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Benefit Safeguards - policy issues

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Owen_Stevens
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Owen_Stevens
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This post follows on from an earlier post: https://www.rightsnet.org.uk/forums/viewthread/9149/P105/#81225

I sent an FOI in which I asked for the following: On 9/3/21 Will Quince told the Work and Pensions Select Committee that ‘[w]hat the [UC] system does not have is […] a marker so that we are able to track individuals separately and as one of the vulnerable and disadvantaged groups through the universal credit system. I am pleased to say that we are progressing at pace with modelling and piloting a first phase. I cannot give you an exact time for when it is likely to be ready to go live, but I am pretty confident in saying that it will be this year and, I hope, in the first half of this year.’ Please provide the current version of ‘Spotlight on: Using the claimant profile to record complex needs’ which will presumably indicate whether this new tracking capability has gone live.<>

The claimant profile spotlight has been updated and no longer says that <i>‘This Spotlight remains in place until the Universal Credit design and supporting products are developed further..

I’m not sure what conclusions to draw from this…

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Owen_Stevens
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Rethink have released an extremely significant report: ‘Tip of the Iceberg? Deaths and Serious Harm in the Benefits System’

Rethink are calling on the Government to:
▪ establish a full public inquiry into benefit related deaths and cases of serious harm and;
▪ set up an independent body to investigate future cases of death or serious harm in the benefits system

Rethink state that they “believe that the small number of cases that have received national media attention are just the tip of the iceberg. Therefore, our call to action will be to ask people via a survey to share their stories with us about how the DWP has been implicated in death or serious harm – to themselves or their loved ones. We will be asking people who do not have personal experience to share our call for action on social media, to help us reach as many people as possible.” The link to the survey is http://www.rethink.org/stopbenefitdeaths/survey

They are raising awareness of the campaign via social media, here’s a twitter link: https://twitter.com/Rethink_/status/1417398285522853903

Owen_Stevens
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Health and Disability Green Paper: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/shaping-future-support-the-health-and-disability-green-paper

DWP want to test an advocacy service for vulnerable claimants (paras. 87-91).  ACSSLs are mentioned as an example of providing signposting and support to help people access a range of local provision.  It also talks about ‘holistic decision making’

Daphne
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Have just been sent this guidance via stakeholders - Helping customers who require advanced support

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Owen_Stevens
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Owen_Stevens
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A new Welfare Rights Bulletin article: https://askcpag.org.uk/content/207215/holes-in-the-safety-net-benefits-and-claimant-deaths

This article went to press just as DWP’s annual report was published and prior to the publication of the Work and Health Green Paper and also Rethink’s ‘Tip of the Iceberg’ report (see earlier Rightsnet new stories, and also posts in this thread, for information about these).

Welfare Rights Bulletin subscribers can access a version of the article as it appears in print here: https://askcpag.org.uk/publications/-231042/welfare-rights-bulletin—-issue-283

03/09 - Edited to update the link

[ Edited: 3 Sep 2021 at 04:14 pm by Owen_Stevens ]
Owen_Stevens
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Owen_Stevens
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New regs to enable the payment of large amounts of arrears in instalments: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2021/1065/contents/made

The explanatory memorandum specifically states that these regs are being made with the department’s most vulnerable claimants, including those with addiction problems, in mind: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2021/1065/pdfs/uksiem_20211065_en.pdf

Presumably this is a result of the PFD sent to DWP following the death of Alexander Boamah: https://www.rightsnet.org.uk/forums/viewthread/9149/P135/#82129

The DWP response to the PFD refers to updating policy and guidance (but not regulations) to ensure that safeguards are in place.  The subsequent spotlight refers to safeguards relating to high value payments.

This illustrates that DWP can, if it wants to, put protections for vulnerable claimants into regulations.  Readers of the thread will remember that the WPSC recommended a review of the legislative basis for conditionality to ensure that, among other things, safeguards to protect vulnerable groups were clearly set out.  The recommendation was rejected by the government and attempts to introduce amendments (1, 2) to put protections into legislation have been rejected by the government.

Owen_Stevens
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Internal Process Reviews are conducted whenever the department is asked to participate in a Safeguarding Adults Review (SAR) (Written Question UIN21211). According to this correspondence DWP’s Service Excellence Plan has aimed to develop DWP partnerships with local safeguarding boards to ensure DWP is included in local safeguarding arrangements.

