This page is published in the public domain and is uncopyrighted. Feel free to copy. See Copyleft (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/)
This website provides information on how Atos runs its business, extracts from the Contract between the DWP and Atos including the MEDICAL CONDITIONS that mean a face to face medical assessment is not always necessary, ASSESSMENTS AND POINTS, the breaches of Contract that occurred in my case, my unsound medical report and the correspondence showing how difficult it is to obtain justice or advice.
The Government is inviting the public to submit petitions. Search epetitions.direct.gov.uk for "DWP" or "Atos" or "disabled" to list relevant petitions including Stop and review the cuts to benefits and services which are falling disproportionately on disabled people, their carers and families (http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/20968).
Other ongoing petitions are Petition against constant vilification of sick and disabled claimants and Petition to "Sack Atos Immediately" .
The DWP occasionally consults the public http://www.dwp.gov.uk/consultations/.
I was emailed by a fellow ESA claimant suggesting that my correspondence might have been unnecessary if I had contacted my local council and requested a free visit from my Welfare Rights Advisor. I was assured that all councils were required to provide this independent and free service. In addition there were help groups, who in many cases receive funds from the local council, able to provide advice.
My local council had never heard of such a service. They suggested I contact my county council. My county council is Hertfordshire County Council (HCC). While attending treatment I had heard that this council is known as "Heartless Herts" for its Social Care services. I had no experience of HCC Social Care so I could not comment. but nobody likes to live in a "Heartless" county.
I leave you to read the correspondence below and judge for yourselves.
You might agree, with some, that Hertfordshire Council Council should put up signs at the County boundaries such as "This is Heartless Herts. Move on!".
If I knew what I know now, when we decided to move to Hertfordshire, I would have had second thoughts and never left the City of Westminster where I was born and bred. To be fair, apart from paying rates and the purchase of a residents parking permit, I did not ever trouble Westminster City Council. The past is always seen through rose coloured glasses.
[The last paragraphs were written at the start of the correspondence. Later actions by HCC have mollified me somewhat.] It is misfortunate that the abuse received from one Government department, in my case from the DWP and in particular Atos Origin, tainted my opinion against individuals working for national and local government which in turn resulted in a tendency to a judicial approach whereas a common sense approach seeking consensus, in hindsight, might is better. It might even cost less to all concerned.
These are general rules that I feel might assist in obtaining access to the services that councils provide.
Avoid using the phone. It is better to email if possible or write. If the phone must be used ask the council in writing to confirm what has been discussed on the phone. Request that target times are included.
Most councils have targets such as acknowledging a letter within a defined number of days.
Keep dated evidence. Date and time of phone calls. Keep emails in a folder. Retain letters.
Make a formal complaint to the most senior director responsible (an example follows at the end of this section).
The following organisations may help if you feel you need advice or feel you have been subject to maladministration.
The Advice from CAB (www.adviceguide.org.uk/) provides advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).
The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) (www.citizensadvice.org.uk/) provides advice through appointments, including home visits arranged by the County Council (see MAU below). The CAB receives grants from the County Council.
The Local Government Ombudsman (www.lgo.org.uk) looks at complaints about councils.
The Care Quality Commission (www.cqc.org.uk) regulates, inspects and reviews all adult social care services in the public, private and voluntary sectors in England.
The Information Commissioner's Office (www.ico.org.uk) is the UK's independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals. A formal request for information under the "Freedom of Information" Act for example for the names of the individuals who agreed the policies, rules and regulations that you object to will allow you to lobby your elected officials about their actions.
Finally there are a number of Acts that might assist; in particular the Disability and Equality Act and the Human Rights Act.
Example of a Complaint Letter
The individual concerned had for weeks and weeks phoned without results. Many many times the phone rang and rang and rang and was not answered.
Director of Adult Social Care Hertfordshire County Council County Hall, Pegs Lane, Hertford SG13 8DQ 3 August 2011 Dear Sir Ref: Kitchen Step to Assist Mobility - Delays
I am concerned at both the delay Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) have taken in installing a medically necessary low step outside my home side door and the failure by those that I have contacted at HCC to confirm in writing that they have raised a formal complaint, that the complaint procedure has been invoked and that HCC will write to me, by return, to confirm that this has been done.
My ongoing medical conditions means my mobility is severely impaired. It is important that I undertake physio-therapy exercises including trying to walk. HCC is aware walking is extremely painful. HCC is further aware, due to the extreme camber of the pavement outside my house, I am, to all extents and purposes, near house-bound. The low step would allow me to walk slowly up and down my garden path.
I am outraged as I have missed most of the summer which means my medical condition is likely to worsen. A reasonable person might conclude HCC failures to date suggests that HCC is liable for my worsening condition and as such a claim for compensation might, if I so wished, be successfully pursued.
I expect you to acknowledge this letter by return and in that letter let me know when you will be in a position to inform me of the date my low step will be installed.
Since I phoned HCC on Thursday 21 July 2011 and in that conversation I was promised HCC would acknowledge my formal complaint. HCC has, to date, failed repeatedly to fulfill the promises HCC has made. I have heard nothing since my last phone call. If I fail to hear from you in a timely manner I will refer this matter for investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman and the Care Quality Commission.
I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.
This resulted in a swift apology, a promise of an inquiry and more importantly the work was completed very soon thereafter.
You can click on a date to link to the item on this page.
|25 March 13:09||To County Council||Request for access to Welfare Rights Advisor.|
|25 March 14:09||From County Council||Acknowledgement of request.|
|28 March 17:51||From County Council||Response, the legal position of the Council.|
|29 March 17:19||To County Council||Refutation of the legal position of the Council.|
|16 May 17:07||From County Council||Response to the refutation. Apology for delay.|
|20 May 11:39||To County Council||Freedom of Information request.|
|20 May 11:56||From County Council||Passed to Complaints Officer.|
|18 July 11:14||To County Council||Asked about progress.|
|18 July 11:22||To County Council||Forwarded as Complaints Officer out of office.|
|18 July 12:16||From County Council||Forwarded to Area Manager.|
|18 July 12:53||To County Council||Request for full response in writing.|
|18 July 14:13||From County Council||Confirmed complaint forwarded.|
|6 September||Letter||From County Council||Response.|
|12 September||Phone and Emails||To and from County Council||Welfare rights clarification.|
|15 September||From County Council FOI||Response to FOI request and apology.|
|MAU||Minutes||HCC Cabinet||14 February approval of Cuts to MAU.|
|18 September||To County Council||Confirm 6 September matters of substance addressed.|
|23 September||Letter||From County Council||Acknowledgement and secondary questions addressed.|
This email requests confirmation about access to a Welfare Rights Advisor.
