DWP ignores the Parliamentary Ombudsman and refuses to compensate 118,000 disabled people hit by benefit maladministration

Worry precedent at the Department for Work and Pensions

The Department for Work and Pensions has set a worrying precedent for millions of people hoping to get compensation if civil servants get their benefit and pensions payments wrong or don’t inform them correctly by refusing to pay them a penny.

The decision also shows up the weakness of complaining about maladministration to the Parliamentary Ombudsman, Robert Behrens, in cases involving the ministry as it ignores his rulings.

The PHSO’s strong Youtube video on this case

This particular case involved 62 year old Ms U, who lives alone in London borough of Greenwich -one of the few authorities to still have a welfare rights service – who was on incapacity benefit and was moved on to the new employment and support allowance in 2012. This is aimed to be paid to people who cannot work because of severe health problems and is paid at two levels. The lower level is based on a person’s national insurance contributions and the means tested higher level which include premiums and access to other benefits like free prescriptions in England.

Ms U should have fitted into the second category. Ms U suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, arthritis, hypertension, and Graves’ disease an autoimmune condition. But she was wrongly put in the first category. As a result she lost access to free prescriptions and missed out in getting her home insulated under the Warm Homes scheme.

Ms U couldn’t afford to heat her home

Her representative said:” She could not afford to heat her property and could not afford to buy appropriate food to keep healthy. He said Ms U had poor mental health during that period and highlighted links between paranoid beliefs and depression and economic deprivation.

As far as her physical health was concerned, her hair fell out and she lost a lot of weight. Her representative said that since 2012, Ms U’s health had declined markedly: she had recently had a bypass operation, had deep vein thrombosis and poor blood flow in her legs and was due to have a toe amputated.”

Her underpayment went on for over five years from May 2012 to August 2017 before finally her arrears which then added up to £19,832.55 were paid. But she felt she was also entitled to compensation as the error had been committed by the ministry. The Ombudsman agreed in a report she had suffered an injustice and said the Department should pay her £7,500 compensation and interest on the lost benefit of over £19,000.

NAO report forced the department to find 118,000 other cases

She was not alone. An investigation by the National Audit Office found that some 118,000 disabled people had suffered the same fate prompting anger among MPs on the Commons Works and Pensions and the Public Accounts Committee at this huge error. Some £600m has had to be paid in arrears.

The Ombudsman also recommended that the rest of the 118,000 should also get compensation for maladministration and the department should take a proactive approach to deal with this.

It has now emerged that the department has refused to do this – despite the Ombudsman’s recommendation. I am indebted to Professor Robert Thomas at Manchester University and CEDAWinLAW who spotted this in a freedom of information request two days ago. See @RobertThomas223 and his tweet thread of August 5.

He said in a series of tweets:

“This issue is important because @dwp underpaid these people their benefit entitlements and many will have suffered injustice as a result. @PHSOmbudsman recommended that @DWP proactively compensate them. It refused. Affected people must approach DWP instead.

“But many people lack the confidence, stamina and knowledge to seek redress from government. Also, this is a largely vulnerable cohort of people. The result: unremedied injustice because of @dwp

“The underlying issue is, of course, money and almost certainly HM Treasury’s refusal to fund compensation. But the DWP can present itself as being fair: “anyone can contact us” while also knowing that few affected people will actually do so in practice. “

Sir Stephen Timms, chair of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee

Since seeing this I have contacted Sir Stephen Timms, Labour chair of the Commons Works and Pensions Committee, to see if, as they promised the Ombudsman, the DWP had alerted him to the decision. Initially he said he could not recall getting this and promised to investigate what has happened.

There is another big issue. This could impact on the Waspi campaign and the all party state pension inequality group of MPs to get compensation for women through a report from the Ombudsman. If after the Ombudsman says compensation is due the DWP follows this practice for the 3.8 million – six people will get compensation and the remaining 3.6 million still alive will have to write individual letters outlining their case to the ministry for any money due which will take even more time to resolve. You have been warned.

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DWP dumps on disabled claimants by rejecting plans to give them more say and rights over benefits

Chloe Smith, Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work

The Department for Work and Pensions has turned down some innovative proposals from its own advisory body, the Social Security Advisory Committee, to give disabled people more say in the benefit system.

