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What are the key challenges claimants experience in dealing with DWP?

Daphne
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Hi all - I’ve been asked to speak at a meeting of the DWP Business Strategy Directorate to highlight what are the key challenges claimants face in dealing with the DWP and claiming benefits.

It can be across the range of DWP benefits - so could be pensioners, disabled people, jobseekers etc - and cover any part of the claims process from the initial claim through to MR, and whether in the jobcentre, over the phone or online.

They’ve asked me to come up with around 5 key asks that would make a difference so if any of you have a few you would like to suggest that would be great - the first few things that have come to my mind are -

- lack of choice in how to make a claim (online, paper or phone) or have a health assessment (phone or video assessment or face to face)
- delays - on getting through to helplines, responses in journals
- lack of clear information on gov.uk - particularly during pandemic - updating pages about PIP award extensions and the like
- communications - choice to use written, email etc - clarity (or not!) of communications?

I welcome thoughts on those or any other suggestions. If you have any good case studies that demonstrate particularly effectively the that would be helpful too. And if you have a positive case study - which shows the difference it can make to a claimant when the DWP get it right - then that would be really helpful too.

I’m doing the talk next week so prepping this week so any thoughts asap would be great - thanks very much :)

Paul_Treloar_AgeUK
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I don’t know if this is the kind of thing you’re looking for but it would be nice if DWP officials actively tried to help and advise clients with respect to their lawful entitlements, rather than, as so often seems to be the case, either misleading them or seeking to deny them benefits on spurious grounds.

In the past couple of days, we’ve advised one case where the client has been told they can’t claim Attendance Allowance because they’re not entitled to a State Pension, and another who has been told that her NINO is “invalid” and they couldn’t claim State Pension as a result. These kind of situations are far from unusual and they’re so unnecessary - there’s little ability to hold the DWP staff to account when they refuse to progress claims and there’s obviously going to be people who don’t seek further advice and so lose out entirely.

Paul Stockton
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Hard to know where to start!

In addition to the ones already identified I would add as asks: (1) empower front line staff to make decisions. The present way in which decisions are made by staff who have no direct contact with the claimant leads to mistakes, and to frontline giving misleading advice. Why don’t they empower work coaches and case managers to make decisions about what benefits are payable? It would be quicker, more accurate and would build confidence in the DWP.
(2) End the one-size-fits-all approach to PIP and LCW. It is highly stressful for the claimants and poor value for money. They need to look at the way the Scottish government is approaching these things. A more balanced, risk-based, approach would help everyone. The standard 4-stage process - initial contact; massive form; HCP assessment; decision - could be reduced to 2 for very many cases, just having the initial contact lead to a phone or in-person interview with an official, and referral to HCP being a matter of discretion. Quicker, cheaper, more efficient, less impersonal.
(3) Scrap mandatory reconsideration. Whatever the original purpose and effect, MR now means delay and stress for the claimant, deterring people from pursuing their rights. A more digitised HMCTS should mean it can better handle the routine parts of the appeals process so an increase in volume should be manageable. Meanwhile DWP could save itself time and money by merging the MR function into the review process already undertaken by their appeals officers.

Mike Hughes
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I would go with

- scrap MRs
- end the outsourcing of call centres and start a piece of work to ensure that access to appropriate systems for staff in those call centres allows them to actually answer queries instead of offering total BS in order to appear as though they know “something”.
- think about a clear line of travel for call centre queries e.g. trained adviser (to a higher standard than at present) on to manager doesn’t cut it. How about onto a technical expert and only then onto a manager?
- need to to take ministers desires out of comms. Many letters are often an illiterate incomprehensible nonsense because minsters want para x to be prominent on page 1 even though the consequence is the aforesaid illiterate incomprehensible nonsense.
- introduce an obligation to notify of appeal rights in writing across the board (including when offers are made).
- comms are also not fit for purpose in terms of accessibility needs. I know this is recognised within DWP but action on it needs to be much faster.
- introduce a learning route for appeals e.g. when you insist in your sub that the claimant is entitled to less than nothing and appears to be quite cheeky in trying to get PIP but the tribunal then awards double top indefinitely then there is learning to be done. That decision needs to be fed back to that decision maker.

