Waiting 17 months for an appeal (Part 2)
by Felix McHugh
Fri 18th Jan 2013
Paula’s appeal was successful and she has been placed in the Support Group, which means that she is owed £34 per week back to the late summer of 2011. A rare piece of good news for her, the decision may make Paula decide not to harm herself tomorrow; it might even be the catalyst for the beginning of her recovery. Certainly, after such a long wait the vindication she should now feel and the lifting of the pressure of her impending case should, hopefully, give her a boost. That this outcome was achieved owes much to her boyfriend Clarke, whose evidence was informative, compassionate and helpful; to the Judge and doctor (I know that should not make a difference but it does so nevertheless in my experience) and to my submission pointing out how lousy the decision to find her fit for work had been in the first place.
No thanks, however, go to the District Judge who summarily dismissed Paula’s request for a domiciliary hearing, and effectively preventing her from giving evidence on her own behalf, on the very dismissive grounds that “it is not possible.” That’s nonsense, of course, because something is either possible or it is not and no-one, not even a district judge, can make anything impossible just by deeming it so. For example, since I have four working limbs, lungs and a heart I knew it was possible that I could walk home this evening from the railway station. It is possible, though unfeasible, that I could have crawled home and also possible, though the odds against are monstrous, that I could have hopped. However, because I do not possess wings I knew that it was impossible that I could fly from the station to my house and no decision could make it otherwise.
What the District Judge was actually saying was “I am not allowing you to have your hearing at home because it would inconvenience the Tribunals Service to make the arrangements” which is something entirely different. By the same token, it inconveniences me to clean out my cat’s dirty litter tray and I might decide not to do it but that does not make it impossible.
Getting the 15 points for Paula on the mental health descriptors was a doddle, given Clarke’s first hand evidence, but the clincher for getting her in the Support Group (which allows her additional benefit and means she does not have her money cut off after 12 months) was the fact that finding her fit for work-related activity would, itself, be dangerous and may lead to a deterioration in her anxiety and depression. A recent change in the regulations means that sanctions can now be applied to people who are unfit for work but deemed able to attend work-focused interviews. Whereas it used to be Jobcentre staff who carried out the interviews, privatisation has allowed other alleged work providers like A4E not only to take over but to threaten anyone who does not carry out their directions to have his/her benefit stopped. Whilst the previous regime was reasonably benign and a claimant would probably only be called for an interview every three months or so, private companies can, if they wish, order people who have been found to be incapable of going to work to attend their sessions every day for a month, with the threat of losing their benefit if they do not do as they are told.
Ironically, in a case like Paula’s this could have made a positive difference to the outcome of her appeal. The Judge asked Clarke whether Paula could have coped with attending the Jobcentre once every three months and he replied that he doubted it. When I asked him whether she could cope with being ordered to attend every day or lose her benefit his response was a decisive “No.” Thus, the Government’s attempts to make life harder for claimants has, in this case at least, rebounded on them and you can rest assured I shall be asking the same question again in the same circumstances very soon.
While it’s good to come home having successfully fought Paula’s case there’s plenty more to be done, of course, and a welfare rights worker’s casebook is never empty. Next up, a man whose consultant wishes to amputate his leg is found not entitled to DLA mobility component!