To: Sheila Bowles, Hertfordshire County Council Cc: email@example.com Subject: Benefits and Welfare Rights Advisor Dear Ms Sheila Bowles,
First may I apologise for my lapses in tone and civility during our telephone conversation this morning which I attribute to my ongoing pain, tiredness, focus and memory issues. I avoid the phone as tiredness causes me issues. As my brain tumour, the size of a small orange, is on my left size it adversely impacts my right side. I am right handed. My handwriting and right side is getting better slowly after radiotherapy.
I would like to outline my personal position and give you the opportunity to confirm the position of Hertfordshire County Council with respect to the post of Welfare Rights Advisor that I understood all councils should provide access to for free without restriction as to the age of the individual. Further I understood that the Welfare Rights Advisor is bound, under their duty of care responsibilities, to visit the house bound or near housebound like myself, irrespective of age. Please use a search engine to confirm many councils provide a Welfare Rights Advisor or a Welfare Benefits Advisor. I do stand corrected that many councils use Benefits instead of Rights. Parliament only uses Rights.
You mentioned that Herts CC provide a Welfare Benefits Advisor. Please provide me with the web address on the Herts CC website that lists the activity of this team and their contact details. It is NOT mentioned in the HertsDirect website in the menu on the left hand side. I used the search on the website for Welfare Benefits Rights and it is not found. May I make an observation that the dying, the sick, the disabled and their carers are not helped by what a reasonable person would see as evasion. How is it that Herts help and Broxbourne help found it so hard to connect me to you? Does every possible claimant need to talk to the Team Manager?My personal circumstances: Diagnosis: Anaplastic oligoastrocytoma(WHO grade III) Intractable painful partial seizures and right hemiparesis Biopsy performed 13 October 2010 Treatment: Radical radiotherapy 54.9Gy in 30 fractions over 6 weeks completed 22 December 2010
Epilepsy, Focal fits, seizures, twitches and spasms have not occurred since treatment due to drugs suppression. The drugs cause tiredness. I usually sleep about 16+ hours a day. I receive ESA (Support Group). I have published on my website all correspondence with the DWP et al. See www.whywaitforever.com/dwpatos.html.
The term Welfare Rights Advisor seems to be the preferred term used by Parliament and thus should be used by Government Departments and Local Authorities.
118. Whilst welfare rights advisers have suggested that the reconsideration process is working well with respect to DLA and AA as a relatively high proportion of decisions are overturned at this stage, these statistics equally raise questions about the quality of the original decisions made in DLA and AA cases. If standards of decision making on initial claims were high then it is logical to expect a low rate of overturned decisions at the reconsideration stage. www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmworpen/313/31306.htm
138. Access to welfare rights advice can be a crucial resource for those who require expert guidance and support in preparation for an appeal. www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmworpen/313/31307.htm
Further my understanding is that access to a Welfare Rights Advisor is not restricted by age. Many needing the service are young, middle aged (like me, I am ?) or under retirement age. With the increase in cancer and other disabling medical conditions and the financial constraints placed on individuals, it is more important for local councils to provide free welfare rights advice without age restriction.
Please explain to me the legal basis why Hertforshire CC declines to use the term Welfare Rights Advisor as used by Parliament, fails to publicise the service on their website and discriminates by age in that the service is restricted to children and those over retirement age and denied to myself.
I sympathise that the council budget needs to be cut nevertheless I believe that this is a service that was part of the Welfare Reform Act 2007 and prior Social Security Acts. Discrimination against the disabled is outlawed by the Disability and the Equality Act 2010 and prior Acts and breaches the Human Rights Act 1998, the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Finally in line with the recommendations of the Parliamentary Inquiry into Decision Making and Appeals in the Benefits System, I would like you to assign a Welfare Rights Advisor to my case, all correspondence is published on my website www.whywaitforever.com/dwpatos.html. Please ask the Advisor to review my case and advice me whether I should appeal as outlined in the letter from Mr Darra Singh OBE, CEO Jobcentre Plus. This letter should be taken by Mr Singh as a request for a delay until I have received formal advice from my Welfare Rights Advisor.
I look forward to hearing from you. Please acknowledge you have received this email.
This email acknowledges my request.
From: Sheila Bowles Sent: 25 Mar 2011 14:09 To: Mr B... ; Gary Vaux Cc: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: RE: Benefits and Welfare Rights Advisor Dear Mr B...
Thank you for your email please accept this as an acknowledgement of receipt of email which has been forwarded to Mr Gary Vaux Head of Advice (Benefits and Work) at the Money Advice Unit who will respond to your email.Sheila Bowles Team Manager Money Advice Unit/Blue Badge Health and Community service Farnham House, SFAR 011 Six Hills Way Stevenage HERTS SG1 2FQ Comnet 53325 or 01438 843325
This email provides the legal position in the opinion of the Council.
From: Gary Vaux Cc: Sheila Bowles Sent: Monday, March 28, 2011 5:51 PM Subject: Benefits and Welfare Rights Adviser Dear Mr B...
Thank you very much for your email about the welfare rights service that councils have a power (but not a duty) to provide. I can absolutely assure you that Hertfordshire County Council is operating within current legislation with regards to the provision of its Money Advice Unit, which I am the lead officer for.
If I may, I will explain how we operate and the legal position that we are in.
The fact that Parliamentary reports refer to welfare rights advisers (or welfare benefits advisers - the terms are mostly interchangeable) doesn't mean that Parliament has made the provision of such posts a legal requirement on each local council. Parliament leaves staffing decisions of that kind very much in the hands of local councils. It gives them the power to make such appointments if they choose to spend council tax in that way, but does not put them under a duty to do so. Councils do have specific duties of course - to assess a persons needs for care and support, and to provide that support if they are able to do so. But how they choose to do that is left to local discretion. In Hertfordshire, the county council decided to provide a Money Advice Unit (MAU), which incorporates welfare benefits advisers, as part of the overall support they provide to the local community. They are not legally obliged to do so - it is not what is called a statutory service. There are a number of County Councils who provide no equivalent service at all, and others who provide a much lower level of funding for benefits advice than has been the case in Hertfordshire.