I have been very tempted to send some of my 10 minute tribunal wins over to the named DM who made the decision/wrote the DWP sub just to show how far off they consistently are. However, why should I need to be doing that? Why aren’t DWP doing that?

janebu
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I have posted on another section about this but I have concerns about the current processes where work coaches are calling legacy benefit clients to re-engage with them.
These calls are being made to people who may have had no contact with JCP for a year and aren’t prepared for and don’t know the remit of the calls.
We have come across several clients who have engaged with these calls and then been advised that because they are unwell they can no longer claim JSA and need to claim UC. The JSA claim is then closed. These clients haven’t been advised of their options or the consequences of the JSA claim ending and are often worse off. I suspect that many will not make a UC claim promptly and may not get the 2 week run on of JSA/HB they are entitled to or the SDP transitional payments.  It would be good if DWP could re- look at this process and think about referring claimants for advice where there has been a change in circumstances.

Daphne
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Thanks very much all - really helpful

Paul - I know the pension credit gatekeeping can be a nightmare too - if you had an example or two readily to hand that would be great.

Also if anyone has a case study where things have gone well that can be used to demonstrate how to get it right and what a difference it makes that would be fantastic :)

Andyp5 Citizens Advice Bridport & District
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All of the above!!!!!!!!

1. MR’s scrapped!!!!!!!!!!!
2. Meaningful escalation to resolve problems with claims or payments i.e. a genuine receptive proactive culture, in timely fashion and sufficient expertise to resolve them.
3. Conditionality and attendant sanctions aside from whether they are desirable or helpful or appropriate in any society. They are safeguarding issues, with insufficient measures in place to protect vulnerable clients. 
4. Backdating - extend the periods to claim e.g. UC one month is wholly inadequate and relax the stringent conditions.
5. UC overpayments - Endemic overlapping payment scenario’s with UC and ESA and CA etc. DWP dept’s should be working with each other to ensure offsetting so client’s are not further impoverished with wholly avoidable overpayments. Official error -  code of practice as promised - :

https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmpublic/welfare/110519/am/110519s01.htm

When the Welfare Reform Bill (i.e. Welfare Reform Act 2012) was being debated the Minister concerned (Chris Grayling) promised a ‘clear code of practice’ said it was the intention not to recover many overpayments which had been caused by official error - see link to HOC, Hansard, 19 May 2011, col 1019

In that debate Chris Grayling made various statements on overpayment recovery, including this:

‘The practical reality is that we do not have to recover money from people where official error has been made, and we do not intend, in many cases, to recover money where official error has been made. There will be an absolutely clear code of practice that will govern the circumstances in which recovery action will or will not be taken, to ensure consistent, considered decision making’.

Paul_Treloar_AgeUK
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As Mike alludes to above, the level 1 telephone service for PC claims has been outsourced to G4S, so anyone calling needs to get through their call handlers before being put through to PS staff who actually assist them with making a claim.

Every now and then we receive reports about clients who are told by the level 1 service that they do not have an entitlement to PC, based on whatever scripts and desktop tools the level 1 call handlers have access to. Colleagues in the Pension Service tell us this is to prevent people making unnecessary claims and taking up more time than is needed, where they might have excess capital for example.

However, we find it often works the other way around in denying people the right to make a new PC claim - that to me is just plain wrong and every time we’ve had to raise a case with PS colleagues, they have intervened and sorted things out but obviously there will be people who take the wrong advice at face value and do not make a PC claim when they should. This is particularly annoying when take-up rates for PC remain stubbornly low, somewhere around 60-70% iirc.

Another emerging problem is to do with the mixed-age couple changes which has led to some really poor examples of local authority administration - people who can and should have been able to claim HB being directed towards UC and unfortunately, a few cases where people have done this and therefore lost their existing entitlement to PC, with usually no way back.

nevip
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One of the major problems which has been exacerbated by DWP restructuring and the increased use of technology over the years is that of built in, (and the more cynical might say deliberately – others might put it down to inflexibility; within the technology: some might respond to that: deliberately - and round and round we go), systemic unhelpfulness.  And until the following is taken seriously nothing will change.  Starting with the following:

“There is also a strong case for the government to reassess what the benefit system is for and to change the language used to describe it.”

