Discussion archive

Top Policy topic #1660

Subject: "Benefit answers website" First topic | Last topic
paulmack
                              

service manager, PCT & HIV teams, Manchester Advice
Member since
23rd Oct 2009

Benefit answers website
Wed 23-Dec-09 09:17 AM

The following website has been brought to our attention:

http://www.benefitanswers.co.uk/

It claims to offer free advice, yet asks their clients to pay them 45% of arrears of benefit claim they helped them with e.g. DLA even though claimants are under no legal obligation to do so.

We have an example of a client paying them £1500 in backdated benefit.

They cite delays in people's ability to access "CABs and welfare rights" organisations as a reason to use them instead.

The website only provides a postal address.

Does anyone have experience of this site or know who may be behind it?

thanks

  

Top      

Replies to this topic
RE: Benefit answers website, ariadne2, 03rd Dec 2009, #1
RE: Benefit answers website, Paul Treloar_GB, 04th Dec 2009, #3
      RE: Benefit answers website, clairehodgson, 04th Dec 2009, #6
           RE: Benefit answers website, billmcc, 14th Dec 2009, #7
                RE: Benefit answers website, Derbyshire, 15th Dec 2009, #8
RE: Benefit answers website, AlteredChaos76, 15th Dec 2009, #9
RE: Benefit answers website, AlteredChaos76, 15th Dec 2009, #10
      RE: Benefit answers website, Paul Treloar_GB, 16th Dec 2009, #11
           RE: Benefit answers website, Gareth Morgan, 16th Dec 2009, #12
           RE: Benefit answers website, Paul Treloar_GB, 16th Dec 2009, #13
                RE: Benefit answers website, Gareth Morgan, 16th Dec 2009, #14
                RE: Benefit answers website, Tony Bowman, 17th Dec 2009, #15
                RE: Benefit answers website, John Birks, 22nd Dec 2009, #17
           RE: Benefit answers website, AlteredChaos76, 18th Dec 2009, #16
                RE: Benefit answers website, iut044, 22nd Dec 2009, #18
                     RE: Benefit answers website, John Birks, 23rd Dec 2009, #19
                          RE: Benefit answers website, Gareth Morgan, 23rd Dec 2009, #20
                               RE: Benefit answers website, John Birks, 23rd Dec 2009, #21
                                    RE: Benefit answers website, JohnA, 23rd Dec 2009, #22
                                         RE: Benefit answers website, Derbyshire, 24th Dec 2009, #23
                                              RE: Benefit answers website, iut044, 24th Dec 2009, #24
                                              RE: Benefit answers website, Gareth Morgan, 24th Dec 2009, #25
                                                   RE: Benefit answers website, iut044, 24th Dec 2009, #26
                                                        RE: Benefit answers website, John Birks, 05th Jan 2010, #27
                                                             RE: Benefit answers website, Derbyshire, 05th Jan 2010, #28
                                                                  RE: Benefit answers website, GAD, 05th Jan 2010, #29
                                                                  RE: Benefit answers website, John Birks, 06th Jan 2010, #30
                                                                       RE: Benefit answers website, nevip, 07th Jan 2010, #31
                                                                       RE: Benefit answers website, GAD, 07th Jan 2010, #32
                                                                            RE: Benefit answers website, Gareth Morgan, 07th Jan 2010, #33
                                                                            RE: Benefit answers website, John Birks, 07th Jan 2010, #34
                                                                                 RE: Benefit answers website, billmcc, 07th Jan 2010, #35
                                                                                      RE: Benefit answers website, Paul Treloar_GB, 07th Jan 2010, #36
                                                                                           RE: Benefit answers website, Derek, 07th Jan 2010, #37
                                                                                                RE: Benefit answers website, Gareth Morgan, 07th Jan 2010, #38
                                                                                                     RE: Benefit answers website, John Birks, 08th Jan 2010, #39
                                                                                                          RE: Benefit answers website, Tony Bowman, 08th Jan 2010, #40
                                                                                                               RE: Benefit answers website, nevip, 08th Jan 2010, #41
                                                                                                                    RE: Benefit answers website, Paul Treloar_GB, 08th Jan 2010, #42
                                                                                                                         RE: Benefit answers website, Gareth Morgan, 08th Jan 2010, #43
                                                                                                                              RE: Benefit answers website, PeteD, 11th Jan 2010, #44
                                                                                                                                   RE: Benefit answers website, Tony Bowman, 11th Jan 2010, #45
                                                                                                                                        RE: Benefit answers website, Hallam, 22nd Jan 2010, #46
                                                                                                                                             RE: Benefit answers website, clairehodgson, 23rd Jan 2010, #47
                                                                                                                                                  RE: Benefit answers website, clairehodgson, 23rd Jan 2010, #48
                                                                                                                                                       RE: Benefit answers website, Tony Bowman, 25th Jan 2010, #49
                                                                                                                                                            RE: Benefit answers website, Tony Bowman, 25th Jan 2010, #50
                                                                                                                                                                 RE: Benefit answers website, shawn, 25th Jan 2010, #51
                                                                                                                                                                      RE: Benefit answers website, clairehodgson, 25th Jan 2010, #52
                                                                                                                                                                           RE: Benefit answers website, GAD, 26th Jan 2010, #53
                                                                                                                                                                                RE: Benefit answers website, iut044, 26th Jan 2010, #54
                                                                                                                                                                                     RE: Benefit answers website, clairehodgson, 26th Jan 2010, #55
                                                                                                                                                                                          RE: Benefit answers website, Derbyshire, 26th Jan 2010, #56
                                                                                                                                                                                          RE: Benefit answers website, iut044, 26th Jan 2010, #57
                                                                                                                                                                                               RE: Benefit answers website, Gareth Morgan, 27th Jan 2010, #58
                                                                                                                                                                                               RE: Benefit answers website, nevip, 27th Jan 2010, #59
                                                                                                                                                                                               RE: Benefit answers website, iut044, 27th Jan 2010, #60
                                                                                                                                                                                               RE: Benefit answers website, clairehodgson, 27th Jan 2010, #61

ariadne2
                              

Welfare lawyer and social policy collator, Basingstoke CAB
Member since
13th Mar 2007

RE: Benefit answers website
Thu 03-Dec-09 02:33 PM

From Companies House website:
Name & Registered Office:
BENEFITANSWERS.CO.UK LIMITED
176 DAISY MEADOW
BAMBER BRIDGE
PRESTON
UNITED KINGDOM
PR5 8DR
Company No. 06623741

Status: Active
Date of Incorporation: 18/06/2008

Country of Origin: United Kingdom

Company Type: Private Limited Company
Nature of Business (SIC(03)):
6523 - Other financial intermediation

Accounting Reference Date: 30/06
Last Accounts Made Up To: 30/06/2009 (DORMANT)
Next Accounts Due: 31/03/2011
Last Return Made Up To: 18/06/2009
Next Return Due: 16/07/2010

Last Members List: 18/06/2009

AAssuming this is the same business I presume that although initially listed as active the latest accounts show it to be dormant. This is quite interesting. If you want more info (eg, who the directors and shareholders are) you will have to pay for them! But looking on Google Maps the premises are clearly residential and part of a block of flats.