However, it has always been the case in Hertfordshire that the MAU would not be a 'front-line' service. That task, of providing advice directly to the public, has been assigned to local CAB. The MAU has been primarily involved in what is known as 'second-tier' activity i.e. providing training, information, advice and support to front-line staff such as CAB, social workers , health visitors etc so that they can assist with benefit claims. This is why we are not publicised in HCC material, or on the website, because we are not resourced to work with the general public nor answer benefit queries from the public. Admittedly, we do have a small number of advisers who have been recruited to provide advice directly to the public but that work is tightly controlled and targetted at specific groups and individuals that the County Council has asked the MAU to priotitise - i.e disabled children, carers, older people and younger disabled adults who receive social services from the County Council. We havent the resources to do otherwise. That doesn't put us in breach of the law, as there is no law that says that local authorities must provide a universal welfare rights advice service. Every Council has to make decisions about priorities and Hertfordshire, in funding both the MAU and the CAB (and encouraging its other staff to give initial benefits advice too) does more than most in providing or funding benefits advice. Given the number of people who do need benefit advice, it can never be enough of course but that is a decision that councillors in Hertfordshire have taken.
I'm sure that this reply will be disappointing to you. It certainly appears that you have a need for benefit advice arising from your medical condition but it is a need that this Unit is simply unable to meet. Your local CAB may be the best place to get face-to-face advice, although there are other local and national advice organisations who may be able to assist you.
Yours sincerelyGary Vaux Head of Advice (Benefits and Work) Money Advice Unit Adult Care Services Farnham House (SFAR011) Six Hills Way Stevenage Herts SG1 2 FQ 01438 843634 (direct) 01438 843456 (office)
This email expands my understanding of the position.
To: Gary Vaux Cc: Sheila Bowles Subject: Re: Benefits and Welfare Rights Adviser Dear Mr Vaux, Re: Benefits and Welfare Rights Advisor
I appreciate your detailed and considered reply. It would be helpful if you published this information under http://www.hertsdirect.org/caresupport/ as Welfare Rights Advice. This can be additional to the Benefits Advice link.
Clearly it is a political decision where money is or is not spent. Can you confirm whether it is a political decision for this information to, so far, not be published on the website? I accept I may be the first to draw your attention to this matter, in which case the omission can be easily rectified by publication. It would reduce costs as, if it had been published, I, and others like me, would not have requested services that the Council declines to provide.
I may look into the matter more deeply, perhaps take the matter to the Local Authorities Ombudsman http://www.lgo.org.uk/ or seek Judicial Review but as of now I will not, without prejudice, question the veracity of your statements.
From your email you clearly understand, as Parliament does, that Rights may or may not include a right to receive benefits. Take my case, I, as the claimant, was not allowed to attend the Independent Tier. Under my welfare rights, as defined in the Act (plus Rules and Regulations) as implemented by the Contract between the DWP and Atos, I had the right for a Welfare Rights Advisor to attend the appeal on my behalf. There are other Welfare Rights which Parliament has granted that are independent of whether a Benefit is involved. The voters in Herts can decide if the priorities reflect the views of the majority.
I cannot substantiate that in Parliament that the term welfare rights advisor and welfare benefits advisor are "mostly" interchangable. Clearly there are Councils such as Knowsley in submissions to White Papers who use Welfare Benefits Advisor. Knowsley like Hertfordshire appears to have failed to convert to the current term. I have given you actual Parliamentary examples. Please oblige me by providing the same. My searches may not have been as extensive as yours.
I note you have not addressed the substantive point raised by the Equality Act 2010: Age "A reference to an age group is a reference to a group of persons defined by reference to age, whether by reference to a particular age or to a range of ages". Has Herts CC obtained an exemption to this Act in respect of age? You state that Herts CC has set your priorities to exclude services for a particular age group. Has the Equality and Human Rights Commission agreed that this is legal? It would be helpful if your legal advice on this matter is published. I have brought your attention to this matter. I look forward to hearing your legal argument for what seems to be a "prima facie" case of age discrimination. It seems to me you provide to all or you provide to none if Herts CC is to avoid being sued for age discrimination. http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/about-us/vision-and-mission/our-business-plan/age-equality/
I have specialist knowledge of ESA(C). Please note the information Herts CC publishes on ESA is misleading and incomplete. The ESA form is first assessed by a medical specialist, with skills defined by the Contract between the DWP and Atos as appropriate for the medical condition, to decide whether a face to face assessment is necessary. For a number of conditions a face to face assessment is not necessary. For many others the GP or the Consultant of the claimant needs to be consulted prior to the assessment.
If a face to face assessment is required, the maximum travel time allowed is 90 minutes by bus. The travel time for most areas of Herts, including the whole of the Broxbourne Parliamentary Constituency, is in excess of the 90 minutes and so the assessment must be undertaken at the home of the claimant. If the home of the claimant is within the 90 minutes travel time, toilet, mobility and form of transport needs to be taken into account. The three closest assessment centres to Broxbourne are Highgate, Romford and Luton. All outside the 90 minute maximum. I am sure you have access to the Contract between the DWP and Atos. I have published it on my website. Feel free to copy. If it would help I could identify all the areas within the County that are outside the 90 minute maximum. In the meantime please include that all in Broxbourne must be assessed at home.
After the assessment the claimant can be placed in a support group, be placed in a work capable group or be denied benefit. The claimant can appeal. Parliament recommends that the services of a Welfare Rights Advisor is used in the appeal process. Herts CC, in line with Council priorities, discriminates by age and does not provide Welfare Rights Advisor assistance to adults under retirement age. http://www.hertsdirect.org/caresupport/bnftsadvc/benguide/illdisabled/esa/after/
Finally I am not disappointed in the least by your reply. You have stated the facts. I am impressed. Personally I have some sympathy with the utilitarian view that Herts CC takes which is that the adult disabled have less to contribute and so the moral imperative can be ignored. It is a neat twist of the knife to make sick patients have to chase and search for help. I went from being a high rate tax payer with a vague sense that since I paid so much NI there is a safety net to being brought down to the reality that those who are supposed to help; "Deny, Delay, Defer". So if I do sue, who do I hurt, the taxpayers and line the pockets of lawyers. On a number of occasions I have asked for and been refused a potassium cyanide tablet. It is unfortunate, especially after Dr Shipman, that it is still acceptable to end the anquish of an injured animal but people are left to suffer as the medical profession is more wary of the coroner. Clearly this last paragraph is outside the matter in hand.
