Monthly Archives: May 2013

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Sanctions: Changes and your rights.

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With Universal Credit coming into force, not only will you get less money and be expected to pay more towards Council Tax, sanctions are now going to be tougher.There has already been a massive rise in sanctions Between 2009 and 2011 the number of sanctions handed out to claimants tripled to reach over half a million. In January this year 85,000 people were sanctioned, suggesting that the number of sanctions could reach one million this year.They are using any excuse possible, to hold back payments and make the lives of claimants for difficult and the system increasingly hard to follow. Sanctions will be enforced quicker and for longer periods of time. Here is some info on the changes and info on the appeal process.

Changes to Sanctions:

  • Shortest sanction (lateness or missing an interview, even due to job interviews) has changed from 1 to 4 weeks.
  • This will be increased to 13 weeks for your second “offence”.
  • Intermediate level sanctions also attract four then 13 week sanctions, but it is not detailed what this is for, except that they follow a period of disallowance. This will include not being available for work.
  • Higher level sanctions cover the “worst offences” that you can make as a job seeker. These include: Not applying for jobs and not taking part in mandatory work schemes.

JSA

Sanction Level: Lower

  • Failure to attend adviser interview
  • Failure to participate without good reason in Employment, Skills and Enterprise (ESE) Schemes
  • Failure to comply with Jobseeker Direction
  • Neglect to avail of place on programme or training course
  • Refuse, fail to attend or lose through misconduct a place on a programme or training course

First sanction is 4 weeks, second is 13 weeks.

Sanction Level: Intermediate

Only applied following a  new claim within a certain period

Follows disallowance for available/actively seeking work

First sanction: 4 weeks, second sanction: 13 weeks

Sanction Level: Higher

  • “Leaving a Job Voluntarily
  • Losing a Job Through Misconduct
  • Failure to participate without good reason in Mandatorw Work Activity Scheme
  • Negelct to avial of employment opportunity
  • Refuse or fail to apply for a job

First sanction: 13 weeks, Second sanction: 26 weeks, Third sanction 156 weeks (3 years).

Follows disallowance for available/actively seeking work

Sanction Periods:

The higher level sanctions period will be a reduction in benefit for :

  •  13 weeks for a first failure or
  •  26 weeks for a second failure occurring within 52 weeks of the previous failure
  • 56 weeks where there have been two or more previous failures and the most recent failure occurred within 52 weeks and the most recent failure  resulted in a 26 week or 56 week sanction or  would have resulted in a 26 week or 156 week sanction.

The lower and intermediate sanction period will be:

  • 4 weeks for a first failure
  • Then up to 13 weeks loss of benefit
  • This will include disentitlement for intermediate sanctions.

As sanctions will be applied to universal credit, this means part time and low income workers will also see themselves effected by the sanctions when Universal Credit gets underway. The government propose to provide hardship loans to compensate the lack of benefit. These will be £42 per week, then this will be taken from your benefit when it is finally reinstated, driving people further into poverty.

There is also a problem with housing benefit, and whether people with longer sanctions will have problems with proving they are eligible if they have any problems with their claim. In Birmingham, Sifa Fireside, who work with homeless and vulnerably housed people, say “housing benefit is increasingly suspended for job seekers”. This problem can only increase with longer sanctions in place, leaving people at even greater risk of homelessness.

Appealing Sanctions and Your Rights:

‘Good reason’ why a sanction should not be applied

A sanction will not be applied if you can show that you had ‘good reason’ for your action that led to a sanction being considered. ‘Good reason’ is not defined in legislation, but will depend on your circumstances. The guidance for decision makers suggests that the following factors should be taken into account when deciding whether a claimant has good reason for their actions

  • If you are a victim of domestic violence you can be treated as available for and actively seeking work for up to 13 weeks. Even after that 13 week period a fear of domestic violence may mean you have good reason for refusing or leaving employment
  • If you have a mental health condition or disorder, or if you are homeless
  • If you are a victim of bullying or harassment at work, or you left your job because you were a whistle blower.

SANCTIONS AND ‘WORK FOR YOUR BENEFIT’ SCHEMES

On 12 February 2013 the Court of Appeal decided that JSA rules, introduced in 2011, setting up a number of work placement schemes, with sanctions applied if claimants did not comply, had not been properly made. The Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme) Regulations 2011 were found to be unlawful and quashed.