  

Top      

Paul Treloar_GB
                              

Head of Helpline and Information, Gingerbread, London
Member since
01st Jun 2009

RE: Benefit answers website
Fri 04-Dec-09 09:14 AM

And just to remind you how seriously the erstwhile Minister, Tony McNulty, took the situation when the issue of benefits advice being charged for was raised in Parliament:

"We are aware that other organisations promote benefits advice services on a commercial basis and have received a small number of representations. However, these services are not in themselves illegal, and it is the responsibility of the service Regulator to monitor their operation and to take action where necessary to control them."

Hansard

Loosley translated as "we don't really care", which given the Hon Gentleman's track record on expenses, isn't too surprising maybe.......

  

Top      

clairehodgson
                              

solicitor, CMH Solicitors, Durham
Member since
09th Apr 2009

RE: Benefit answers website
Fri 04-Dec-09 01:22 PM

he would care if it was a solicitor giving the advice....

don't get me started....

  

Top      

billmcc
                              

Manager, Dumfries Welfare Rights
Member since
19th Jan 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Mon 14-Dec-09 07:47 PM

There was a phone in debate about this no win no fee site today on bbc2 about dinner time.

I did try to call but constantly engaged.

On the whole it was as I would have said anyways.

People deserve a choice, 45% of nothing is still nothing, hence this no win no fee site has a good reason to try a lot harder than public funded agencies.

Its not in the governements interest for people to claim what they are entitled to, this site helps make sure they do.

  

Top      

Derbyshire
                              

Welfare Rights Officer, Derbyshire County Council Welfare Rights Service
Member since
25th May 2005

RE: Benefit answers website
Tue 15-Dec-09 03:47 PM

Are you suggesting that those of us who don't charge for results don't try as hard for our service users as websites who do? I hope not.

  

Top      

AlteredChaos76
                              

LSC Welfare Rights Caseworker, Citizens Advice Bureau, Taunton, Somerset
Member since
21st Apr 2009

RE: Benefit answers website
Tue 15-Dec-09 07:42 PM

What an absolute disgrace this is and they are not just talking about appeals they are talking about helping with claim forms and taking a cut of the benefit paid following the claim being processed - sheer robbery.

Here is an excerpt from the site....

" Benefit Information Services works for you on a no-win no-fee agreement. Here is an example of how this works. Remember this is just an example; your claim will be different.

Let's say you were awarded benefit paid at £45 a week, the claim was submitted on 1st September and a decision made on 27 October. That's eight weeks money you would be owed, or £360

We ask you to pay us 45% of that £360 or £162. The £162 is not paid out of your pocket; it comes out of the money the DWP pay you. From 28 October you would be £45 a week better off, we have no interest in that, only your arrears or back pay as some people call it.

If the 45% happens to be less than £50 then we have a minimum charge of £50 but that doesn't usually happen. "

And it doesn't stop there, they have taken a lovely approach to slagging off CAB and other NFP orgs...
" Then again, why should you pay us some of your back pay? Why indeed. You can get help for free from the CAB or welfare rights. Of course, most CABs and welfare rights have a waiting list. Contact them and you could wait three to fours weeks for an appointment. Contact Benefit Information Services and you will wait on average no more than a week for an appointment. For urgent cases an appointment can be arranged within 24 hours. Better still we either come to you or talk to you on the ' phone. No need to travel. No need to sit in an office where everyone can see you and guess why you are there! "

Every client that contacts the bureau I work in speaks with an adviser/assessor the same day, and we too have urgent appt's on the same day.

My rant is over now I shall start with raising hell!!!
Chaos

  

Top      

AlteredChaos76
                              

LSC Welfare Rights Caseworker, Citizens Advice Bureau, Taunton, Somerset
Member since
21st Apr 2009

RE: Benefit answers website
Tue 15-Dec-09 08:01 PM

Complaint made to trading standards

I have just noticed that their website has a link to... http://www.ibassist.co.uk/

Guess what it is...
Yes you've guessed it a website where 'experts' will complete an IB50 or ESA50 for a fee!!!

How much will it cost?
" We charge a fee of just £ 35 Ė less than one week of benefit if your claim for ESA is successful.

However, if after following our advice your claim is unsuccessful after Appeal, we will reimburse your fee minus £10 to cover administration costs. "

Generous or what?
Chaos

  

Top      

Paul Treloar_GB
                              

Head of Helpline and Information, Gingerbread, London
Member since
01st Jun 2009

RE: Benefit answers website
Wed 16-Dec-09 08:11 AM

I complained to the local trading standards about the misleading claims on the website (as advised by the Advertising Standards Agency who say they don't deal with websites) - what have I heard? Nothing, not even an acknowledgement.

  

Top      

Gareth Morgan
                              

Managing Director, Ferret Information Systems, Cardiff
Member since
20th Feb 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Wed 16-Dec-09 11:15 AM

Just out of curiosity. None of the responses here seem to know, or care, whether they do a good job.

If they were doing an excellent job, would that change peoples opinions?

  

Top      

Paul Treloar_GB
                              

Head of Helpline and Information, Gingerbread, London
Member since
01st Jun 2009

RE: Benefit answers website
Wed 16-Dec-09 12:59 PM

What a ridiculous statement to make Gareth. There are any number of reasons to find this objectionable - the claim that they can secure you benefit payments of £60 p/w for life - utterly misleading. The fact that it's in their interests to spin out your claim to increase the amount of arrears that they're going to get their hands on. The fact noted above that they effectively denigrate free advice services across the piece.

The revelation that it appears that this company is under the stewardship of someone who has been prosecuted for fraud following his sending a letter to the tribunal rather than the claimant in which he advised her to lie (Paul Brennan recently stood down as Director of benefitanswers and Suzanne Brennan was appointed in his place if you look here bizzy.info - one would assume that this is the same Paul Brennan mentioned Scamster is just a first-class fool, says victim

You may be relaxed about people paying for benefits advice, I'm not when they charge premium rates on their phone lines, when they operate outside of any form of statutory regulation it appears and when already poor people are lining the pockets of unscrupulous operations such as this one.