I do appreciate your frankness. I look forward to hearing from you.
This email expands the legal position in the opinion of the Council.
From: Gary Vaux Sent: Monday, May 16, 2011 5:07 PM Subject: Benefits and Welfare Rights Adviser Dear Mr B...
Thank you for your email of March 29th and I apologise for my delay in replying. I'm afraid that I cannot add much more than the information I gave you in my original reply. Hertfordshire County Council provides welfare benefits advice in a number of ways - through front-line social work staff; through the Money Advice Unit and through the funding it gives to local CAB. The social work staff, who can get support and advice in all benefit-related matters from the MAU, work with clients of all age groups. The MAU works with clients of all age groups within the budget that we have been allocated (and considering the fact that we are not, and never have been, a front-line public-facing welfare rights advice service). The CAB service provides advice to all age-groups, including people who of working age who need help with DLA and ESA-related queries. The CAB is the primary public-facing advice agency in Hertfordshire and anyone that we are unable to assist is referred on to that organisation. As our role is predominantly what we call 'second-tier' advice i.e. supporting front-line staff and providing information and resources to enable them to give benefits advice, we play (and are funded and expected to play) a very minor role in supporting members of the public directly.
There is an organisation called NAWRA (national association of welfare rights advisers) - from their mailing list, it is clear that staff doing a similar job are given different titles across the UK - welfare benefits advisers, welfare rights advisers, income generation staff, money and benefits advisers etc. What largely defines them is what they do, not what they are called - and what they do ranges from front-line advice and representation to second-tier support and policy development. As it is a non-statutory service, it is up to each local council to decide if they wish to provide such a service and to what level it should be funded. Hertfordshire County Council provides a level of funding for the MAU that enables it to carry out the functions that I described in my original email. It also specifically funds the CAB to provide benefits advice through an annual contract, currently worth £170,000. These two funding streams indicate the value the County Council puts on supplying benefits advice to all parts of the community, and my Unit works closely in partnership with the CAB to deliver that support.
Hertfordshire has therefore not decided to "exclude services for a particular age group" as advice services are available from the CAB (funded by HCC), front-line social work staff and from the MAU itself. As such, I believe that the legal issues that you mention do not arise in this context.
With regard to your email of May 10th, the Birmingham decision relates to a much wider public policy matter and the question of legality of HOW Birmingham City Council have implemented their budget reductions. I do not believe that the County Council is failing to comply with the DDA although of course that is an opinion that could only be tested in courts and not by simple assertion.
The MAU is under an incredible amount of pressure at present. We are attempting to keep pace with a rapidly-changing welfare reform agenda (ESA, DLA, changes to housing benefit etc) at a time when we took a 35% reduction in budget and staffing in April 2011. Our time and energies are focussed on providing the best and fullest level of second-tier advice that we can. I'm afraid therefore that I cannot engage in prolonged debate about this matter but if you wish to take it further I can escalate it to the next level of management.Gary Vaux Head of Unit Money Advice Unit Adult Care Services Farnham House (SFAR011) Six Hills Way Stevenage Herts SG1 2 FQ 01438 843634 (direct) 01438 843456 (office)
Sent: 20 May 2011 11:39 To: Gary Vaux Subject: Re: Benefits and Welfare Rights Adviser Dear Mr Vaux,
I appreciate your help with this matter and wish you well. It is depressing that you are struggling with a 35% budget and staffing reduction at a time when the population of Hertfordshire is ageing and increasing numbers need access to Welfare Rights Advisors. I accept that you are in an operational role and cannot help me further. I regret the Council does not appear to understand the legal difference, as expressed by Statute, between a Right and a Benefit. The Council appears evasive to me in that it appears to hide these services by naming social work activities as money advice. Further I am pleased that you have confirmed that the Council does provide front-line social work staff who deal directly with some "priority" individuals albeit in my view on a discriminatory basis. Your statement seems to be prima facie evidence that discrimination similar to that in the Birmingham case and others, has occured and the Council continues to discriminate.
Let me make myself clear. My understanding is that the Council is discriminating against me and others like me by refusing to provide front-line social work staff, trained as a Welfare Rights Advisor, to visit me at home and providing me with advice. In making this decision the Council does not take into account my medical condition or my mobility difficulties. Further the Council refuses to arrange for a third party, such as CAB et al to make up for the Council's shortfall. The Council discriminates against certain groups of individuals by expecting some who are dying, sick, or disabled to manage on their own and make independent enquires for advice.
Please can you forward our correspondence to the executive or executives responsible for this policy, copying the email to me so I know who is responsible. I would like this individual or these indivduals to provide me with the legal justification for this policy. In addition I would like to know what changes are to be made in the light of the Birmingham case and others. I expect the information to be provided without recourse to a formal request under the Freedom of Information Act, though should it be necessary I would like this email to be a formal request for this information.
I look forward to hearing from the executive or executives.
Thank you for outlining the Council's position so clearly and without ambiguity.
From: Gary Vaux Cc: Sue Fox Subject: RE: Benefits and Welfare Rights Adviser I have passed this matter on to this Departments complaints officer, Sue Fox. Gary Vaux
To: Gary Vaux Cc: Sue Fox Subject: Re: Benefits and Welfare Rights Adviser Dear Gary and Sue,
Due to my ongoing medical situation, I have not been able to chase progress on this matter. Can you kindly confirm what the situation is? Can you further confirm that you have failed to meet relevant communication response targets and this failure has been formally noted so that it will be counted in respect of the performance of the council should a Freedom of Information Request be made to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government regarding performance of the Council in respect of targets.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Chasing up "out of office".
To: Tim Hood; Alison Lock Subject: Fw: Benefits and Welfare Rights Adviser
Following an automatic reply from Ms Fox which states that she is out of the office until 1 August and that I should contact you. I would like you to respond in her absence.