The response to a report from the committee made over a year ago came in the last few days of the Parliament with an explanation from Chloe Smith, the minister.

Not only does her reply do an injustice to disabled people but heavily reflects the corporate approach inside the ministry which in my view, does not treat people claiming benefits as independent human beings who might have something to contribute to the running of the service.

Having a protocol for engagement is ” bureaucratic “

Typical of today’s government responses Chloe Smith cherry picks parts of the report which fit in with DWP’s grand corporate plan to digitalise everything – while ignoring other more challenging proposals to help the disabled.

The SSAC report- full details here – suggests the government should formalise engagement procedures with disabled people – giving them a chance to put their own views into how the benefit system could help them. The government rejects this as ” bureaucratic” while claiming it engages in meaningful discussions. The problem with this is that the government chooses what it wants to consult about and ignores issues it doesn’t.

The second recommendation was that the ministry should provide regular updates on its engagement with disabled people. The ministry rejects this on the grounds it already provides details of quarterly ministerial meetings with who attended under existing transparency rules ( I wonder how many disabled people search this out ). It certainly doesn’t want this extended to officials using the rather curious argument that “we need to recognise that some stakeholders or users may not want to be identified as having worked with the Department and we do not want to compromise open and honest dialogue.”

Really? Given the ministry publish the people who attend ministerial meetings on the disabled this seems rather contradictory.

A panel for disabled people ” not value for money”

The third rejected recommendation is a proposal to recruit some representative disabled people who experience the benefit system to act as a panel to raise issues. The Department responded:

 “Creating and maintaining a representative panel across all disability benefits is unlikely to offer value for money as it would require continuous oversight and recruitment. Given the wide range of policies the Department is responsible for, which will be of interest to different groups in society, we think having the flexibility to tailor our engagement will lead to more meaningful insight than using a standing panel. Any findings from such a panel would only be indicative and could not be used for robust evaluation to assess the impact or effect of any single policy intervention.”

The ministry did accept the fourth recommendation – the use of accessible technology – which would allow video interviews between staff and claimants – and is being trialled for Universal Credit . But that fits in with its modernisation plan.

It went on to reject a proposal to include a clause insisting on how private contractors – which do a lot of work for the DWP in assessments and interviews for disabled people – should engage with disabled people. This is a controversial issue – the Northern Ireland Ombudsman is currently investigating allegations of bad practice by contractors assessing people for benefits. But the department claims to include it would be subject to legal challenge by contractors during the bidding process for the work. Frankly if the private firms don’t want this if they want to do this type of work, it suggests to me their motives for doing the job are questionable.

The ministry also accepted a recommendation that its services should be more accessible for disabled people – and listed achievements in that area – again in line with their corporate plan.

Finally the ministry half accepted a recommendation for more leadership inside the department to enable disabled people and other claimants to have greater input but rejected appointing a non executive director to co-ordinate such a process. Instead it said it should be Chloe Smith, the present minister should do this as part of her job.

Minister’s complacent response

The covering letter from the minister said: “I am pleased to see the progress we have made in engaging with disabled people recognised in the Committee’s report. I share the Committee’s view on the importance of keeping the voices of disabled people at the heart of health and disability policy development and delivery. However, I do not agree with several of the Committee’s recommendations because I believe that we can achieve the outcomes of sustained, meaningful engagement with disabled people in ways other than those identified in the report.”

In my view the report reflects the current complacency and culture in the ministry – shown by the lack of engagement in the past over the raising of the pension age for 1950s women and the management’s top down attitude in not wanting to engage directly with pensioners, mainly women, who have been underpaid their pensions.

Incidently, in researching Chloe Smith for this article I came across a rather extraordinary story about her marriage partner, Sandy MacFadzean, a financial consultant. In September 2020 he dismissed those suffering from Covid 19 as having a ” mental illness”. He held such strong views that he went on a march run by Piers Corbyn when gatherings of more than 30 people were banned and retweeted a poster for it on his now closed Twitter account condemning social distancing, wearing face masks and opposing the mass vaccination of the population. The story was picked up by the Eastern Daily Press.

The minister defended his right to freedom of speech but said she disagreed with his stance. The discussions in their household must have been fascinating during the long pandemic.