  

Top      

Gareth Morgan
                              

Managing Director, Ferret Information Systems, Cardiff
Member since
20th Feb 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Wed 16-Dec-09 05:14 PM

I don't think it was ridiculous Paul.

You've made a number of perfectly sound criticisms but that's the first time most of them have appeared in this thread.

Most of the postings have focussed solely on the fact that they charge.

If they charge, but provide a good service that their customers find worth the price, then I would see that as differentiated from a pure rip-off.

Someone is going to pay for advice services; it's often not the client directly but taxes, charities or SLAs. Where the client does choose to pay directly; to solicitors, accountants or an organisation or individual then it's the value and quality that should matter more, IMHO, than the fact that they choose to pay.

I suspect that this may be a dodgy operation but, until your details, that wasn't the focus of criticism.

  

Top      

Tony Bowman
                              

Welfare Rights Advisor, Reading Community Welfare Rights Unit
Member since
25th Nov 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Thu 17-Dec-09 10:08 AM

Thanks for the signpost to this thread Paul.

I'm generally sat on the fence regarding charging and there are a number of arguments that can be put either way.

Arguments in favour of charging (by competent advisers) might include:

- If all those in need of advice went to a 'free' organisation, they would not all be seen;
- In my experience, the ability of some CAB's and other advice agencies to give good, accurate advice information and assistance is on the decrease;
- It is better to pay and be better off rather than not get help due to the factors above;


The same, negative, arguments are not made about charging for advice in other areas of law. Do we think those that pay solicitors for help with, for example, housing and employment law are all well-off? When I was a CAB adviser I saw a client who got into debt to an employment solicitor for £8,000 - considerably more than she gained by taking her case to tribunal. Benefits seems to be treated differently just becuase it's 'benefits' so, by default, people are assumed to be in poverty and must be unable to pay. However, not all benefits are means-tested, not everyone 'qualifies' for free advice, and some benefit claimants are pefectly able to pay (esp. some of those in reciept of non-means tested benefits).

Using premium phone lines can be a proportionate method of charging for good, quality advice.

When I looked at the website highlighted at the start of this thread, the only major issue I had was that there appears to be no upper limit to their charging which means they could be paid a grossly disproportionate amount for the work undertaken. For example, take the case of a DLA claimant who has been out of hospital several years and whose DLA has not been 'de-suspended'. If the company secure £6000 in DLA arrears, which might require 2 hours work, that equates to an hourly charge of £1350.

These companies should cap thier charges - although the would have to take into account those times where the client's do not receive a sizeable enough arrears payment for the work involved or where they do not pay.

  

Top      

John Birks
                              

Welfare Rights Officer, Stockport Advice
Member since
02nd Jun 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Tue 22-Dec-09 02:33 PM

Why is it in this line of business that there seems to be high degree of intolerance for any thoughts that deviate from the accepted norm of the community?

Jus because someone has a thought a question or idea that is 'different' why does it cause a response that the writer is, in this case, saying something that is ridiculous?

Surely to see both sides of an argument is truly wise whilst seeing only one side is to be blind?

BTW. Its PB for sure. If you look an Nominet you get the same address as the other websites.

Favouraite mode of operation is to write in to local papers editiors post bag (or whatever) pointing out the bleedin obvious and offering to help.

One of my customers was 'helped' by PB with a ss request whilst sentenced, presumably allowed to work from an open prison?

Benefit (DLA) was reduced.

They were very helpful in swiftly passing on copies of the file.

In this case no money was earned by the offending party.

Benefit ended up being restored.

Increased following a proper ss request.

The plain fact is that the longer a half your winnings organisation drags out your appeal the more they get paid.

No reason at all for swift resolution to your claim.

Perhaps publicity putting that obvious point across would be best?

  

Top      

AlteredChaos76
                              

LSC Welfare Rights Caseworker, Citizens Advice Bureau, Taunton, Somerset
Member since
21st Apr 2009

RE: Benefit answers website
Fri 18-Dec-09 09:08 PM

Paul,

I have had an e-mail from trading standards confirming they are 'looking into my complaints about misleading and inaccurate information' on the site and will contact me shortly. I shall keep you posted.

Chaos

  

Top      

iut044
                              

Advisor, South West Lancashire Independent Community Advice
Member since
15th May 2007

RE: Benefit answers website
Tue 22-Dec-09 04:52 PM

Tue 22-Dec-09 04:54 PM by iut044

This post is is no way to defend Paul Brennan. I just thought people may find this of interest.

A client approached my organisation after Paul Brennan had done some work for his appeal but said that he could not do any further work towards it (presumbly because he was in jail). I would like to stress that my organisation does not have any links with Paul Brennan. Anyway, he had actually done a very good job writing a very detailed letter to the GP of the client which solicited a very detailed response which contributed to the appeal being won!

I would still perfer Paul Brennan was not involved in benefis advice because he has committed a criminal offence.

As to the principle of whether it can ever be right to charge for benefits advice, I can see the pros and cons

Pros

If somebody wants to pay for something, why shouldnt they be allowed to do so?

The free advice sector has not got the capacity to help everybody who wants to be helped

A lot of people would not have the confidence to even fill in a DLA form or go to appeal

Cons

In some cases (I stress the some, I do not want to offend anyone on here) the adviser will not make a significant difference to the outcome of the case 50% of appeals suceed without a rep 2/3 sucessed with a rep, so a significant difference but not huge

Conflict of interest - EG May encourage clients to take risks with changes of circumstances without fully warning them of the risks

Hmmmmmmm most clients are poor - but then again some relatively poor people pay for private medical treatment, buy cars, go on holiday etc should they not be allowed to do that?

  

Top      

John Birks
                              

Welfare Rights Officer, Stockport Advice
Member since
02nd Jun 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Wed 23-Dec-09 08:44 AM


One more con (no pun intended)

the longer a 'half your winnings organisation' drags out your appeal the more they get paid.

No reason at all for swift resolution to your claim.

  

Top      

Gareth Morgan
                              

Managing Director, Ferret Information Systems, Cardiff
Member since
20th Feb 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Wed 23-Dec-09 11:59 AM

"No reason at all for swift resolution to your claim."

Well, he would get paid more quickly and cashflow is important.

  

Top      

John Birks
                              

Welfare Rights Officer, Stockport Advice
Member since
02nd Jun 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Wed 23-Dec-09 12:33 PM

oh yeah I hadn't thought of it that way.

Then again there must be a formula in the business plan to work out what and is what not worth doing?

suppose even a supersession from LRC to MRC is worth £156 (without any side benfits) not bad for an afternoons work.

  

Top      

JohnA
                              

Chairman, Low Incomes Tax Reform Group
Member since
18th Mar 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Wed 23-Dec-09 02:40 PM


I don't whether it's just me, but I can't log on to their website any more.