From: Alison Lock Cc: Tim Hood Subject: RE: Benefits and Welfare Rights Adviser Dear Mr B...
Thank you for your email dated 18 July 2011.
I am very sorry to receive a complaint about the Health & Community Services.
I have forwarded your complaint to Area Manager for Broxbourne, East Herts & Royston Area, and I am sure they will be pleased to look into your concern and respond directly. Most problems can be resolved by discussing them with the people who directly manage the service. We call this 'local resolution'. They will ask you what you want to happen, explain the action we will take to look into your complaint and try to put things right. They will also agree a timescale for this with you.
I have phoned through to his PA to let them know I was forwarding your email and to treat it as urgent with regard to the time that has been spent on this issue so far.
Kind RegardsAlison Lock (for Sue Fox, HCS Complaints Manager) Support Officer Customer Service Team, Health & Community Services CHO 118, County Hall, Hertford, SG13 8DF 01438 843404 Comnet 53404
To: Alison Lock Cc: Tim Hood Subject: Re: Benefits and Welfare Rights Adviser Dear Ms Lock
Thank you for acknowledging my recent email so swiftly.
I would like a formal response to ALL the points I have raised. This response may be subject to judicial review.
Further I would like to receive the information I requested in my email of the 20 May 2011 under the Freedom of Information Act and confirmation that disciplinary action is being taken against the individual or individuals that ignored my request and against their managers who, a reasonable person might feel, are either negligent or incompetent in their supervisory role.
Finally please supply me, by return, the complaint case identifier that I can use should I decide to refer this matter to the Local Government Ombudsman and to the Information Commissioner.
Dear Mr B...
Thank you for your email below. I have forwarded your email to the Area Manager for Broxbourne, East Herts & Royston Area, who is looking into your complaint. When identifying a case with us the Ombudsman and Information Commissioner need to use your full name and address.Kind Regards Alison Lock (for Sue Fox, HCS Complaints Manager) Support Officer Customer Service Team, Health & Community Services CHO 118, County Hall, Hertford, SG13 8DF 01438 843404 Comnet 53404
Health and Community Services Director: Sarah Pickup Management Board Health and Community Services Hertfordshire County Council County Hall Hertford, Herts SG13 8Df Tel: 01992 ... Email: Sue.Darker@hertscc.gov.uk My ref: Your ref: SD/emh Date: 6th September 2011 Dear Mr B...
Thank you for your email of July 18th regarding your complaint about the service you have received from Health and Community Services. I apologise for the delay in replying, caused in part by staff holidays, including my own. As you requested a reply from a senior officer, I wanted to write to you myself and not delegate to a more junior member of staff.
In the time since you last emailed Mr Vaux and Ms Fox, we have taken advice about the issues that you raised and also had the opportunity of offering you an assessment from our Referral Management Team from Broxbourne, East Herts and Royston. Our RMT manager made contact with you in late-July to see if there was any support that our team could provide you. This would have included access to financial advice about benefits. You apparently made it clear that you were in no need of any services or equipment from that team, and if you needed this you would approach your GP. You also went on to say that all you require is a formal response to your complaint surrounding welfare advice.
As you noted in your email of May 20th, Mr Vaux has already outlined the Council's position regarding benefits advice clearly and without ambiguity. To re-iterate, it is not a statutory service nor is it a legal requirement to provide benefits advice. Hertfordshire County Council chooses to supply benefits advice through three main sources - as part of its general social services assessment; via the Money Advice Unit in specified circumstances and via a Service Level Agreement with the Citizens Advice Bureau, which it funds, to carry-out casework with people with disabilities, in their own home if necessary. This arrangement allows the county council to provide a high-quality range of advice services in a flexible and responsive manner, even though there is no statutory duty to do so.
You have been offered a service from our RMT, which you declined, but you are able to use the CAB service directly, or the MAU could make the necessary arrangements for that to take place if you require it. Please contact Mr Vaux if that is the case. If there is anything further we can do to assist you, please contact me directly on the above email address and I will attempt to resolve the matter.Yours sincerely Sue Darker Assistant Drector LD/MH cc. Sue Fox Gay Vaux
I telephoned the Council to enquire about access to a Welfare Rights Advisor.
The following is an account of the telephone conversation. I asked Mr Vaux to correct my account (which previously I had erroneously called a transcript). He responded late that night see below. This is the amended version.
I rang Hertfordshire County Council Adult Care Services on 0300 123 4042 at around 10 am on 12 September 2011. The wait was actually not too long. This is in contrast to the experience of many. This is pleasing.
"I would like to speak to the Welfare Rights Advisor. I am 54. I have a brain tumour."
Clerk: "I will put you through."
I was pleased that I did not have to be switched around to numerous people to find the individual responsible. This is a step change improvement.
The MAU clerk asked me about my personal circumstances to see if I was eligible in line with the Council's "Project Criteria". I requested to be given the web address where the "Project Criteria" were published. The MAU clerk did not know the web address. I explained that I believed from previous correspondence that they were discriminatory and as such I would refer them to the Local Goverment Ombudsman which in turn might lead to a judicial review. The MAU clerk asked me if I agreed to be put through to the manager. I agreed.
Mr Vaux answered me. I identified myself and mentioned the Sue Darker letter [as published above]. I repeated what I have stated before that, in my opinion, his email suggested to me that the Council discriminated against adults with disabilities. He denied that his email implied discrimination.
He stated Councils did not have an obligation to provide "Welfare Rights Advice" to children and others. I agreed if the legal position was as stated then the Council could shut down all these services. Mr Vaux commented that that could be a possibility and could be an outcome. I replied in my view all services should be provided dependent on resources and claimant need and in line with legislation. [I did not feel I needed to repeat the Discrimination Act, the Human Rights Act et al. After the phone conversation, on reflection, I cannot see the Councillors being re-elected should they support such a policy. It seems to me that in any case this would breach the Human Rights Act.] Mr Vaux repeated his statements from his emails that HCC were not obliged to provide any form of benefits advice service but had chosen to do so through two equally valid and professional routes - the MAU and the CAB. Between them, they covered all client groups, and operated to an equal standard.