UK needs to ‘re-adopt the language of social security’, says new report from SSAC and the Institute for Government - Rightsnet

[ Edited: 13 Apr 2021 at 02:32 pm by nevip ]
Mike Hughes
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I’ll echo Paul here. PC gatekeeping is atrocious but it’s atrocious whether in house or out-sourced. There is a fairly poisoned paranoid culture with the PS and there is more concern about being caught enabling fraud than there is entitlement. I can always remember being taken aback at visits to Warrington at the in house people taking calls where every other filing cupboard had a loud anti-fraud message rather than perhaps reminders as Paul says of the stubbornly low take-up rate. Posters with stuff like “Do you know who you’re talking to?”. Nothing wrong with that per se but it was driven by paranoia about giving data away to third parties such as debt collectors and I can vividly remember spending entire mornings there where they would proudly discuss their careful use of data and we could literally go hours without discussion of the fundamentals of them preventing people claiming.

disgustedofbridport
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I’ll say from my recent experiences with Universal Credit staff that there has been an erosion among DWP staff there of any sort of ethos of “let’s try and sort this problem out so that the claimant gets the benefit they should”. I have seen the triumph of “the system does this so what do you expect me to do about it?”.

Case study: I have a couple of clients with a severly disabled son. In July 2020 he went into care. They contacted Carers Allowance and Carers Allowance stopped after 28 days. The Carer Element of UC was stopped, but they carried on having £291 per month deducted for Carers Allowance. We pointed this out, and again, and again, and again. I got explicit consent. I wrote many, many messages to put on their UC journal, I got my local Jobcentre very annoyed. I contacted the local Jobcentre. I wrote a formal complaint (twice). March 2021 was the first month when they didn’t have Carers Allowance deducted. 7 months of wrongful deductions. They have finally got the money back. I was told that the Carers Allowance Unit had the claim on suspension, just in case it turned out clients were entitled after all (which they weren’t, 100%) - the UC system apparently won’t stop deducting Carers Allowance if it only shows as “suspended”. The complaint I wrote got the answer back that the DWP weren’t at fault for deducting £291, because that was correct according to the system. I kept being told they “can’t change the system”, and the CA Unit had to switch the Carers Allowance from “suspended” to “closed”. But in the end, they stopped deducting Carers Allowance because ... someone at UC overrrode the system… which they’d been claiming for 7 months they couldn’t. If I hadn’t been a pain in the arse, I’m sure they’d still be having £291 deducted.

The same couple’s children include a boy of 8 (the disabled one) and a girl of 9. They can’t share a room. Everyone agrees this. They get the 3-bedroom rate of housing costs, or they should. SIX times, yes, SIX, they have been notified of an overpayment. I say notified, but in fact they just see that £89.11 has come off their monthly payment for an overpayment deduction, without any explanation. “Phone Debt Management” the Service Centre say (who you can’t get hold of, and if you do they say “we can’t make the decision to cancel the overpayment”). Five times, the couple have had the overpayment cancelled and the money returned. When I say “Why is this happening again?” I get “Well the system says those two children should be sharing a room”. No one seems to say “They’re getting erroneous overpayments. That’s not good enough, we need to sort this out and override the system so it doesn’t happen again”.

You almost always have long waits getting hold of UC by phone, especially Debt Management. Slow responses, sometimes fast responses, but sometimes no response at all to journal messages.

Wrong advice is also a problem with UC. Another couple who both get PIP: “You can only get one Carer Element per couple”, I was told. WRONG. The man of this couple was in the Work-related Activity Group for ESA when he moved to UC, and for two months before he got PIP, he should be entitled to the Limited Capability for Work Element. “There’s no extra amount for LCW, only for LCWRA” I was told. WRONG AGAIN (in this case).

In conclusion, the processes for putting things right for UC claimants are hamstrung by an odd sense among the staff that it’s not really their job to pro-actively try and get the claimant the right amount of money at the right time : they seem to think that the clearly sub-standard UC system is the system, and if it’s the system that makes something happen, even if it means claimants get the wrong amount of money, there isn’t really a problem.

Daphne
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Thanks so much again everyone - I get 45 minutes so will include what I can!

if anyone has got a good news story that encapsulates what a difference it can make if DWP just get things right, make the effort and ensure that the claimant gets a good service - maybe even go beyond the call of duty - I would love to include it - to show that it can be done!!