Happy Christmas.

  

Top      

Derbyshire
                              

Welfare Rights Officer, Derbyshire County Council Welfare Rights Service
Member since
25th May 2005

RE: Benefit answers website
Thu 24-Dec-09 11:16 AM

I am disappointed to find rightsnet members trying to justify the activities of a convicted fraudster. When an adviser (whether paid or not) gets caught telling a claimant to lie we all suffer from the resulting publicity through being tarred with the same brush.

Also disappointing is the stated opinion that if people want to pay for something they can get for free it's up to them. This means promoting a two-tier advice system; one for those who can afford to pay and one for those who can't. Private education and healthcare have been mentioned as parallels. Well, comrades, I object to them as well. The only difference is that private medicine and education are actually advantageous to those who buy them, whereas paying a fly-by-night service to get your benefits for you is almost certainly not.

CC

  

Top      

iut044
                              

Advisor, South West Lancashire Independent Community Advice
Member since
15th May 2007

RE: Benefit answers website
Thu 24-Dec-09 12:11 PM

Thu 24-Dec-09 12:12 PM by iut044

What Paul Brennan has done is terrible and I would like to see him banned. I was talking in theory if someone reputable wanted to to set up a service.

Not everyone can get the service for free. For a period in Skelmersdale none of the advice organisations were taking on appeals for new clients.

Some services give advice on employment law free but nobody seems to object to solicitors giving advice on this. When I informed a member of my family about free employment law advice he said that if he ever had an employment problem he would rather pay to go to an firm of employment solicitors that he knows has a very good reputation.

  

Top      

Gareth Morgan
                              

Managing Director, Ferret Information Systems, Cardiff
Member since
20th Feb 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Thu 24-Dec-09 12:16 PM

"I am disappointed to find rightsnet members trying to justify the activities of a convicted fraudster".

I don't think anyone has done that. Someone with a personal knowledge of a case has said that, in that case, he did a good job.

"When an adviser (whether paid or not) gets caught telling a claimant to lie we all suffer from the resulting publicity through being tarred with the same brush."

Absolutely; but I'll bet that a number of advisers here have told clients not to volunteer something unless asked.

"Also disappointing is the stated opinion that if people want to pay for something they can get for free it's up to them. This means promoting a two-tier advice system; one for those who can afford to pay and one for those who can't"

Is it better to have two tiers, one for those who can get advice and one for those who can't? That's the reality for many people.

"...advantageous...paying a fly-by-night service to get your benefits for you is almost certainly not."

Probably not indeed but are you saying that everyone who charges to give advice is a fly-by-night service?

  

Top      

iut044
                              

Advisor, South West Lancashire Independent Community Advice
Member since
15th May 2007

RE: Benefit answers website
Thu 24-Dec-09 12:20 PM

I was certainly not justifying what Paul Brennan had done, I was just commenting on the work he had done in that case. I was worried when I posted the original comment that people would take it the wrong way!

  

Top      

John Birks
                              

Welfare Rights Officer, Stockport Advice
Member since
02nd Jun 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Tue 05-Jan-10 11:54 AM

People just like to take things the wrong way in my experience.

Holier than thou is one phrase, I'm sure that someone can come up with better.

  

Top      

Derbyshire
                              

Welfare Rights Officer, Derbyshire County Council Welfare Rights Service
Member since
25th May 2005

RE: Benefit answers website
Tue 05-Jan-10 02:01 PM

I shan't take offence but gerrit right,mate. Tha means "holier then thee" surely!

  

Top      

GAD
                              

Welfare Rights Officer, Welfare Rights Service,Lancashire County Council
Member since
15th Dec 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Tue 05-Jan-10 04:09 PM

Locally we have got bits into the press pointing out that people should not have to pay for advice and representation, even if they may not get to see someone straight away. Trading Standards has taken the matter up (a paragraph in their regular alerts briefing to people/organisations on their mailing list) though initially reluctant as no laws were explicitly being broken by these firms' operations.

Part of the problem is that some people are not necessarily exercising choice they just might not know who to turn to, particularly if they are new to the benefits sytem. When I need to find where to get help/info I will google it and if you google benefits advice you will see these outfits first and not realise you may be able to get the same advice locally for free. This is also a problem when looking for debt advice when national Debtline will be about the 4th link to appear if you google debt advice.

  

Top      

John Birks
                              

Welfare Rights Officer, Stockport Advice
Member since
02nd Jun 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Wed 06-Jan-10 09:23 AM

Na

  

Top      

nevip
                              

welfare rights adviser, sefton metropolitan borough council, liverpool.
Member since
22nd Jan 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Thu 07-Jan-10 11:13 AM

The main problem with organizations such as these is not one of charging but of accountability. The not for profit sector and local authority welfare rights advisers are accountable to their employers, local councillors, management committees and funders. Services are free at point of source and are subject to ongoing scrutiny through case review, regular supervision and outcome measurement. Ultimately, local residents will pay a small charge through central and local taxation.

The comparison with the legal profession is somewhat spurious. Solicitors are part of a long established profession providing a whole range of legal services across a wide spectrum of law. The evolution of private practice has been an essential part of both the development of law and of the constitutional rights of citizens. Citizens have a right of access to a court and, where they have a right to representation, to an advocate of their choice. The modern day growth of legal aid, pro-bono work and law centres has been for the good but legal services controlled entirely by the State is neither sensible or desirable, for obvious reasons.

Accordingly, therefore, the legal profession is highly regulated. Solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority and barristers are regulated by the Bar Standards Council. Both are subject to s strict code of conduct and can be barred from practising for life if found guilty of serious misconduct.

Clowns like Paul Brennan are accountable to no one. At least for certain other types of service there are there are umbrella bodies which contractors can sign up to providing they conform to a certain code of practice and membership gives the client an idea that a certain standard and quality of service will be provided. We work with vulnerable people, such as people with disabilities and mental health problems. We often have access to their homes. Everyone in my team has been police checked for Godís sake.

There is a whole range of services already available for people, in LAís, the voluntary sector or the established legal profession. If people donít know about us then we need to be more pro-active and publicize ourselves better. Where there are gaps, then they need to be identified and voluntary agencies need to work with the statutory authorities to plug those gaps. The profession needs to be accountable. What we provide are vital services to help people (and, granted, not always the poor and vulnerable) exercise important rights. We are not selling soap.

  

Top      

GAD
                              

Welfare Rights Officer, Welfare Rights Service,Lancashire County Council
Member since
15th Dec 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Thu 07-Jan-10 11:28 AM

Is this a reply John? If so, not sure what it means.