In light of that I thought it would be useful to read this DHSC funded Analysis of Safeguarding Adults Reviews April 2017 – March 2019: https://www.local.gov.uk/sites/default/files/documents/National%20SAR%20Analysis%20Final%20Report%20WEB.pdf

Here are a few things that jumped out at me…

1. Development of a national library of SARs has stalled and the library is incomplete.
2. There were references to concerns over whether learning and recommendations from SARs are turned into change on the ground and to whether SARs retained organisational memory to enable partners to track whether SAR findings and recommendations result in ongoing improvements to policy, procedures and practice.
3. There were concerns over whether decisions by SABs met administrative law standards.
4. Improvements were needed to enhance the timeliness, quality, effectiveness and coordination of the SAR process.
5. The authors felt that it was not always clear whether reviewers were asking the question whether shortcomings in practice were unique to this one case or emblematic of system-wide issues. The authors felt that when the focus is on practice in care settings, and indeed also on concerns regarding how services and agencies have worked together, reviewers should be very clear whether neglect or poor practice is the result of structures, policies, processes and practices
6. A question that arises from how reviews have approached the involvement of the individual and/or their family is whether what has really been offered is participation in an agenda controlled by agencies or partnership that involves open discussion of how power within a process is distributed and used.
7. The statutory guidance recommends that the aim should be to complete SARs within a reasonable time period and, in any event, within six months of initiating it unless there are good reasons otherwise […].  [O]nly 10 per cent of SARs were completed within six months
8. The main objective of Safeguarding Adults Boards is to assure itself that local safeguarding arrangements and partners act to help and protect adults in its area (para 14.133 of the statutory guidance).  However, The SAR Quality Markers Checklist advises SABs to consider which SAR findings would be better addressed in national, regional or other forums. However, concern has been expressed that SARs have given insufficient attention to this domain, even though practice and policy locally are profoundly shaped and influenced by the national legal, policy and financial context within which they are situated. As the quantitative data shows, just under one quarter of SARs in this sample direct comments towards this national context. Within the commentary here there are few consistent or repetitive messages, perhaps reinforcing the critique that SARs themselves are insufficiently systemic, in that they fail to consider a key domain of the system. […] What SARs also cannot report, and what SAB annual reports do not convey, is the response by central government departments and national regulatory and professional bodies to the learning on the national legal and policy context that emerges from SARs and to the recommendations that are addressed to those bodies. The adult safeguarding principle of accountability applies here too.
9. The only mention of DWP was as follows - Individual SARs also focus on the Department of Work and Pensions to highlight the need for an adult safeguarding and anti-poverty lens when dealing with adults at risk and/or with care and support needs

Owen_Stevens
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You requested ‘a vulnerable customers strategy proposal’ cited in ‘the foreword to the ICE Annual Report’ – which we took to mean the Independent Case Examiner annual report for 2019-2020. You also requested the ‘safeguarding framework’ mentioned in SSAC (Social Security Advisory Committee) occasional paper 24. We can confirm that the ‘vulnerable customers strategy proposal’ and the ‘safeguarding framework’ are terms used to describe the same document which was developed throughout 2020. This document evolved into ‘Guidance- Helping Customers Who Require Advanced Support’ – an internal guidance document for DWP staff, which was published internally in March 2021.

The ICE annual report: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/dwp-complaints-annual-report-by-the-independent-case-examiner-2019-to-2020/independent-case-examiner-for-the-department-for-work-and-pensions-annual-report-1-april-2019-to-31-march-2020

SSAC Occasional Paper 24: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/a-review-of-the-covid-19-temporary-measures/a-review-of-the-covid-19-temporary-measures-occasional-paper-24

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Owen_Stevens
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The ICE annual report includes a few things which will be of interest to readers of this thread.  This is the third year in a row in which the foreword includes a reference to the way in which DWP deal with vulnerability among claimants. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/dwp-complaints-annual-report-by-the-independent-case-examiner-2020-to-2021/independent-case-examiner-for-the-department-for-work-and-pensions-annual-report-1-april-2020-to-31-march-2021

I’ve picked out some extracts relevant to this thread:

ICE foreword and introduction
It seems worth stating that had DWP ‘simply’ done what it set out to do, I would not have made any of my 484 upheld case findings this year. I make this point for 2 reasons. The first is that when things go wrong in DWP cases, sometimes tragically and in the public eye, there is often a view that new processes and procedures are needed – from my perspective, the ones in place may very well provide good service, if they were acted upon reliably. The second is to acknowledge DWP’s genuine challenge in ‘simply’ ensuring things happen as they should, in such a large organisation, dealing with complex benefits, for customers who are very often vulnerable.