The Government immediately issued replacement regulations) enabling the schemes to continue, and has said that it intends to appeal the decision.

If the Government does not appeal, or its appeal is unsuccessful, it is likely that anyone who has had their JSA reduced or sanctioned for non-compliance in one of these schemes would be entitled to a refund of benefit. If your JSA was sanctioned for another reason not related to one of these schemes, such as not applying for a recommended job vacancy, you are not affected by this decision.

The schemes affected by the decision are ‘work for your benefit’ schemes, and are known by a number of different official names, including

  • The Jobcentre Plus offer
  • The Work Programme
  • The New Enterprise Allowance scheme
  • Full time training flexibilities
  • Skills conditionality
  • The Support for the Long Term Unemployed Trailblazer
  • Mandatory youth activity programme
  • Get Britain Working measures
  • The sector-based work academy (“sbwa”)
  • The Community Action Programme (“CAP”), a programme for the very long-term unemployed and a part of the Trailblazer programme”.

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Universal Credit and Benefit cap

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Here is some info on the changes to benefits from the introduction of Universal Credit and the Benefit cap, and how you may be effected by these changes.

Universal Credit:

From October 2013 the following benefits will become Universal Credit:

  • Income Support
  • Housing Benefit
  • Job Seekers Allowance
  • Income related Employment Support Allowance
  • Tax Credits

Payments:

  • Universal Credit will be paid in one payment, each month, in arrears.  This includes your Housing Benefit payment.
  • It will be paid to ONE member of the household.
  • All payments MUST be paid into a bank/building society or post office account.
  • Claimants will be responsible for managing ALL of their own money.

 

It will be phased in:

  • Between October 2013 and March 2014.
  • From then, changes in circumstances and new claims will be treated as Universal Credit claims.
  • From April 2014, existing claimants will begin to be moved to Universal Credit. This is expected to last until 2017.

 

Comments of the introduction of Universal Credit:

The vast majority of families will gain nothing from the introduction of the Universal Credit, the Government’s flagship welfare reform scheme, a report claims.

A trial of the payment, which replaces six benefits and tax credits, began this month ahead of its introduction worldwide.

In a joint report, the TUC and Child Poverty Action Group said nine out of 10 families will gain nothing overall from the new system, with any gains wiped out by recent benefits cuts. They claimed that disabled claimants in low-paid jobs could lose as much as £2,800 a year.

They also warned that requiring applicants to claim online and to make joint claims with their partners would complicate the process at a time when advice services are being cut.

Frances O’Grady, the TUC’s general secretary, said: “For all the claims of simplicity, in practice it is such a complex system that the Government has been forced to delay its roll-out.”

 

Benefit Cap:

Does not apply to claimants of the following:

  • Disability Living Allowance
  • War Widow’s pension
  • Attendance Allowance
  • Working Tax Credits
  • Support component of E.S.A

The Cap:

  • In effect from 2013
  • £350 per week for single claimants
  • £500 per week for families
  • Will mainly effect larger families
  • Will cause £12-70 reduction in housing benefit (in some cases more)

 

Changes to Council Tax Benefit:

  • From April 2013, national Council Tax Benefit scheme to be replaced by local authority scheme
  • Council budget reduced by 10%
  • Pensioners are NOT effected
  • You will be asked to pay between 5-30% of your own Council Tax
  • Will mainly effect working age claimants

 

 

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Bedroom Tax!

What is the Bedroom Tax?

The under occupancy sanction, more commonly known as the Bedroom Tax, took effect from April 1st 2013, as part of a larger reform of the benefit system. It is a newly introduced welfare reform which is set to see tenants both working and unemployed under housing benefits pay for any unoccupied bedrooms. With 10,000 council tenants estimated to be affected in Birmingham and a further 5,000 tenants from registered landlords, the West Midlands will make up 9% of Great Britain’s affected claimants. Taking into account carers,children, spouses etc. it is estimated that around 60,000 people will be affected in total.

Do I have to pay the bedroom tax?

1)If you are: not retired.

2)If you are: living in council housing or a housing association house and claiming housing benefit

Then for every one spare room you have you will lose 14% of your housing benefit. If you have two rooms you’ll lose 25%.Which will leave you £500 -£1000 worse off a year.