  

Top      

Gareth Morgan
                              

Managing Director, Ferret Information Systems, Cardiff
Member since
20th Feb 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Thu 07-Jan-10 12:56 PM

Thu 07-Jan-10 12:58 PM by Gareth Morgan

I'm sure that you've come across the concept that excellent is the enemy of good enough.

I've been around long enough to have watched the increase in bureaucracy / standards / governance / checking with mixed feelings.

Yes, there are better and more consistent standards in much of the advice world than there were 25 years ago.

There is also a greater reluctance to 'stick your neck out' than there was as well.

More importantly, there is an enormously higher overhead in time, effort and cost before you get to give advice at all and that means less advice per pound than could be the case.

I've just discovered that the advice-giving hours in a CAB I know are less than 10% of the total hours worked within it; the rest are meetings, supervision, recording, training, assessment etc.

Would it be better to give more advice and have less supervision for example?

The other example, under the 'sticking your neck out' label that I've just had is a cancellation of one of our benefits program by an advice agency which is going to use the DWP system, not because it's cheaper, but because it's 'official' and can therefore be relied on.

Regardless of my views on the system (and they are not positive) my feelings about an advice agency that tells me it's safer to use 'official' advice and information are unprintable.

  

Top      

John Birks
                              

Welfare Rights Officer, Stockport Advice
Member since
02nd Jun 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Thu 07-Jan-10 01:30 PM

Thu 07-Jan-10 01:31 PM by John Birks

I'm sorry for any confusion but my reply of Na was to the earlier comment as reproduced below.

"I shan't take offence but gerrit right,mate. Tha means "holier then thee" surely?"

This was a reply to my previous comment of;

"People just like to take things the wrong way in my experience.

Holier than thou is one phrase, I'm sure that someone can come up with better."

For clarity my thoughts are not supportive of PB or half your arrears orgs.

However, a customer of mine thought he (PB) was a lovely man despite his DLA supersession request ending in a reduction in the award. Who am I to say otherwise?

(Maybe PB or similar would have to pay half of whatever is/was lost?)

Anyways customer got back DLA and the increase he was after, so alls well(ish) in the long run for him.

Free Speech.

Freedom of speech is the freedom to speak freely without censorship or limitation. The synonymous term freedom of expression is sometimes used to denote not only freedom of verbal speech but any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used.

Holier than thou Results of about 703,000

Holier than thee Results of about 8,800

Either way the definition is the same I believe;

Exhibiting an attitude of superior virtue; self-righteously pious.

http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/holier-than-thou

"If the cap fits?"

  

Top      

billmcc
                              

Manager, Dumfries Welfare Rights
Member since
19th Jan 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Thu 07-Jan-10 02:34 PM

Although not in favour of people charging for advice, almost all advice even if described as free is funded by the public in some way so contributes to our growing national debt.

I have a friend who charges for help and advice in welfare rights and debt issues, people know advice is available freely locally to him but they choose to use his services.

He is more knowledgable than many full time paid advisers in the advice sector, a sector he used to work in for many years.

Many have come to him after being to see these free services who have said there is no point in appealling or claiming, only for him to go on and win at appeal or be sucessful in their claim.

He has more incentive to to win and take on borderline cases, as 100% of nothing is still nothing.

  

Top      

Paul Treloar_GB
                              

Head of Helpline and Information, Gingerbread, London
Member since
01st Jun 2009

RE: Benefit answers website
Thu 07-Jan-10 04:00 PM

So then Bill, are you saying that your WR service isn't up to scratch and local people would be far better off going to see your pal for some advice? After all, he's better than the full time paid advice workers that you know, clients come to see him after being failed by free-at-the-point-of-contact services like yours, and he gets better results in terms of outcomes than you're apparently capable of achieving......

Or have I got the wrong end of the stick here?

The fact that society collectively pays for free advice doesn't undermine the points that Paul made very well above, inre: regulation and due accountability. If Gareth knows of a CABx that spends only 10% of its time on direct casework, I would suggest that there is a problem with the management and governance of that CAB more than anything else. Yes, there is more paper work and more standards to meet as a professional benefits adviser and yes, there could well be productive ways in which to reduce that administrative burden.

The fact remains that paid-for-services of the kind that opened this thread have a track record of charging premium rates for phone lines, making misleading claims on their websites about what they do and how they do it and as in the case of the guy running this service, has actually been convicted of fraud for his activities, all of which I find quite disturbing if we're concerned with trying to maximise the incomes of people, who almost by definition, have the least money to begin with.

  

Top      

Derek
                              

CAB Adviser, Esher CAB
Member since
09th Mar 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Thu 07-Jan-10 05:00 PM

I deal with debt advice as well as benefits. Perhaps you can draw an analogy. There are (or were, maybe many of them have shut up shop now) IVA "factories" putting people into IVAs which were totally unsuited to their circumstances (& advertising a "Government scheme" under which they could get 75% of their debts wiped out). There are firms which charge a fee to set up Debt Management Plans & take a % of each month's payment. There is a little industry taking money from people in the expectation that they can get their credit card etc. debts wiped out due to alleged irregularities in the Consumer Credit Act agreements.

I see people who have been involved in this sort of thing. They come to the CAB because they are not happy with what has been done. When I look into it I find there is generally poor quality work & a failure to act in the true best interests of the client. I'm not saying this happens all the time - clearly people who are satisfied with the service don't come to the CAB - but I've only once come across someone who expressed a reasonable degree of satisfaction with what had been done, & in most of the cases I've seen the financial statement has been prepared on a harsh basis whhich leaves the client too little money to live on & which then causes the arrangement to break down. In one case someone in an IVA was borrowing money to make the IVA payments!

So you can see I'm no fan of paid for services. I think the profit motive of the people operating them all too often militates against them being run in a way that really helps clients.

  

Top      

Gareth Morgan
                              

Managing Director, Ferret Information Systems, Cardiff
Member since
20th Feb 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Thu 07-Jan-10 07:27 PM

The credit card debts industry is probably dead after last weeks court decision but, no doubt, the people involved will move onto some other dodgy scheme.

There are undoubtedly large numbers of such people in advice and other areas - but it isn't everybody.

The problem that I have with the opinions earlier is that they are a bit Animal Farm - two legs bad, four legs good.

The logic seems to be that advice is poor because it's paid for rather than the, more realistic perhaps, view that people who want to make money easily will charge their clients rather than give advice free and take advantage of peoples needs where they have little alternative provision available.

People should be allowed to make their own choices, whether or not that involves paying for a service.

Sometimes people may be happier paying; they may get a cup of coffee with a chocolate biscuit and a quick appointment. They may even feel that they will have more control when they pay or be in a stronger position if they need to complain.

They may pay because the only other option is no advice and they need the help.