I asked Mr Vaux for the web address on the Council's web site where the "Project Criteria" were published. He said they were not published on the website. He agreed to send me a copy through the post, as this is the guidance that social work staff are referred to. I confirmed I would take them under legal advisement to ensure that they did not discriminate et al.
I complimented the Council that when I called and asked for the "Welfare Rights Advisor" I was put through. This was a major improvement. Mr Vaux explained the department was called the "Money Advice Unit". I stated it was of no interest to me what the Council chooses to called departments internally as long as they respond to the term that Parliament uses. (There is no 'official' or approved definition, from Parliament or elsewhere, of welfare rights advice services)
I asked about the freedom of information request made to him and he said his email was passed on. The telephone conversation ended amicably.
Email asking for clarification
To: Gary Vaux From: Mr B... Sent: 12 September 2011 12:33 Subject: Welfare Rights Advisor Dear Mr Vaux,
Thank you for speaking to me this morning. I have produced a transcript, see below, of what I feel is an accurate account of the matters discussed. Notwithstanding I would like to give you the opportunity to challenge and amend my account. I am holding off publication to give you time to reply. If I do not hear from you in a timely manner, I will take it that you agree with my account. Correspondence will continue to be published on http://www.whywaitforever.com/dwpatoswra.html.
In addition, I know you outlined the processes for obtaining occupational therapy (visiting my home, checking if I need hand-rails, stair lift, shower chair, commode chair etc) and for obtaining physiotherapy (I have a stiff right side, I still do the exercises given by the hospital but it is not improving as well as I like), please can you repeat the details in an email.
Regarding occupational therapy and physiotherapy I thought the hospital said I could obtain these through my council. I am further interested in who pays the costs and the criteria for making these decisions. If the elements needed to be funded by myself, does the Council provide advice on best suppliers, suitability, quality, value for money et al. This sort of information I expect my Welfare Rights Advisor to be able to give me. Ideally at minimum cost by publishing it on the Council's website.
Finally I do feel the Council is wasting my Council Tax by not publishing the information on the Council website that I have asked for. I would have found on the website the "Project Criteria" and the other information that I needed. If I was ineligible we would not have had this correspondence. As a senior manager in private industry we had a maxim "Work Smarter Not Harder". The more information a company publishes on the web the less enquiries that have to be handled. Handling enquiries are costly. Perhaps you have an internal suggestion scheme.
I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.
Email with clarification
To: Mr B... From: Gary Vaux Sent: 12 September 2011 21:36 Subject: Welfare Rights Advisor Dear Mr B...
Thank you for your phone call and email. I have sent you the Guide To The Money Advice Unit, as well as some information about benefits. I have commented below (in red) on the report of the conversation that you have made.
With regards to obtaining occupational therapy and physiotherapy, I can confirm that the former is something that HCC can provide, whilst the latter is an NHS responsibility, arranged through a GP, clinic or hospital. An O.T. assessment could be provided by the district social work team, who I understand approached you in the summer to offer you a general assessment. This would have included consideration of whether OT help was required as well as being one route to getting referred to the MAU or CAB for benefits advice.
Neither service however is one that a welfare rights adviser would provide assistance or advice regarding, because these are 'specialist' matters requiring a professional assessment. A welfare rights adviser, whether titled as such or as a money advice unit adviser, would ONLY deal with benefit matters and would only signpost to the specialist HCC services such as OT. If you require an OT assessment for handrails, shower chair etc, then please let me know and I will make a referral again to the District social work team.
The information, in full, arrived the next day. It will take some time to review and consider whether there are matters to be taken further.
To: Mr B... From: Information Governance (email@example.com) Date: 15 September 2011 10:54 Subject: Request for information : Provision of Welfare Advice FOI/HCS/09/11/3607 Dear Mr B...,
Your email of 20th May 2011 has recently been passed to me. The Information Access Team is responsible for responding to requests for information made under the Freedom of Information act on behalf of Hertfordshire County Council.
Reference number: FOI/HCS/09/11/3607
On 20th May 2011 we received the following request for information from you:
Please can you forward our correspondence to the executive or executives responsible for this policy, copying the email to me so I know who is responsible. I would like this individual or these individuals to provide me with the legal justification for this policy. In addition I would like to know what changes are to be made in the light of the Birmingham case and others. I expect the information to be provided without recourse to a formal request under the Freedom of Information Act, though should it be necessary I would like this email to be a formal request for this information.
(The policy referred to by you is that of welfare rights advice being provided directly only to those people whom HCC has assessed as meeting its criteria for assistance with care).
Your request for information has been considered under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. I can confirm that Hertfordshire County Council does hold some of the information you have requested, and can respond as follows:
The County Council's Cabinet considered a paper on a proposed restructure of the Money Advice Unit at its meeting on 14th February 2011 which was approved.
The full set of papers for this meeting can be found on our website at:
The minutes of the meeting give the reason for the decision and a list of Cabinet members and can be found here:
The direct link to the paper on the Money Advice Unit can be found at the link below:
We do not hold any information in respect of any changes to be made to the Money Advice Unit in the light of the Birmingham case and others.
I apologise that on this occasion we have not acknowledged or responded to your request within the twenty working day limit required by the Act.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me, quoting the reference above. To find out more about Freedom of Information, please visit www.hertsdirect.org/foi
If you are unhappy with the way the County Council has handled your request for information you may request an internal review of the request. This will be carried out by a member of the County Council Legal Services Team, who has had no prior involvement with the request. Requests for an internal review should be sent to the Information Governance Unit at the address above.
If you are unhappy with the outcome of the internal review you are entitled to ask the Information Commissioner to investigate your complaint. You should write to: FOI/EIR Complaints Resolution, Information Commissioner's Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF.
Yours sincerely,Elaine Dunnicliffe, Information Access Manager, Information Governance Unit, Hertfordshire County Council Telephone: 01992 555848 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Here are extracts from Council minutes et al.