[…]

That feedback to DWP is an important part of our work, achieved through my report on each individual case, by making systemic recommendations to DWP where we see a system design issue beyond human error that may recur for other DWP customers, and by contributing to themed reviews such as those undertaken by DWP’s Serious Case Panel. It has been gratifying this year to be updated on DWP’s work responding to the issues that we see. For DWP’s health assessment providers this includes changes which should help avoid many of the complaints we see about whether a paper-based or in-person assessment is needed. DWP have also introduced a number of roles including Advanced Customer Support Senior Leaders and Vulnerable Customer Champions to help customers who need that, designed using learning from complex cases, including those reviewed by my office.

[…]

Comment on case study 2
I was concerned to find in reviewing this case that there is no formal requirement to consider vulnerability or complex needs when overpayments are communicated, and I wrote to DWP senior managers to raise this concern as a systemic issue that could arise in other cases. In response they told me that all staff were told in October and again in December 2020 how to flag complex needs on cases (using a facility not available at the time of this case). I was also told that teams are now scanning UC journals for trigger words such as suicide, so that extra support can be given while case issues are resolved.

Comment on case study 3
[…]Although DWP noted on a number of occasions that Customer D was vulnerable, they didn’t spot that they no longer had an appointee.

The lack of an appointee also explained why Customer D missed assessment appointments and several safeguarding actions were overlooked related to that. At the point Customer D died they had been without ESA for 3 months and PIP for 3 weeks. I noted had DWP ensured an appointee, it was highly unlikely either benefit would have been stopped and their elderly parent wouldn’t have been put in the position of trying to support them.

Case study 5
In 2017 DWP suspended payments and made a referral to the Fraud and Error Service – there is no remaining evidence as to why that happened. At that point only the Pension Credit element should have been suspended, as the State Pension would have been unaffected by any change in financial circumstances – but as the payments had been combined, both payments were stopped. There are no records to show whether Complainant F’s parent was contacted or not, and the payments remained suspended. A change of address and a request to cancel Pension Credit were received in October 2018 and a message was sent to Fraud and Error, but not acted on. A task was also set to look at the suspensions, though again no action was taken and the payments remained suspended.

In December 2018, Complainant F told DWP that their parent had passed away; they had gone missing in November and were found to have taken their own life. Complainant F subsequently confirmed to the Coroner that their parent had withdrawn their savings and had only £5 left when they died.

Comment on case study 5
When the case was brought to ICE, DWP had already looked at it thoroughly as a complaint, they had also conducted an Internal Process Review and actioned and planned a number of process changes to prevent such a situation happening again. Whilst we found that to have identified what had gone wrong in the case, proper explanation of that hadn’t been made to Complainant F. Special Payments in such sad cases are in no way intended to put a value on the loss of a loved one. In this case my additional award recognised the further upset that Complainant F will have experienced on being told there were other things DWP should have done that might have restored their parent’s pension payments, and led to a different train of events. This case was again hindered by a lack of evidence that should have been available to help my investigation.

Edit 2/11/21:
The ICE annual report case studies have been written up here https://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/4443-pensioner-with-just-5-left-took-own-life-after-state-pension-wrongly-stopped and here https://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/4442-claimant-died-underweight-unkempt-and-dirty-after-esa-and-pip-wrongly-stopped

[ Edited: 2 Nov 2021 at 02:06 pm by Owen_Stevens ]
Owen_Stevens
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DWP continue to prioritise complaints from vulnerable claimants as part of temporary arangements introduced to respond to the pandemic

It seems that DWP ‘are in the process of designing the future operating model for DWP complaints and correspondence. As part of this we will be looking for further opportunities to drive efficiency in the process whilst ensuring that vulnerable customers are prioritised.’

https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2021-10-15/56167 

Owen_Stevens
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A written question about whether DWP have changed their policy on whether or not DWP has a duty of care towards claimants: https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2021-10-15/56666

For background see: https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/dwp-lied-about-duty-to-keep-benefit-claimants-safe-document-suggests/ 

For the documents referenced in the DNS story see:
- P.4 of the ‘before’ PDF https://www.rightsnet.org.uk/forums/viewthread/9141/#45665
- Document 6 available here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/dwp-foi-releases-for-may-2016