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The “systemic maladministration ” facing the disabled applying for Personal Independence Payments -official findings

Margaret Kelly Northern Ireland Ombudsman

Northern Ireland ministry and Capita under fire

An absolutely damning report has been issued by Margaret Kelly, the Northern Ireland Ombudsman on the way hundreds of thousands of disabled people between the ages of 16 and 64 are assessed to see if they qualify for personal independence payments.

This two year investigation into the benefit is the first made by the Ombudsman using new powers under Northern Ireland legislation giving their Ombudsman the power to initiate inquiries if the Ombudsman thinks something is going wrong. This type of inquiry would be illegal in England, Scotland and Wales because Ombudsman do not have the same powers.

In Westminster Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, is currently refusing to even introduce draft legislation to give Rob Behrens, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. similar powers to start his own inquiries.

The findings apply to the 250,580 people who applied for the benefit in Northern Ireland but as the NI Ombudsman’s Office says ” there are many similarities to PIP across other parts of the UK.”

The report – which examined 100 cases in minute detail, made extensive inquiries of the ministry and Capita, and looked at statistics governing appeals concludes there has been ” systematic maladministration” by the Northern Ireland Department for Communities and Capita, who were administering the assessments.

Not “one off mistakes”

The report says these were not one off mistakes. Instead she” identified repeated failures which are likely to reoccur if left unremedied. It is therefore my view that there is more work to be done to improve the experience and outcomes for claimants, the robustness of decision making and public confidence in the system.”

She has made some 33 recommendations and has given the ministry and Capita six months to rectify them. She can’t compel the ministry to implement them but has said she will do a follow up report to see what they have done. The report also went to members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Ms Kelly said:
“Too many people have had their claims for PIP unfairly rejected, and then found themselves having to challenge that decision, often ‘in the dark’, and on multiple occasions, while not knowing what evidence has been requested and relied upon to assess their entitlement.

” Both Capita and the Department need to shift their focus to ensure that they get more of the PIP benefit decisions right the first time, so that the most vulnerable people in our society get access to the support that they need, when they need it. Furthermore, it will safeguard public resources by reducing both the time and costs associated with examining the same claim on multiple occasions.”

The report reveals a serious lack of leadership and guidance from the ministry, poor communication with claimants and a failure to get key additional medical information which would have helped them get the benefit. As a result many of them had their applications turned down only to appeal and get the benefit – at a cost of some £14m to the taxpayer. If the ministry and Capita had got the information in the first place there would have not have been the need for an appeal.

Capita had an incentive NOT to get further medical information to help claimants

She also discovered that disability assessors working for Capita had a perverse incentive NOT to get additional information to help the claimant because they would get a bonus if they completed the application quicker and getting extra information slowed down the process.

Capita were also criticised for poor communications with health professionals as well as claimants. When evidence was requested from Health Professionals named by the claimant, the request letters sent by Capita were often poorly completed and did not specify what information was sought.

In face to face assessments, the evidence from the consultations was often the primary and in some cases the only source of evidence relied upon by the Disability Assessors when providing their advice to the Department.

I came across this report because of a link to my blog from UKAJI, the United Kingdom Administrative Justice Unit, who have reviewed the long report. Their article is here.

I concur with their review which was impressed with the high standard of the research and the bar it set for future Ombudsman investigations.

To my mind this again shows the current weakness of the Parliamentary Ombudsman in Westminster. The present Ombudsman can only investigate complaints and therefore is left with a much narrower remit. By having powers to do a broad ranging investigation, much more detail can be investigated and issues that governments don’t want to address can be highlighted. Hence the conclusion in this report that the disabled have been subject not just to maladministration but ” systemic maladministration”. I bet disabled claimants are similarly treated in the rest of the UK but nobody has the resources to properly investigate their poor treatment. Let’s see what happens in Northern Ireland following this devastating report.

How Singapore shames London’s record on disabled mobility

Since taking this world trip I have gone out with my wife Margaret in a wheelchair in some 20 countries and encountered many challenges – from uneven and inaccessible pavements to stairs with no accompanying ramps, high kerbs, blocked paths and sudden inaccessible dead ends.