Paul Stockton
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Daphne - 13 April 2021 04:26 PM

Thanks so much again everyone - I get 45 minutes so will include what I can!

if anyone has got a good news story that encapsulates what a difference it can make if DWP just get things right, make the effort and ensure that the claimant gets a good service - maybe even go beyond the call of duty - I would love to include it - to show that it can be done!!

An extra point on scrapping MR, which I see has attracted unanimous support! In case the DWP folk say that it can’t be done without primary legislation, it can be done by the simple expedient of not mentioning MR in decision letters. Claimant then has direct right of appeal to the tribunal (CUC/1389/2019).

Daphne – you asked for a good news story, so here’s one. Please don’t associate it with Epping Forest District as I wouldn’t want the official concerned to be identified and get into trouble!

Client is single with severe mental health issues. He has suffered with psychosis since childhood. He has never worked. He spends long periods as a recluse, not communicating with anyone. He lived in a 2 bed council flat which he succeeded from his mother who is now in a care home. He has received Income Support plus Disability Premium Allowance but in February 2019 he was asked to complete a review questionnaire which he did not do. As a result, in May his benefit stopped. This caused the cancellation of Housing Benefit. He had no income from May 2019 until February 2020 and survived by not paying any bills and relying on ad-hoc gifts of money from his mother. In February 2020 a social worker got him back onto a DWP benefit and he came to us for help in getting housing benefit. He said he thought he was on income support but we concluded it had to be ESA. He was not eligible for HB and we had to advise him to claim UC but he is incapable of dealing with UC either online or by phone and we asked for a home visit, which never happened. Meanwhile, of course, he was accumulating rent arrears. He received a lump sum from DWP but didn’t know what it was for. We thought it must be ESA arrears.

Eventually his case fell into the hands of the local job centre’s disability employment adviser. She phoned all the possible DWP units that might have been involved. She established that he was indeed on IS but shouldn’t have been. She set up a UC account for him, to include the housing costs element. She liaised directly with the local authority housing officers and together they persuaded him to move to a smaller flat, so avoiding bedroom tax. She tried to arrange a discretionary housing payment for him. He only has a Post office card so she tried to get him to open a bank account and enlisted our help on that.

We can phone her on any difficult case like this and she is fearless and unstoppable. But, alas, she can’t countermand decisions.

 

Paul_Treloar_AgeUK
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Any welfare rights worker cultivates a useful number of contacts who can help your clients out when things go badly wrong. The colleagues we work with at Pension Service are excellent and can help resolve problems promptly when we contact them.

However, as disgustedofbridport highlights, too often these days, you come up against ” Computer says no” officials who almost wilfully seem to take absolutely no interest in seeking to help people make or progress claims. The sheer volume of posts on here about MR’s simply not being acted upon, about officials trying to claim that they haven’t made a “decision” and so there is nothing to be changed, and this is all fairly run-of-the-mill administration.

When you read about the cases where things go very badly wrong, that’s a big concern of course, but these low-level failures now seem to be endemic and require some serious attention. As others have noted above, the lack of any meaningful feedback loop in terms of decision making means the same old mistakes just keep being made.

Daphne
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Paus17 - 13 April 2021 06:41 PM
Daphne - 13 April 2021 04:26 PM

Thanks so much again everyone - I get 45 minutes so will include what I can!

if anyone has got a good news story that encapsulates what a difference it can make if DWP just get things right, make the effort and ensure that the claimant gets a good service - maybe even go beyond the call of duty - I would love to include it - to show that it can be done!!

An extra point on scrapping MR, which I see has attracted unanimous support! In case the DWP folk say that it can’t be done without primary legislation, it can be done by the simple expedient of not mentioning MR in decision letters. Claimant then has direct right of appeal to the tribunal (CUC/1389/2019).

Daphne – you asked for a good news story, so here’s one. Please don’t associate it with Epping Forest District as I wouldn’t want the official concerned to be identified and get into trouble!