They may need the help, have no other source of advice and decide not to pay on principle.

They may even choose to use free, high quality, advice that is available

The important point surely is that it's the clients right to choose not for advisers to impose their political stance on them. Their choice may be limited because of their resources or because of available services but it's still their choice.

The separate issue is that there needs to be a way of enabling the clients to understand the quality of the advice and service that they will receive from whichever source of advice they choose so that they can see what they'll get.

How many advisers here would be happy to have their performance published in the kind of league tables that schools and hospitals have to endure? The clients might be assumed to be more interested in results than in any organisation's internal systems or compliance with an external regulator's standards.

A bit stream of consciousness I'm afraid but I'm winding down after an icy journey home.

  

Top      

John Birks
                              

Welfare Rights Officer, Stockport Advice
Member since
02nd Jun 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Fri 08-Jan-10 10:45 AM

Fri 08-Jan-10 10:48 AM by John Birks

I'd be happy to have my performance included in a league table but would that be enough?

The downside of league tables is that it only tells you one story and may push a representative into taking only the 'good cases.'

I'd be wary of any rep whose performance was significantly above the national average as they're either clearly a genius or they're cherry picking.

Clients with borderline cases (and most are in my experience hence not having the award expected etc rather than DWP error) may find their representative persuading them to withdraw or unwilling to take the case on.

Personally I think long overdue for tribunal representatives is some sort of affiliation to a professional body. The same could be done for Debt advice and other service areas.

Minimum standards would be required/enforced and/or recognised qualifications be made available. The Institute of Tribunal Representatives for instance?

One of the minimum standards applied could be the cab ranking rule for barristers and/or that reps actually might have a clue on the subject area they're advising on.

Yes this would add a further cost but could replace much internal auditing (allowing more advising to be done) and standardise the quality advice available.

For the record the main and probably only reason I'm in this line of work is due to my getting some awful advice from a CAB volunteer in the nineties, but that is another story.......

  

Top      

Tony Bowman
                              

Welfare Rights Advisor, Reading Community Welfare Rights Unit
Member since
25th Nov 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Fri 08-Jan-10 01:10 PM

"I'd be wary of any rep whose performance was significantly above the national average as they're either clearly a genius or they're cherry picking."

In terms of appeal success rates for repped clients or those who get detailed advice, my stats are significantly above average. However, I'm neither a genius nor do I cherry pick (in fact I have a rep for taking cases that other's don't). I get my results because I'm reasonably good at my job, logically minded and - most importantly - I strongly uphold advice principles of impartiality and non-judgementalism (the governement departments have as much of this as they do grit at the moment!).

However, and reflecting on the issue raised by Paul regarding standards and regulation, I feel that my performance is reduced becuase of the bureacracy of standards, regulation and funding - most notably that imposed by the LSC and CAB membership requirements (which is partly why this organisation left Citizens Advice a couple of years ago). I'm now forced to close cases, not take up cases that I might have done just a few years ago or increase the empowerment aspect of advice (which I'm always an advocate of anyway) to an unreasonable degree. Not to take these measures puts the future of our service in jeopardy.

There is a big difference between quality and quantity. I'm driven by the former, but becuase funding free advice is driven by the latter, the former suffers. Were I working independently, quality would be at the forefront once again. Therefore, getting 'free' advice, might not yield the best quality and, as I said earlier, in my view standards in the free advice sector are decreasing.

Nevertheless, that said, regulating freelancers/fee chargers generally doesn't happen so there'll always be an element of uncertainty. Maybe this is something that the IoA (Institue of Advisers) might consider looking into...

  

Top      

nevip
                              

welfare rights adviser, sefton metropolitan borough council, liverpool.
Member since
22nd Jan 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Fri 08-Jan-10 01:41 PM

Tony

Thats the beauty abaout working for an LA. I used to do legal aid work in the 1990's and I believe the paper work is even worse now. In an LA you are well resourced and don't have a fraction of the paperwork and other LSC nonsense to contend with. Thus I spend 50% of time in face to face advice and the other 50% on casework. A reasonable split I think. We have to be accountable but are far from overburdened with regulation or red tape.

And I, like you, have a fairly high appeal success rate and I don't cherry pick cases. If its at least arguable I'll take it but I won't take hopeless cases either. We are lucky in that we are given the freedom to use our own judgements to choose which cases to represent, we have a well experienced and knowledeable team who are well respected in the community we serve. Long may we continue.

  

Top      

Paul Treloar_GB
                              

Head of Helpline and Information, Gingerbread, London
Member since
01st Jun 2009

RE: Benefit answers website
Fri 08-Jan-10 02:43 PM

Well, there's the rub. When I worked on Lasa's appeals team, we had a consistent success rate of about 80%, and we certainly didn't refuse to take on "difficult" cases, however you frame them. What we did have was a positive and professional attitude to the cases that we did elect to represent, an impartial and independent approach to advising on the merits of cases, and we were very open and honest in dealings with our clients.

We asked the referring agencies to undertake an initial assessment of the clients that were referred, to try and ensure that there was some kind of valid appeal (i.e. to sift out the "my dogs died so i want more income support") but after that, we certainly didn't dissuade clients from pursuing cases simply because their chances of success were slim. I'd like to think that we did garner a reputation for representing our clients honestly and without prejudice and as a result, were trusted by tribunals in terms of our legal arguments and opinions.

The fact that the Lasa appeals team is no more doesn't back up the "need" for paid-for advice services to plug the gap, in my opinion - I would certainly prefer it if there were some form of free representation for benefit claimants pursuing appeals, yet the lack of available funding for such services is self-evident. There is a strong case to be made for the way in which such services can actually deliver added value to the advice sector, by freeing up frontline services to deal with more straightforward issues, whilst also having another organisation to signpost clients towards with more complex cases.

I do find the argument that some service is better than no service, even where that service may be charging, may be unregulated, and may have a financial imperative, rather than a client's best interests, as the driver for their actions, to be slightly perplexing - if proper funding and lighter regulation for independent advice services were to be implemented as part of a new 21st C welfare state, the issue of paid-for services would fade off into the background.. The fact that the welfare system is so complicated certainly doesn't provide a justification either for being comfortable with unregulated paid-for services - surely as advice providers, we should use that to argue for the expansion of our "free" services, until such time as the government gets it's act together in designing a welfare system that does properly meet the needs of it's recipients in a progressive and helpful manner?

  

Top      

Gareth Morgan
                              

Managing Director, Ferret Information Systems, Cardiff
Member since
20th Feb 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Fri 08-Jan-10 03:37 PM

"The fact that the welfare system is so complicated certainly doesn't provide a justification either for being comfortable with unregulated paid-for services - surely as advice providers, we should use that to argue for the expansion of our "free" services"

Paul, that's fine but we all know that it isn't going to happen.

