Okay so there’s no way round it, many of us will, at some stage or stages in our lives have to approach the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and ask for help. Sadly the systems in place set up to provide that help are often complicated, far from intuitive and they keep changing, so even if you’ve had previous experience of applying for benefits, chances are the goal posts have shifted since then.
And in the current climate there is a definite sense that the systems are designed to find a reason to turn claims down. It’s not rocket science really – with welfare cuts amounting to £30billion there is obviously less cash to hand out. However, we do still live in a country that offers welfare support and funds are supposed to be available to those in greatest need. Remember also that our team has successfully generated more than £100m for NL residents from DWP claims over the last 5 years. Some of these are as a result of identifying benefits that residents didn’t know they were entitled to, but others are claims that the DWP had initially turned down. So no doesn’t always mean no if you know how to navigate your way and who to ask when you need help.
Every claim is different, there are loads of different benefits and rules vary between them so it would be impossible to give all the answers here. What I can do is to run through some common issues that it would really help you to be aware of if you want to avoid hassle and receive all that you are entitled to.
For most benefits you’ll need to complete an application. Unsurprisingly these can be quite complicated so get help if you are at all unsure. Advisers like our welfare rights staff and those working within Citizens Advice Bureaux know about the scoring systems used to assess applications so can help to ensure that you include all the important things.
Assessments and Claimant Commitments…
For some benefits the assessment is a simple process of reviewing the information you have provided on the form. For others a telephone interview or a face to face meeting will be required. And if the benefit is dependent on a health condition or disability you might be asked to attend a medical assessment. Our welfare rights colleagues would strongly advise that you seek advice from an independent source in advance of any meeting.
Benefits like Job Seekers Allowance require that you meet with a DWP job coach to agree a set of weekly targets. These targets will make up your ‘claimant commitment’ which you will be asked to sign. You will be expected to achieve these targets and provide evidence of this. It is extremely important that you don’t agree to something that you are unlikely to achieve because it could affect your payments. Seek advice in advance of your meeting and consider taking someone with you on the day.
For some benefits if you fail to meet your obligations you may be sanctioned, which means that some or all of your benefit will be stopped for a specified period of time. For example, if you miss a meeting with your job coach or fail to apply for as many jobs in a week as you agreed to in your Claimant Commitment, you could lose money. Just remember that you always have the right to appeal a decision.
Appeals and Mandatory Reconsiderations…
If you have been unsuccessful in applying for a benefit or have been sanctioned, you always have the right to challenge the decision. The first stage of this process is to request a Mandatory Reconsideration. If you are at all unhappy with the decision it is important that you request this reconsideration as soon as possible after you have received the letter. If you don’t make your request within a month of the date on your decision or sanction letter, you may lose any right to appeal. The process normally involves a phone call from the DWP followed by a letter confirming the ‘reconsidered’ decision. If you are still unhappy, our guys would strongly urge you to seek help to guide you through the full appeals process.
Not much fun, all this requesting reconsiderations etc. It can be time consuming and tedious but sadly there are no shortcuts. Always consider getting help though – our welfare rights guys and their counterparts in the charitable sector are used to all these cumbersome processes and can help make the experience a lot less gruelling than it might otherwise be.
So if you do have questions, feel free to post them here but if they relate to a specific claim you might need to sit down with a Local Social Work Officer, Housing Advisor or an Independent Advice provider. You can get a full list of options on our website at http://www.northlanarkshire.gov.uk/yourmoney or you can call our Your Money line on 01698 403170. Alternatively, call in at your local Citizens Advice Bureau and they too can point you in the right direction.