The visit to Singapore was a treat. It outstripped many European cities in the comprehensive services available to disabled people and the ease of getting around the country.

It sends a strong message to Transport for London on how to organise disabled friendly services across the capital. From travelling on the system it was clear a great deal of thought had been put in to make it as easy as possible for disabled people. Signage, positioning of lifts and the design of trains were all co-ordinated. So was access to the street to and from stations. It makes London just amateurish and years behind and pretty hostile to disabled people..

It was a lightening visit – just one day – it involved a visit to major attraction using the underground train system.

While This the cruise terminal was not directly connected to the metro the 250 yard walk from the terminal to the new station was well signposted. It’s served Marina South Pier where more local ferry services run. Getting access was easy . A wide ramp allowed wheelchair access to the station and lifts took you down to the booking hall and platform. The lift came out exactly opposite a carriage on the train which included wheelchair spaces.There was completely level access to the train with a minimal gap. We had to change lines at the next station Marina Bay. Again the system was easy to navigate.

Going out at Bayfront station was easy with lifts to the station entrance and a lift also well used by families with pushchairs to street level.

And then there was a bonus. We were going to the Gardens by the Bay one of Singapore’s newer iconic attractions. And round the corner was a shuttle bus to take you to the centre. But it was no ordinary shuttle bus. It included a ramp so wheelchairs could be hoisted on to the back to enable disabled people to travel in style. They were also testing a driverless vehicle.

Once there the two amazing attractions the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest were easily accessible.The Cloud Forest was particularly impressive with wheelchair accessible lift and always taking you hundreds of feet above the tree, hanging plants and huge waterfalls.The pictures tell the story.

Singapore’s system is copied by the metro in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. It also has lifts to platforms and ramps into stations. Unfortunately at the two stations we used half the lifts did not work. And the access to the stations is not straightforward. More like London than Singapore.

Exclusive: Disabled army veteran and IRA bomb survivor targeted for the sack by human rights watchdog

david-isaac-pic-credit-bbc

David Isaac, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and agreeing to sack disabled and black people who work for his organisation.

rebeccahilsenrath

Rebeacca Hilsenrath: chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and leading the programme of staff cuts Pic credit: Douglas-Scott co.uk

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

This is a story of the human cost of the Government’s cruel policy of saving money at any cost that is being pursued by a watchdog that is supposed to champion human rights in Britain.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission – despite strong staff and union opposition- is pursuing a policy of slashing staff. Its own equality impact assessment reveals that the cuts are to fall on the very people it is supposed to defend. Some 75 per cent of black people and the majority of disabled  people are said to have “failed” an initial assessment to keep their jobs. Most of the winners are young, able bodied and white.

But it is not just about statistics, it is about people.

One of the people who seems certain for the chop is  57 year old Markus Caruana,  who works in corporate communications at their Birmingham office.

He is a former flute player in the Corps of Drums with the Grenadier Guards.

Markus Caruana was unfortunate enough to have been both at the Guildford pub bombings in 1974 and the Chelsea Barracks bombing in 1981 which seriously injured regimental bandsmen from the Irish Guards.

He escaped unscathed in both instances but saw three of his friends killed in an IRA attack in Crossmaglen in Northern Ireland.

He left the army in 1985 to become a landscape gardener and then took advantage of a Unison sponsored education scheme to learn to read and write.

He had been a school refuser after being bullied and could hardly read or write or read music but was able to play his  flute because he had a natural memory for tunes.

In 2002 he secured a job with the Disability Rights Commission which later became part of the EHRC.

Sadly he lost his 75 per cent of his hearing and got  an incurable muscle wasting disease called Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) which affects the nervous system that supports muscles, often weakening the legs and feet.

The EHRC had enabled him to have a support worker so he could do his job there – but she is also facing redundancy now he has failed to retain his job.

Lois Austin, a full time official for the PCS union, which is fighting the cuts, said: “The Equality and Human Rights Commission are targeting some of the most highly competent disabled and black people for this new round of cuts.

” He is just one of a number of disabled and black people, some with young families, who are losing their jobs.

” If this was a private company the EHRC should be prosecuting them for discrimination. Instead they are setting an example for other firms who want to dump the disabled to save costs and the bother of employing them.

