To read the Citizens Advice Mole Valley Research & Campaign report for 2018/2019 please click here.
During the pandemic Citizens Advice Mole Valley has helped 1,976 people with Universal Credit and we estimate 40% of those clients are working.
The annual estimated potential increase in spending as a result of the Universal Credit £20 increase in Mole Valley is £3,700,000 which is a significant figure to assist our community to recover economically from the damage we have all suffered the past 18 months.
The £20 increase has been a vital lifeline for local people, safeguarding quality of life and helping to prevent permanent economic scarring. Citizens Advice and organisations across the country will be working together to encourage the Chancellor to keep the lifeline.
Citizens Advice Mole Valley together with other organisations such as local foodbanks fully supports the Open Letter written to the Prime Minister and signed by a 100 organisations including Child Poverty Action Group, The Salvation Army, MIND and Christians Against Poverty.
The government must do the right thing and #KeepTheLifeline
Whilst the claims process for the disability benefit PIP may be working for some, we have seen people across Surrey experience multiple barriers to receiving the support they need. Mandatory Reconsideration in particular, often called ‘MR’, has contributed towards unnecessary delays and distress for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. This extra step, introduced in 2013, requires people to request that the Department and Work and Pensions, or ‘DWP’, reconsider their original decision before they are allowed to apply for appeal. This is intended to resolve disputes early and reduce unnecessary pressure on Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service, or ‘HMCTS’. Nationwide, there is little faith amongst PIP claimants that the MR process does anything more than ‘rubber stamp’ the original decision. PIP appeal tribunal judges themselves have expressed similar concerns about the thoroughness of MR.
In May 2019, a report was commissioned by Surrey Research and Campaigns Group in collaboration with Surrey-wide Citizens Advice local offices. It was called ‘A Rubber Stamp? Mandatory Reconsideration in the Personal Independence Payment application process’ and compiled by Lizzie Blair with support from her manager Paul Clark. The report examines the impact of MR on people we help with their PIP applications in Surrey and draws conclusions about its value in the PIP process nationally. The evidence section consists of three anonymised, Surrey-based case studies, taken from our client database Casebook. Furthermore, statistics extracted from Tableau are presented, which show the increase in the number of instances in which Citizens Advice have advised people on making and managing a PIP claim, applying for MR and applying for appeal across all 13 Surrey boroughs, followed by a brief data analysis. The conclusion consists of a justification for the five findings and exploration of the four recommendations of this report, which are each outlined briefly at the end of this summary. Supporting evidence from external sources on the effectiveness and wider impact of MR is also included. These sources comprise: the two Independent Reviews of the PIP assessment by Paul Gray, the Final Report on PIP claimant research by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), Oral evidence from the Works and Pensions Committee Inquiry on PIP, the Disability Rights UK response to that inquiry and Citizens Advice Scotland. Full details and further examples of this evidence are included in the appendices.
Our evidence suggests the following five findings:
Our four recommendations:
The report was published online and can be accessed here: https://www.carbs.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/PIP-MR-Report-Final-Copy.pdf
It was also sent directly to various, cross-party parliamentarians and local councillors. We were met with engagement from several Surrey MPs (all Conservative), including Michael Gove, Philip Hammond, Dominic Raab, Chris Grayling and Jonathan Lord. We also had supportive responses from the Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb. Our views were relayed to Amber Rudd, who was the Work and Pensions Secretary at the time. Her response engaged with many of our points detailed in the report and she agreed that the number of decisions overturned at appeal were too high and that this trend must be overturned. Paul Clark and Lizzie Blair were also invited to the Houses of Parliament to discuss the report with Baroness Winchester and Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardin and her aides. Baroness Winchester subsequently relied on the report as evidence in a debate in the House of Lords. Finally, the report was also submitted to parliament as part of an evidence package on required disability benefit reforms by Disability Labour.
Most benefit claims are now dealt with by phone. Claim lines are often on 0800 numbers, which are free from landlines but can cost up to 40p per minute from a mobile. Many people on low incomes only have pay-as-you-go mobile phones.
Evidence of the problem was gathered from bureaux in the north of England, and researched possible solutions. We raised awareness of the problem in parliament and the media, supported by bureaux around the country. Citizens Advice helped arrange meetings with civil servants to discuss solutions.
The DWP has reached agreements with 9 major mobile phone networks not to charge for calls to around 50 of their 0800 numbers.
Mortgage lenders continued to add charges to the accounts of people who were trying their hardest to pay off arrears. Sometimes, these additional charges could be more than the amount people could afford to pay towards their arrears each month.
Citizens Advice 2007 report Set up to fail exposed this unfair and disproportionate practice. Last year, we fed our concerns into the FSA mortgage market review and consultation on arrears and approved persons. Bureaux evidence was vital to making our case and the FSA came to our office twice to use our evidence database.
The FSA banned mortgage companies from continuing to add charges to the accounts of people who stick to repayment arrangements. 178,000 people in mortgage arrears will not incur additional charges if they keep to repayment plans.
If people did not tell the government immediately when a partner moved in or out, they had to pay back all tax credit payments made since the change. The government did not balance the overpayment against tax credits entitled to the person – which could be the same or more than they were asked to repay. Many single parents on low incomes were struggling to pay back money that they had actually been entitled to.
Citizens Advice worked with the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG), Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and Tax Aid to show the unfairness of this system. As well as giving examples of cases, bureaux helped individual clients to challenge the repayment bills.
The government announced that it would offset the amount it asked people to pay back against the amount the person was entitled to. This meant many people no longer had to pay back anything at all. The thousands of people a year claiming tax credits who are late reporting relationship changes will no longer be asked to pay back money they were entitled to.
Private tenants, whose landlord had not paid their mortgage, could be evicted with little notice if their property was repossessed. This was clearly unfair to tenants who may have always paid their rent, leaving them with little chance of finding somewhere else to live before becoming homeless.
Citizens Advice lobbied for over a year with Shelter, Crisis and the Chartered Institute of Housing (CiH) for legal protection for tenants in this situation. Former MP, Brian Iddon put forward this legislation in a private members bill, which was steered through parliament with support from Lord Best, despite a packed pre-election timetable. Bureaux urged their MPs to support the bill, this was crucial to its success.
The Mortgage Repossessions (Protection of Tenants) Act will come into force in October 2010. It gives private tenants the right to ask for a repossession to be delayed for up to two months so they can look for a new home.
324,000 tenants will be protected from immediate eviction if their landlord is repossessed.
Read our Research and Campaign blogs.
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