Client is single with severe mental health issues. He has suffered with psychosis since childhood. He has never worked. He spends long periods as a recluse, not communicating with anyone. He lived in a 2 bed council flat which he succeeded from his mother who is now in a care home. He has received Income Support plus Disability Premium Allowance but in February 2019 he was asked to complete a review questionnaire which he did not do. As a result, in May his benefit stopped. This caused the cancellation of Housing Benefit. He had no income from May 2019 until February 2020 and survived by not paying any bills and relying on ad-hoc gifts of money from his mother. In February 2020 a social worker got him back onto a DWP benefit and he came to us for help in getting housing benefit. He said he thought he was on income support but we concluded it had to be ESA. He was not eligible for HB and we had to advise him to claim UC but he is incapable of dealing with UC either online or by phone and we asked for a home visit, which never happened. Meanwhile, of course, he was accumulating rent arrears. He received a lump sum from DWP but didn’t know what it was for. We thought it must be ESA arrears.

Eventually his case fell into the hands of the local job centre’s disability employment adviser. She phoned all the possible DWP units that might have been involved. She established that he was indeed on IS but shouldn’t have been. She set up a UC account for him, to include the housing costs element. She liaised directly with the local authority housing officers and together they persuaded him to move to a smaller flat, so avoiding bedroom tax. She tried to arrange a discretionary housing payment for him. He only has a Post office card so she tried to get him to open a bank account and enlisted our help on that.

We can phone her on any difficult case like this and she is fearless and unstoppable. But, alas, she can’t countermand decisions.

Perfect - just what I need - the difference it makes when someone takes responsibility and does what they should - it will be completely anonymous when I present it

And Paul - the points you reiterate are what I am trying to get across in the main bit - I’ll do my best - but it certainly won’t be the first time, or the last time, that these same points have been made!

Jo_Smith
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If this question is about clients’ experience when dealing with DWP, I think there are two key challenges: attitude and training.
A call handler, even if they have no decision making authority or right training, but who is genuinely interested in helping the client, will make a tremendous difference. They WILL pass on the correct message, instead making it up as they go along. They WILL NOT give clients wrong information in order just to say something and appear powerful and knowledgeable. They WILL treat the client politely, respectfully and with dignity.
How to change attitude of poorly paid and morale-dead workforce? Phew, give me whole night and couple of bottles of vodka and I can expound.

Training among general decision making staff is a b y s m a l. You have to reach really high levels to get things right. The amount of time wasted on persuading middle-level staff like Case Managers makes me weep. Not niche issues, but things like benefit cap grace periods, HRT issues etc. Bigger picture of course is that law is getting ever more complex rather than simpler :(

You wanted good example, Daphne, there you go: client’s daughter contacted us- her dad is on life support due to Covid. Initial contacts with UC Helpline were not helpful, but we found a wonderful call handler who acknowledged that is super difficult time for the family, took in daughter’s request to become an appointee readily, spoke to a supervisor to get it escalated, had it sorted within hour. Medical evidence was taken to the Jobcentre the same day, thus the daughter was able to take all necessary actions to allow claim to continue and payment to be made. One helpful, low-level staff member- all the difference in the world.

[ Edited: 14 Apr 2021 at 10:52 am by Jo_Smith ]
JaneOP
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Hi Daphne,
For good practice, I’d say the way AA manage special rules claims. By and large they are professional and proactive. We’ve had a couple recently where we had to submit the claims without NiNos and one where it turned out the address on the AA claim didn’t match the address SRP had. In all these cases AA very promptly contacted us to discuss how to resolve, were open to whether it was best for them to contact the client direct or whether we would gather extra info, made it easy for us to contact the DWP caseworker direct and had ownership of the cases and were obviously keen to see through and get resolved.
Also the bereavement service often works well, people generally find it easy to claim and we have few problems.
Jane

Daphne
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Thanks so much again :)

Paul_Treloar_AgeUK
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Here you go Daphne, exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about above

https://www.rightsnet.org.uk/forums/viewthread/17207/#81603

mycatismo
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Poor UC decision making / poor advice from DWP staff - including from ‘managers’ and ‘service leads’. The UC dept in particular needs better trained staff - and experts who can check the regulations and advise staff on complex matters.

Lots of UC errors - eg LCWRA Element included from incorrect MAP, housing costs incorrectly calculated, missing elements, pension age members of mixed age couples told cannot have WCA / LCWRA Element.

Not just the UC dept - other departments too - advising claimants that they need to claim UC when it is not necessary and not the best thing for them to do.