What do you think should happen in the meantime?

Isn't it a bit like saying that people should have been allowed to bleed to death in the 1940s while waiting for the NHS?

  

Top      

PeteD
                              

Welfare Department Manager, Stephensons Solicitors, Leigh, Lancs
Member since
23rd Jan 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Mon 11-Jan-10 03:32 PM

Just a few thoughts on this interesting thread.

What I say is based on experience of working in NFP, Statutory and Private sectors over many years....

I am NOT an advocate of ANY "fly-by-night" service in ANY advice sector, though I have to say (at pain of invoking controversy) that - over the years- I have seen examples of what may be described as poor-downright negligent advice in ALL sectors!!!!

Neither am I perfect myself!

The issues of quality v quantity are well-versed and do indeed seem to reflect a reality in LSC funded work at least.

Local Authority funded work does have a certain "luxury" as others in that sector have already said in this thread (though many LA WROs in their historic sense have been removed from the map altogether), whilst any number of NFP agencies are understandably struggling to cope with demand in an ever-changing funding landscape.

Personally I have undertaken Benefits (and much other) advice work on a Private Paying Basis for years. I can honestly say that I have been very successful for the vast majority of those clients who chose to instruct me on that basis. And I do not cherry pick (though I will apply a strict merits test, such as others in this thread have described). I have never worked on a no win no fee, or percentage basis, although - in principle - this can work in many other Legal advice areas. I have always either agreed a fixed fee or an hourly rate with my clients.

In that sense, the fee structure I use could, I suppose, be more open to abuse (theoretically) than the No Win No Fee!!, where at least the client knows what's what from the start.

However, I will not be changing my own ways on this, and continue to prefer to use the fixed rate or hourly rate.

I have also undertaken a great deal of work under LSC contracts (fixed fee and hourly rate) and I also have (I consider) a more than fair record over many years of offering pro bono advice to countless hundreds of clients.

What I will say (echoing earlier contributors) is that NOT everyone with a welfare benefits (or debt, employment, community care etc) problem is "POOR".

I have represented clients and family members of some very wealthy people over time. I have also represented many from middle-decent incomes who simply would not be eligible for LSC funding but who benefitted substantially from proper advice and representation, or advocacy.

In the past (working in the Private sector at this point) we used to have a policy which basically used to refer any non-LSC eligible clients to various (well established) voluntary, independent and LA-based advice agencies which were local to the client.

A number of issues were raised by those organisations at that time who roundly criticised us for "offloading" that work to them...even though they were funded by other streams which took account of the non LSC eligible sector of the community....these criticisms became much more voluble when those same organisations became (predominantly) LSC funded agencies themselves.

I for one did not agree with this referral policy and a culture had embedded itself (it still is with some advisers) which basically did not allow anyone to privately pay for services, even when they could and wanted to do so. Net result for those clients (in many, many cases) was that they returned to us for help after the other agencies had either declined to see them, were unable to see them (yes, even back then!!) or basically offered them a second rate service (in several cases they also "cocked up" significantly).

Now, I'm not looking to pick a fight, or generalise here, but it seems to me that (and I have stated this many times before) there are two types of advice..."good" and "bad".

Of course people would usually choose "free" advice (whatever rationale or definition that phrase has)...if it were possible...However, others wouldn't...the questions earlier in the thread which seemed to me to be most pertinent were around whether any of us could (hand on heart) guarantee that advice from our sector (or even our own organisations) was ALWAYS 100% perfect, available and free. These questions, I believe were properly raised as the contributions to the thread had not accounted for the QUALITY of advice at all...merely the fact that someone paid for it.

Regulation/quality control etc etc are obviously means to an end...tools which should apply in ensuring best practice and optimum performance across ALL sectors.

Trouble is no-one has come up with the perfect set of yardsticks yet...when they do, we all groan another sigh to face up to yet another example of someone's idea of the goalposts being imposed upon us (before the next ones come a few months later).....

For clarity and the record, I think that ANY unregulated advice is a dangerous concept.

I do not believe that paying for advice is itself wrong.

Peter

May I add that these are my personal views and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation which employs me.

  

Top      

Tony Bowman
                              

Welfare Rights Advisor, Reading Community Welfare Rights Unit
Member since
25th Nov 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Mon 11-Jan-10 03:44 PM

An informative post, Peter. Thanks.

  

Top      

Hallam
                              

Adviser, Student Advice Centre, Sheffield Hallam Students Union
Member since
25th Sep 2006

RE: Benefit answers website
Fri 22-Jan-10 11:38 AM

I've just read through this thread and decided to visit the Benefits answers website for a lokk around. I noticed it now seems to have used this discussion out of context as a selling point. I must say I wasn't suprised at the lack of scruples...

As one advisor on a well-known website puts it:

ēIf all those in need of advice went to a 'free' organisation, they would not all be seen;
The ability of some CAB's and other advice agencies to give good, accurate advice information and assistance is on the decrease;
It is better to pay and be better off rather than not get help due to the factors above;

We donít rely on funding or volunteers and we wonít turn you away!

  

Top      

clairehodgson
                              

solicitor, CMH Solicitors, Durham
Member since
09th Apr 2009

RE: Benefit answers website
Sat 23-Jan-10 05:12 PM

and the LSC's legal help only allows 2 hours work, when a lot of the time it takes 2 hours to get to grips with the documentation never mind provide any advice. and you aren't allowed to rep on legal help save in a very exceptional case, and they'll tell you afterwards if they agree that it was...pah. assuming, of course, the person qualifies for legal help at all!

  

Top      

clairehodgson
                              

solicitor, CMH Solicitors, Durham
Member since
09th Apr 2009

RE: Benefit answers website
Sat 23-Jan-10 05:15 PM

and it occurs to me - if they are providing benefits advice, then they are just as entitled to be members here as any of the rest of us ....

  

Top      

Tony Bowman
                              

Welfare Rights Advisor, Reading Community Welfare Rights Unit
Member since
25th Nov 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Mon 25-Jan-10 01:05 PM

"and it occurs to me - if they are providing benefits advice, then they are just as entitled to be members here as any of the rest of us ...."

Good idea. I've suggested it to them.

  

Top      

Tony Bowman
                              

Welfare Rights Advisor, Reading Community Welfare Rights Unit
Member since
25th Nov 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Mon 25-Jan-10 02:34 PM

...and they told me that they attempted to join rightsnet but their application was refused becuase they charge for thier service.

I hope that's not true.