Who Approved The Cuts
To: All Members of the County Council, All Chief Officers From: Legal, Member & Statutory Services Date: 14 February 2011 Ref: ES/CAB140211 CABINET MEETING ATTENDANCE MEMBERS OF THE CABINET D A Ashley, F Button, R I N Gordon (Chairman), D E Lloyd, S J Pile, J M Pitman, R M Roberts, R H Smith, R A C Thake Other Members Present: D Andrews, T L F Douris, P V Goggins, J Lloyd, P A Ruffles, A M R Searing, S J Taylor, C J White 3. PROPOSED RESTRUCTURE OF THE MONEY ADVICE UNIT (Forward Plan ref: A039/10) Decision Cabinet agreed that:- (i) changes to the structure and service delivery of the Money Advice Unit, as set out in the report, be approved; and (ii) the County Council enters into arrangements with the voluntary sector to provide complementary casework support; the nature of these arrangements to be determined by the Director Health & Community Services in consultation with the Executive Member for Adult Care & Health. Reasons for the decision The Money Advice Unit is a non-statutory service providing benefits and debt advice and advocacy; some of its work could be performed by voluntary sector organisations. Cabinet's decision to restructure the Unit will enable the necessary efficiency savings from it to be realised. In reaching it's decision, Cabinet considered the results of the Equalities Impact Assessment carried out and, in order to mitigate any impact on those identified as potentially experiencing greater difficulty in accessing services as a result of the restructure, agreed to enter into arrangements with the voluntary sector to financially assist them in providing complementary casework support on the Council's behalf. Any alternative options considered and rejected None.
Report on the MAU (as approved above)
This report was written by Ms Sue Darker, Director Health & Community Services and approved by Council as above.
HERTFORDSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL - CABINET - MONDAY, 14 FEBRUARY 2011 AT 2.00PM
PROPOSED RESTRUCTURE OF THE MONEY ADVICE UNIT
Report of the Director Health & Community Services
Author: Sue Darker (Tel: 01992 588820]
Executive Member: Richard Smith, Adult Care & Health
1. Purpose Of The Report
1.1 To enable Cabinet to consider proposals for:-
changes to the Money Advice Unit which will achieve 25% reduction in the unit costs; and
offering funding to the voluntary sector to undertake some activities on the County Council's behalf.
2.1 The Money Advice Unit (MAU) is a non-statutory service which provides benefits and debt advice and advocacy. As with many other areas across the Council, the MAU is required to make efficiencies and it has been suggested that some of the work which it currently undertakes could be performed by voluntary sector organisations.
3.1 A report on this item of business will be considered by the Adult Care & Health Cabinet Panel on 3 February 2011. The recommendation being made to the Panel is that it recommends to Cabinet :-
(i) changes to the structure and service delivery of the Money Advice Unit as set out in the report be approved; and
(ii) the County Council enters into arrangements with the voluntary sector to provide complementary casework support; the nature of these arrangements to be determined by the Director Health & Community Services in consultation with the Executive Member for Adult Care & Health."
3.2 The Panel's recommendation to Cabinet will be reported orally at the meeting and circulated to Members in the Order Sheet.
4.1 The Money Advice Unit (MAU) is a non-statutory service which provides benefits and debt advice and advocacy. As with many other areas across the Council, the MAU is required to make efficiencies and it has been suggested that some of the work which it currently undertakes could be performed by voluntary sector organisations.
4.2 The Money Advice Unit's funding for 2011/12 needs to reflect a reduced amount in terms of efficiency, due to the overall need for the County Council to achieve a balanced budget. In order to maintain the casework activity which the Money Advice Unit currently fulfils, the Council will also need to provide some complementary funding for the voluntary sector to carry out activities on its behalf.
4.3 The total running costs of the MAU are predominantly salaries and associated costs. The objective is to make an efficiency of £202,000 from the MAU base budget of £814,000; alongside this a further approximate £95,000 needs to be made available to offer to the voluntary sector to undertake some activities currently carried out by the MAU. The total needed, therefore, being £297,000.
4.4 It should be noted that, in addition to the proposals mentioned in this paper, from April 2011 the overall budget will already be reducing by £163,000; this being the salaries and on-costs of four workers on fixed-term contracts funded by the Social Care Reform Grant, the Primary Care Trusts, and Surestart, which are not being renewed.
4.5 This means reducing the current staffing as follows:-
4.12 interviewer posts - saving £100k
1.3 Welfare Benefits Advisors posts - saving £30k
0.5 senior - saving £26k
3 advisers - saving £120k
4.6 In addition, it is proposed that the Money Management Project would be ended, achieving a 25% reduction in Carers Grant.
4.7 This would reduce the budget by £282,000 in salaries and on-costs, together with approximately £15,000 in non-staffing costs (phones, mileage, postage etc).
5. Likely Impact
5.1 The impact of these proposals would be to close the existing home-visiting casework service, currently undertaken by interviewers, which is provided to older and disabled people. It may be possible to grant-aid, or contract with the voluntary sector, to provide an equivalent service for those cases which are not referred via the County Council's Adult Care Services Information System (ACSIS): these are usually self-referrals or referrals from sheltered housing wardens, GP's, relatives etc.
5.2 The MAU would continue to handle those cases referred by County Council staff via ACSIS, but would offer only a telephone-based service. If a home visit was required on those cases, the voluntary sector would be requested to undertake it. The rationale for this approach is that the information available to the MAU adviser on ACSIS (which could not be shared with the voluntary sector provider) would enable a relatively simple phone-based application for disability benefits to be carried-out. This will be especially important if, as anticipated, there is a coming-together of benefit and social care assessments, as mooted in the government's welfare reform plans. It would also enable the MAU to concentrate on cases which assisted the re-enablement approach.
5.3 In the April-September 2010 period, the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) benefit take-up project which the County Council funds dealt with 305 cases. The annual grant which the CAB receives is around £76,000. If the MAU ceased to deal with 50% of its existing caseload (i.e. the non-County Council referrals) this would mean an additional 750 cases being directed towards the voluntary sector.
5.4 No one organisation has been approached about what level of funding they would require to take on this volume of work, but it would be reasonable to assume a similar pro-rata amount to that which they currently receive (£76,000 for approx 600 cases; £126 per case.
5.5 In addition to reducing the casework service to those who are referred via ACSIS, the MAU would also need to scale back on other areas of work, such as training, in order to cope with the loss of adviser and interviewers capacity.
6. Consultation Process And Equalities Impact Assessment
6.1 The changes in the staffing structure needed in order to implement the above are subject to a period of consultation running for 30 days from 28 January to 28 February 2011.