In situations where the older member of a couple is the main ESA claimant and they are approaching pension age, there is a particular problem. The DWP’s failure to advise properly causes couples to be worse off.  Couples in this particular situation should be advised to claim UC before the main ESA claimant reaches pension age. If they claim UC on or after the date they reach pension age, their LCW / LCWRA status does not transfer over to UC. This means they have to have a new Work Capability Assessment (unless they can be treated as having LCWRA). They must serve the 3 month relevant period before they can have the LCWRA Element (except where special rules for terminal illness apply). If they were getting the WRAG component - that is lost forever - no LCW Element in UC. (A more practical workaround to this problem would be to relax the regulations - to allow the LCW / LCWRA status to transfer to UC if (for example) the UC claim is made within one month of the ESA ending.)

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I agree with all of these and I’d like to add a very basic challenge - the ability to get through to speak to someone in the first place.  I’ve assisted lots of claimants to manage their claims / deal with queries and many of them just don’t have the patience / can manage their anxiety sufficiently to wait for 40 minutes to have their call answered in the first place.  (This is across all benefits and I appreciate that the person who answers the phone isn’t aware of how long you might have been on hold.)

I’m aware that’s having freephone numbers is a huge improvement to the previous system when claimants were paying money they didn’t have to sit on hold but I feel it’s now expected that because calls don’t cost money it doesn’t matter how long or how often a claimant has to be on the phone for when actually many claimants are losing out because they work themselves into a state while on hold and give up after 20 minutes (for some reason 20 minutes seems to be an average cut-off point for the claimants I deal with).

This is a particular issue with Universal Credit and the management of phone claims because often (usually) the person you first get through to has to then send a request for someone else to phone the claimant back to address the query.  The whole process is really hit and miss - in many cases no callback is made and you’re back to square one phoning in, message being taken, etc.  Even when callbacks are made the claimants I deal with often struggle to put the issue across fully or to understand properly what they’ve been told so that they can tell me and I can advise them ..... and the whole phone situation starts again.

annief
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Totally agree with the length of time to get through. I had to phone PIP on Friday for my husband. I started the call as I got into the car to take him to hospital, it took me 40 minutes to speak to someone. My husband would not have managed to wait this length of time, he could not believe it would take this long.

Daphne
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Thanks all - think I might need a day rather than 45 mins ;)

Chris Hollinrake
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Hi Daphne, I’m not sure if you will have already attended by now but have stumbled on this thread searching for a solution to a problem two of my claimants have.

Basically it’s gatekeeping the PIP1 stage of a PIP claim, particularly in the context of the pandemic.

Claimant one is Spanish speaking and not very together in her abilities. I can’t assist with form ordering over the phone due to Covid restrictions.

I’ve written on her behalf for forms in late March which have not arrived. The letter was drafted over the phone and printed and posted directly by our third party service. It wouldn’t surprise me if they have declined it due to no signature.

However the new claims line can’t/won’t answer my questions or even acknowledge receipt. Their only suggestion is that claimant rings and immediately asks for interpretation. I advised on capability issues separate from language barriers and that it is gatekeeping and they don’t care.

Second claimant can’t make the call due to mental health difficulties. I’m about to order the PIP 1 by post and expect the same problems.

It’s beyond ridiculous IMO and the gatekeeping makes so little logical sense that it can only be deliberate policy.

Daphne
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Hi Chris

The meeting has passed but I can certainly pass that up to PIP people via stakeholders- will let you know as and when I hear…

Chris Hollinrake
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Daphne - 19 May 2021 02:59 PM

Hi Chris

The meeting has passed but I can certainly pass that up to PIP people via stakeholders- will let you know as and when I hear…

Hello Daphne. There has been a rather sad update in this. The claimant reported receiving mystery funds that look suspiciously like PIP DLC. After two calls to the service centre (25 minutes today, around 40 yesterday which was abandoned) I’ve found somebody has done a special rules claim for her, which probably explains the lack of form issuing. Claimant clearly has no idea.

They wouldn’t use implicit consent to tell me if she is getting anything for mobility, for some reason.

I still believe the phone call thing is a barrier to payment and PIP1 stage would be more accessible and fairer having at least the option of online.

Thanks Daphne.