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Forum Home  →  Discussion  →  Access to justice and advice sector issues  →  Thread

Page 3 of the Times today

Martin Williams
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Welfare rights advisor - CPAG, London

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Anyone read the good news:

“Details of proposals in some departments have started to emerge, with Ken Clarke, the Justice Secretary, proposing that welfare claimants will no longer be able to seek legal aid to challenge their benefit levels”

Martin.

Nicolette
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Welfare rights adviser - CAB Wymondham, Norfolk

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Hello Martin
What do you understand by this quote. I thought the LSC were currently deciding where to put funding for welfare rights to help with challenging benefit decisions.
Nicolette

Martin Williams
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Welfare rights advisor - CPAG, London

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Hi Nicolette,

I am none the wiser I am afraid.

There was also some stuff here (no source given for the rumours on that site though):

LINK TO YESMINISTER BLOG

Gareth Morgan
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CEO, Ferret, Cardiff

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There’s a big difference between challenging ‘benefit levels’ and challenging ‘benefit decisions’.

Kevin D
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Independent HB/CTB administrator, consultant & trainer (Essex)

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Gareth Morgan - 15 September 2010 08:30 PM

There’s a big difference between challenging ‘benefit levels’ and challenging ‘benefit decisions’.

In my experience, it is already mightly hard for “Joe Bloggs” to get quality advice in relation to benefit entitlement.  For example, as a claimant, try getting good advice in cases of alleged benefit fraud.  The quality of advice being given to claimants is generally shockingly poor.  Indeed, there is a recent thread on the HB/CTB forum which *potentially* seems to be a classic case in point.  I am in no way seeking to justify fraud.  However, it is surely right that if someone is accused, that person should:

a)  have the opportunity to submit a civil appeal (no end of criminal solicitors have no idea how important this can be);
b)  only be convicted if an offence has been committed;
c)  only be sentenced based on what ACTUALLY happened (this being distinguished from what the claimant is accused of)

Case in point…  Earlier this year, I assisted someone accused of offences under s.111A of the SSAA and s.1 & 3 of the Fraud Act 2006.  Unusually, the solicitors openly acknowledged they knew nothing of SS benefits.  I was able to make some observations as to whether the LA was correct in some of it’s assertions.  To cut a long story short, the defendant was emphatically found not guilty (and quite rightly too based on the evidence made available to me).  At the risk of sounding somewhat immodest, I think it is more likely than not the verdict would have been different had it not been for my input.

Expert witnesses (in social security law) are already finding that funding is being cut and, as a result, will no longer assist in such cases.  That will unquestionably mean some being found guilty where no offence has been committed and, even where an offence has been committed, defendants being sentenced on the basis of overpayments that are simply wrong - by thousands in some cases.

The way things are going, it is fast getting to the stage where someone accused of benefit fraud is, effectively, powerless to defend themselves.  That cannot be right.

[ Edited: 16 Sep 2010 at 10:17 am by Kevin D ]