Can’t Pay Won’t Pay – How to avoid paying the Bedroom Tax

One of the easiest ways to beat the tax involves simply measuring your room. As Birmingham City Council are refusing to follow the Housing Act 1985 section 326 which states a room under 70 square feet is not a full bedroom. If your room is smaller than 70 square feet then you don’t need to pay the tax. You need to write to your local Housing Officer. If the officer refuses to listen to you then take legal action against them. The more people that complain to the council, and take legal action against them, the better as each appeal costs BCC hundreds of pounds.

The Knowsley Housing Trust has reclassified nearly 600 family homes as smallerproperties. This will exempt tenants from having their housing benefit reduced under the’bedroom tax’. This means that tenants have got reduced rents as well. Organised groups of tenants could campaign to get their homes re-classed.

If you have received a letter notifying you that you will be hit by the bedroom tax, you canappeal the decision in writing. Each appeal lodged costs the council around £200 andforces them to open a file and spend time reviewing it.If everyone who receives a letter lodges an appeal, we can throw a spanner in the works of the bedroom tax, making it too difficult and too expensive to roll out.

Eviction Resistance

If you find yourself facing eviction from your home as a result of the bedroom tax, contact us and we will help you physically resist the bailiffs attempts at evicting you. There have been numerous cases of people successfully resisting eviction.Evictions often go unnoticed. People are asked to leave quietly and threatened with arrest if they don’t.

We refuse to be intimidated. We refuse to keep quiet.

Here is a template letter to use to write to your council.

Some tenants have received letters from their landlords to say the bedroom tax may apply to them. Any such letter is simply a letter and for the bedroom tax to apply to any tenant you will receive a formal letter from the council Housing Benefit department – a Notice – with regard to the bedroom tax decision.

When a decision is taken by the Housing Benefit department that the bedroom tax applies you will receive a “Benefit Decision Notice” (BDN) and this by comparison is a legal letter – a Notice. Even if your landlord is the council they will need to send you a formal letter from the Housing Benefit department.

The BDN will say how you can appeal the decision, which is a right, and I copy below what Housing Benefit decision letters from Liverpool City Council say and wherever you live this will be very similar. It says: –

“If you want to know more about this decision or think it is wrong, you must tell us within one month of this letter or we may not be able to help.

You can either:

  • Ask for an explanation
  • Ask us to look again at the decision
  • Appeal against the decision – this can only be in writing. If you appeal against the decision an independent tribunal administered by the Tribunal Service will hear your appeal.”

In short – ‘explain’, ‘look again’ and ‘appeal’ are your basic options. Any or all of these 3 options form the challenge. You can write asking for the council to send a more detailed explanation to you which you can then consider with a view to issuing a later appeal within the month or asking the council to look again after they have sent you the more detailed explanation.

If you have received a letter notifying you that you will be hit by the bedroom tax, you can appeal the decision in writing. Each appeal lodged costs the council around £200 and forces them to open a file and spend time reviewing it.

If everyone who receives a letter lodges an appeal, we can throw a spanner in the works of the bedroom tax, making it too difficult and too expensive to roll out. You can use the standard letter below as a template:

Put simply, if you want to put a figurative bomb underneath the bedroom tax and force the coalition to rethink, and rethink bloody quickly, as they will be heavily pressured from EVERY local authority to do something, then every bedroom tax affected household should exercise their right to challenge their bedroom tax decision does precisely that!

Sample Letter

To whom it may concern (add council official, housing association, etc)

I received your decision letter dated (INSERT DATE) and referenced above that imposed an under occupation charge, or bedroom tax of 14% / 25% (delete as appropriate) on my existing award of Housing Benefit.

I consider this unwarranted yet in order to challenge this in the correct way and potentially by way of formal appeal I require further information to be sent to me within 7 days of this letter and the urgency of that is to ensure I have enough time to formulate any such appeal and in full knowledge of the facts ofmy case within the time allowed; OR in the alternative I request the deadline for any such formal appeal be moved to 21 days after I receive the request information below:

  1. A written copy of the Council’s policy and decision-making procedures in relation to referring a socially housed claimant decision to the Rent Officer Service.
  1. A full explanation of how the council decided that (INSERT ADDRESS) was determined to be a 3 bed property for the under occupation charge and this to include what involvement if any of my landlord, (INSERT LANDLORD NAME) in this process.

Please state by way of covering letter with the requested information any changed deadline date from above with regard to a formal appeal.

Yours, etc.

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