Report on Benefit Justice Campaign - Summit 9.3.2013

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Benefit claimants are facing a tsunami of cuts. We must fight and we can win. Londoners on benefits are particularly hard hit because of high rents, and Wandsworth has among the highest council rents in the country. Over 50% of benefit claimants are in employment.
 
Key Points
 
1. ATOS carries out disability assessments on behelf of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). 
Claimants are entitled to appeal ATOS assessment outcome; many assessors are not qualified medical practitioners and can be challenged on this point. DWP needs to get medical evidence from claimant's own medical practitioner. See DPAC and Black Triangle for advice (references below).
 
2. Council Tax Benefit
Currently at 0% for those on benefit. From 1 April this will be 20%. Some councils are protecting tenants from this for a year e.g. Dundee and Brighton. Councils have discretion to continue paying Housing Benefit. 
 
3. Universal Credit
Being piloted in Harngey in London from April 2013. Others councils may not bring this in for up to two years. All claimants have to claim online, but only 50% of benefit claimants have access to the internet.
 
4. Those on benefits assigned to 'self employed' status will have an assessed minimum income of £1400 per month.
 
5. Legal Aid is now being withdrawn for all benefits work.
 
6. Judicial Review (may be possible to claim legal aid if eligible).
Can only be brought on points of law.
 
7. Bedroom Tax
Disabled children and service people now exempt. May be able to get a lodger, depending on rental agreement. Not yet tested in law. Many people will be forced to move to another part of the country; this is already happening in some areas.
 
8. Mental illness: the 'invisible' disability. Many on Employment Support Allowance (ESA) are being harassed by continuous assessments, some suicides reported.
 There is a Mental Health Discrimination Bill going through Parliament. 
 
9. Workfare: described as 'slave labour' as those on Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) are forced to work for nothing or lose their JSA and other benefits.
A recent case won a ruling against Poundland on this at the Court of Appeal as being contrary to European Human Rights. Retrospective legislation is being rushed through Parliament. 
 
10. Eviction
Private landlords can take tenants to court to evict them and do not have to offer a reason. Councils and Housing Authorities have to prove rent arrears. Lawyers may to able to buy time if they can show that tenants are trying to pay some of their arrears and can advise to ensure the tenant is claiming all benefits to which they are entitled. It is apparently quite difficult to evict someone.
 
A high profile campaign organised by Wandsworth Against Cuts (WAC), Liberty and local residents in Wandsworth, with support from some Wandsworth Labour councillors, two Labour MPs and Defend Council Housing, helped stop a local mother being evicted in 2012.
 
Conclusion and Actions
 
A combination of legal defence (where possible) and community campaigns to defend those facing eviction and harassment. 
  • Practical support combined with political campaigns.
  • Train up 'barefoot' lawyers with some relevant legal expertise.
  • Defend and protect those being evicted.
  • Boycott Poundland and other Workfare 'employers'.
  • Campaign for building of more social housing.
  • Build local campaigns in your local area.
 
Useful References for advice and action
 
Benefit Justice Campaign: http://benefitjustice.wordpress.com/
Black Triangle:http://blacktrianglecampaign.org/
Defend Council Housing (DCH): www.defendcouncilhousing.org.uk
Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC): www.dpac.uk.net
Hackney Law Centre: http://www.hclc.org.uk/
Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers: www.haldane.org
Liberty: http://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/index.php
London Coalition Against Poverty: http://www.lcap.org.uk/
 
And of course, Wandsworth Against Cuts: http://www.wandsworthagainstcuts.co.uk/
Join us today and help fight for equality, fairness, justice and the right to decent living standards for all.
 
Recent update:
Responsibility for the Social Fund (community care grants, crisis loans etc) passes from the DWP to local authorities with effect from the start of April. Wandsworth Council confirm that their responsibility would include crisis loans but didn't think they were required to provide these until 2014. 
 
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