The EHRC  take is this. A spokesperson said:

“Whilst we cannot discuss individual cases, we deeply regret having to reduce our headcount as a result of budget losses, but like every public sector organisation we have had cuts imposed on us. We have strongly resisted these cuts, but believe the changes we are making will ensure we can still deliver our ambitious programme.”

In my view the EHRC’s stance is a hostage to fortune. They tell and could even prosecute firms who discriminate  against disabled people. If I were an unscrupulous employer I could now tell them to get stuffed – saying they are only following what the EHRC do rather than

say – which is to dump expensive and bothersome people who need support workers – to save money and increase my profits.

Britain’s  human rights body should hang its head in shame for what it is doing to its own disabled staff.

 

The New Privatised NHS : Wait five hours for a patient transport ambulance

Discreet logo of Medical Services on" NHS " ambulance. Pic taken by myself

Discreet logo of Medical Services on” NHS ” ambulance. Pic taken by myself

Medical Services Ltd is not a name instantly recognised by the general public. Their website claims they are the nation’s leader in the providing integrated patient transport and is bulging with testimonials from a grateful public.
The Anglo- Danish company (Falck a Danish private fire and ambulance company has just paid for a 45 per cent stake and put a director on the board) claims to be Britain’s biggest private ambulance provider, operating in London,Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and North West England.
It is well placed to make a lot of money as the NHS is progressively privatised,having according to its latest company accounts,a turnover of £29m, gross profits of £7m, and operating profits of £577,000.
However its PR appeal does not live up to reality. I am in the position of caring for my wife Margaret, who suffered a stroke while we were on holiday.
As previous posts on this site show, she received amazing treatment from the NHS when it happened on the Isles of Scilly and is receiving very good loving care and physio at Gossoms End rehab unit in Berkhamsted.
At the moment she can’t stand up or walk unaided and can only travel in ambulances.
Last weekend she had to get an X-ray – after toppling over – to make sure she had not broken her wrist. She received a speedy transit to Hemel Hempstead urgent care unit in an NHS staffed ambulance and was seen, X rayed,and sorted by the doctor’s co-operative who run the centre.
But then things went wrong. We were told we had to wait two hours. Two hours became three and then four. We pressed staff at the centre to find out whether this ambulance would ever turn up. Finally nearly five hours later it did, the driver saying it had only heard about the job half an hour ago when he started work on the night shift
Checking with staff I discovered that the ” nation’s leader in integrated patient transport ” is regularly leaving vulnerable disabled people for four hours before it picks them up.They said the Luton centre was rude to NHS staff and was fairly callous about patients having to wait in distress.
Later I discovered that Medical Services Ltd had just ONE patient transport ambulance on duty on Saturday evening covering the whole of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire from Letchworth to Watford and Dunstable to Bedford. They have a depot in Watford, with ambulances there, but they close it at weekends. No wonder it took five hours.
Next day I penned a pretty angry e-mail to one Joe Sheehan, managing director of Medical Services ( salary £120,000 last year – a 20 per cent rise). I suspect it caused him a bit of indigestion over Sunday lunch at his Kent home but I will credit him that he did respond to me -including sending me his mobile phone number.
Also to his credit he investigated it, admitted it happened and apologised for a ” sub standard service”.
He has also promised short-term action to remedy some of my complaints by rostering extra staff at the weekend so people won’t wait so long and raise the issue with the NHS commissioners who contracted him to do the work.
I have also sought an explanation from the East of England Ambulance Trust. They pointed out, see their comment on this blog, that they don’t commissioned his company. But they have got in touch with the Herts Valley Clinical Commissioning Group who are now contacting Medical Services Ltd about the delay. I hope to find out when they let contracts for patient transport whether they specify standards of service or staffing cover. They could have a share of the blame if they don’t.
I suspect however most people would never have thought of even finding out who owned the ambulance that came to pick them up – they would have assumed as a member of the public did when I was photographing the ambulance – that it is the NHS.
This is why I am told NHS staff at hospitals, urgent care centres, and the front line drivers ( this one was courtesy himself) bear the brunt of public anger for shoddy services while I fear the management of these private companies just collect the money and never have to face the public or be hauled to account.
This managing director – to be fair to him – seems to have smelt the coffee. He had better. The public deserve better.