I know haven’t been forwarded….

Then I asked him about Foodbanks:

Man of the people “..talks to lots of people from churches and stuff like that” What more do you want from him?! More positive stuff about IDS? Hmm well before that attempt here is an update 22/01/04 statement from Chris Mould from Trussell Trust:

‘We have asked Iain Duncan Smith to meet with us and would welcome the opportunity to speak to him.

We are keen to open a dialogue with DWP and have been asking to meet them for some time because the DWP is the key department with the power to help a significant proportion of the people we meet at our foodbanks.’

Also, as far as we know, we are unaware of Iain Duncan Smith asking us about foodbanks in Chingford. We will look into this further but cannot find a record of this at the moment”.

Oh, oh. Hmmm. IDS says he asked Trussell Trust if it was going to open a food bank in his constituency. It says they have no record. Someone somewhere is possibly telling porkies. I wonder which it is. Or maybe Trussell Trust will find it. I think they’d know though…..!

I do think that he actually believes what he is doing is right. He thinks he is doing good. I’m not saying he IS! I’m saying he believes he is. Hear for yourself where we chat about benefits and the cost of living (and no, I didn’t put that laughter in):

See what I mean? He believes what he says doesn’t he? “Generous benefit” “Most people get a fair deal.” The exemptions he mentions however are limited. No exemption is made for the equipment that might be needed by someone disabled for example. But I ran out of time…

Update 24/01/14:

(Can’t make these automatically open in another window so just right click!)

Smirking at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSQgw9K6FT8#t=1481
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSQgw9K6FT8#t=1743
Apparent laughter:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSQgw9K6FT8#t=1749

Now, I wonder if poor old IDS is being set up by Camoron. (Not a typo). Do you think he’s making IDS do all the dirty stuff then right near the election sack him and say “Look I got rid of him, we’ll make changes after his mess” as a crack at trying to get back into power? Aw poor old IDS.

Look, I didn’t vote him in, never have so don’t go pointing the finger at me! It is sadly though one of the safest seats in the country or I’d think about standing against him as an Independent with the name “Z None of the Above Please”. Not that I have the will, the inclination, the time, the campaign, the support or the money! Love to see someone give him a run for his money though, don’t think he has ever gone to a single house at election time. I’ve been ready for him but my vote isn’t important to him.

So, have you changed your opinion of the man? Did you think he was different talking to a constituent rather than a journalist? Did you agree with anything? Can you see another side?

Went and had another go here 🙂