  

Top      

shawn
                              

editorial director, rightsnet
Member since
28th Jul 2005

RE: Benefit answers website
Mon 25-Jan-10 04:35 PM

hi -

the terms and conditions that govern access to the forum can be viewed @ http://www.rightsnet.org.uk/pdfs/df_acceptable_use_policy.pdf

as you'll see, there's nothing in there about refusing access because an organisation charges .....

best wishes - shawn

  

Top      

clairehodgson
                              

solicitor, CMH Solicitors, Durham
Member since
09th Apr 2009

RE: Benefit answers website
Mon 25-Jan-10 06:33 PM

can't be true, or i wouldn't be a member either LOL

and, essentially, all those who do work on legal help charge for their service - it's just that they charge the LSC, not the client.

  

Top      

GAD
                              

Welfare Rights Officer, Welfare Rights Service,Lancashire County Council
Member since
15th Dec 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Tue 26-Jan-10 09:45 AM

But isn't that a significant difference (at least to the client) that we as a society have said we will share the costs of some areas of legal advice so those with the least income have access they wouldn't otherwise be able to afford? Not particularly arguing that organisations who charge in any way should not be members of Rightsnet just pointing out there is a difference. We could stretch the argument to saying that healthcare is no different for people in this country than it is in the US because somebody has to pay at the end of the day. I'm sure it is different for the 30 million people in the US who don't have health insurance.


  

Top      

iut044
                              

Advisor, South West Lancashire Independent Community Advice
Member since
15th May 2007

RE: Benefit answers website
Tue 26-Jan-10 10:02 AM

Tue 26-Jan-10 10:03 AM by iut044

A profit making organisation that charges the client is going to have a different ethos to a not for profit organisation that raises money through other means.

However. I would not have a problem with Benefit Answers joining rightsnet.

  

Top      

clairehodgson
                              

solicitor, CMH Solicitors, Durham
Member since
09th Apr 2009

RE: Benefit answers website
Tue 26-Jan-10 01:02 PM

"A profit making organisation that charges the client is going to have a different ethos to a not for profit organisation that raises money through other means."

in what respect? certainly not in respect of doing job for client!

  

Top      

Derbyshire
                              

Welfare Rights Officer, Derbyshire County Council Welfare Rights Service
Member since
25th May 2005

RE: Benefit answers website
Tue 26-Jan-10 03:51 PM

I upset people earlier in this thread with a reference to "fly by night" charging operations. I'd like to make it clear that this was intended as a reference to Benefit Answers following the proprietor's dishonesty conviction, and to any entrepreneur who sees the chance to make money from benefit claimants and behaves unethically, for example, by using a glossy website and literature to attract people away from the free services which exist and do such a sterling job. Modesty prevents me from referring to the free Derbushire Welfare Rights Service at this point.

My intention was not to traduce the service operated by reputable advice-givers such as the ones on rights.net so apologies to anyone offended.

  

Top      

iut044
                              

Advisor, South West Lancashire Independent Community Advice
Member since
15th May 2007

RE: Benefit answers website
Tue 26-Jan-10 04:15 PM

Im not saying not for profit organisations are any better or worse than for profit organisations but I think they do tend to have a different ethos.

In businesses I think there would be less patience dealing with clients who are going to take up a lot of time and not generate much money.

On the other hand there are some people at organisations who I have been involved with in the past (not my current organisation) who have been less than ahem productive ....................................................... I think a business would have sacked these people.

  

Top      

Gareth Morgan
                              

Managing Director, Ferret Information Systems, Cardiff
Member since
20th Feb 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Wed 27-Jan-10 12:56 PM

"In businesses I think there would be less patience dealing with clients who are going to take up a lot of time and not generate much money. "

What happens in agencies where a client doesn't qualify for LSC funding?

I suspect that there may be more 'pro bono' work but I doubt if it's clear cut.

  

Top      

nevip
                              

welfare rights adviser, sefton metropolitan borough council, liverpool.
Member since
22nd Jan 2004

RE: Benefit answers website
Wed 27-Jan-10 01:31 PM

Wed 27-Jan-10 01:33 PM by nevip

A particular CAB I know will not take on cases that are not Ďlegal aidableí. Those cases they take on they will prepare, gather evidence and send in a written sub. However, they will not attend the appeal in person. Even though they wonít attend in person they have described this work as representation. I depart from that definition but, anyway!

I was recently at tribunal waiting for a decision on an appeal I had just repped in. I was talking to my client and her mother when out of the room behind me came a woman who went over to a seat and sat down. Several seconds later I heard her burst into tears. My client went over to offer comfort and a tissue. I peered into the room to see who the panel members were. There were two of them and I was pretty sure (the reasons are there but not important) that it was an ICB and for mental health grounds.

Apart from the hearing itself which was probably quite stressful but which she didnít elaborate on, she told my client that she was led to believe that she was to have a representative who would be with her at the hearing and was alarmed when no one turned up and felt let down, scared and alone.

Now I have no idea if the basis of that belief has any foundation and I also have no idea of the skills, experience or competence of the advisers of the organization and, naturally, I make no comment but what annoys me is not the practice of that bureau in particular but the way government through the LSC organises the funding of those organizations which pressurises them to structure their services in such a way which falls short (and Iím sure the advisers in those organizations are not happy with the situation either) of that which citizens are entitled to expect.

After going back in and getting her decision she re-emerged and stormed out of the building. I presume she lost. Now I donít know if her case had merit or not but I couldnít help but feel sorry for her and I was left reflecting on the sorry state of advice funding in this country, this governmentís instinct for authoritarianism, social control and ridiculous welfare legislation, and, the appalling mess that passes for social security administration. We must do better!

  

Top      

iut044
                              

Advisor, South West Lancashire Independent Community Advice
Member since
15th May 2007

RE: Benefit answers website
Wed 27-Jan-10 01:48 PM

A good point about LSC funding. I have never worked in an organisation that had ever had any of that type of funding. However, I know a volunteer for a CAB who has repped in about 200 appeals becausing the LSC funding does not cover the paid staff to do so!!

  

Top      

clairehodgson
                              

solicitor, CMH Solicitors, Durham
Member since
09th Apr 2009

RE: Benefit answers website
Wed 27-Jan-10 06:39 PM

"LSC funding does not cover the paid staff to do so"

as i said earlier. LSC thinks that people can do it for themselves, unless you can bring yourself into an exceptional case and then you won't find out until later whether they'll wear it or not. even then, you are officially a McKenzie Friend, not a rep, and should not in fac,t therefore, make any representations at all but whisper in your client's ear and get your client to say whatever it is. and how woudl that go down?

pah.

how on earth the lay person is expected to get to grips with benefits legislation is beyond me, it's bad enough for us!

rant ....

  

Top      

Top Policy topic #1660First topic | Last topic