6.2 An equalities impact assessment has been undertaken and this suggests that the following groups may experience greater difficulty accessing advice services:-
People with disabilities - physical, mental, sensory, learning disabilities and difficulties
Children with disabilities and their parents
People on low incomes
6.3 It also suggests that those with communication problems in particular may experience greater difficulty with a phone-based approach to advice provision.
6.4 To mitigate these potential impacts, grant aid will be given to a voluntary organisation to provide additional complementary advice, mainly on a telephone basis, although home visits will be undertaken where necessary. The MAU will work in partnership with voluntary organisations and the DWP to try to ensure as broad as possible availability of advice and advocacy services.
7. Financial Implications
7.1 The base budget of the Money Advice Unit is £814,000, of which a 25% saving is required.
7.2 In order to maintain casework, it is recommended that a further reduction of the base budget is made to offer to the voluntary sector to undertake some of the activities which the Money Advice Unit currently fulfils.
7.3 £163,000 of fixed term funding from the Social Care reform grant will also be ceasing at the end of March 2011.
Benefit Take-Up Projects
From the "Guide to the Money Advice Unit" dated August 2011 page 7.
This project cannot help:
under 60s who are not getting services; they should be referred to the CAB's Disability Benefits Project for help with DLA...
To: Sue Darker, Gary Vaux From: Mr B... Date: 18 September 2011 18:40 Subject: Letter dated 6 September reference SD/emh Dear Ms Darker,
Thank you for your letter dated 6 September 2011 which replied to my email dated 18 July 2011.
I believe you have been misinformed about the telephone conversation I had with an individual in late July. My recollection is that I was contacted and asked about a visit to my home to consider solely my occupational health needs including rails, steps, shower chairs etc. I asked about Welfare Rights Advice and requested a visit from a Welfare Rights Advisor. I made it clear I had no need at that time for an occupational health visit. I believe I followed my usual practice and asked the individual to confirm in writing what was said in the conversation. To date the individual has failed to do so.
Due to my brain tumour and the large number of anti-convulsant medicines I take to keep my seizures and focal fits under control I find telephone calls very tiring. I presume the Council records all telephone conversations and thus can supply a transcript of the conversation. In summary I believe I requested a "home visit" from a Welfare Rights Advisor and this was, in effect, denied.
Notwithstanding I am pleased when I called on the 12 September 2011 and asked for the "Welfare Rights Advisor" I was immediately transferred to the MAU clerk. This is a step change improvement.
You and Mr Vaux have clarified the Council's position in terms of statutory obligations and duties. Mr Vaux has sent me the WRA leaflets, the Guide to the MAU and replied in full regarding occupational health and physiotherapy. HCC Information Governance has replied in full to my FOI request. I am happy that my concerns and the substantive points to date have been addressed with the exception of updating the website and leaflets.
As an aside, I would be obliged if you could explain the term "re-enablement approach" as used in the "Proposed Restructure of the MAU" 14 February 2011 paper that was approved. What was the prior "enablement approach"? Why did it cease? Why does it need to now be "re-enabled"?
I am an expert in ESA(C). I have published my correspondence. See http://www.whywaitforever.com/dwpatos.html.
I would like to point out grave errors of omission in "Leaflet 4" and "Leaflet 4A".
The ESA50 form has to be processed by a qualified nurse or doctor dependent on the medical condition. For many medical conditions the patient's GP or consultant MUST be consulted prior to a decision that a face to face assessment is necessary. I have published extracts, obtained under FOI, from the Contract between the DWP and Atos Healthcare. See http://www.whywaitforever.com/dwpatoscontract.html#MEDICAL-CONDITIONS
If a face to face assessment is required the Atos Healthcare MEC MUST be within 90 minutes travelling time by public transport otherwise the assessment can be carried out at the patient's home. There are other medical matter such as continence etc that needs to be considered. THE WHOLE OF THE BROXBOURNE COUNCIL AREA IS OUTSIDE THE 90 MINUTE LIMIT.
It is VITAL to obtain a copy of the ESA50, ESA85 and IB59. The Contract says that HCP MUST read and write good English and the ESA85 should be able to be understood by a lay person with the exception of the last few pages.
The "Atos" Independent Tier and the DWP Tribunal appeals processes are complex and Tribunals are not competent to judge medical matters.
HCC could list the medical conditions as published in the Contract.
HCC could list the areas within Hertfordshire where assessment are only able to be assessed at home.
I look to HCC to take the lead in the web information it publishes.
I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.
Health and Community Services Director: Sarah Pickup Management Board Health and Community Services Hertfordshire County Council County Hall, Hertford, Herts SG13 8DF Tel: 01992 588 820 Email: Sue.Darker@hertscc.gov.uk My ref: SD/emh Your ref: Date: 23 September 2011 Dear Mr B...
Thank you for your letter, which I have discussed with Mr Vaux, as his team are responsible for the ESA information that you have commented upon. I am glad that you feel that your freedom of Information request has now been met and that you are satisfied with our clarification of statutory obligations and duties.
To address your other points however, I can confirm that HCC, in common with almost all other public bodies except the tax credit offices, does not record any telephone conversations between staff and members of the public. We expect our staff to make notes of such conversations however, and these are then included on our record- keeping system (ACSIS).
As has been pointed out in earlier correspondence, HCC does not routinely provide a 'welfare rights adviser' home-visiting service. We have social workers and other related staff who perform home visits to conduct assessments of the broad range of support a person may need. If they need benefits advice, this can then be provided by a referral to our Money Advice Unit (who will assist over the phone) or to a local CAB, which we fund to provide a complementary service for those who do not receive other HCC services.
The "re-enablement approach" is rather a jargonistic phrase I'm afraid, and it is used as a form of short-hand to describe how HCC now delivers home care. In the past, the role of home care was primarily one of maintenance - providing a level of support to keep a person in their own home. We now aim to provide an increased level of home care when a person first needs it - after a spell in hospital for example - to 'enable' them to be more self-sufficient by encouraging and supporting them to achieve independence. Benefits advice at that point (about claiming attendance allowance for example) forms one part of that approach , which is why HCC fund both the MAU and the CAB to deliver it.
In relation to the leaflets that you refer to, Mr Vaux and his team will take note of your comments and, where appropriate, incorporate them into the next version of those leaflets. Mr Vaux and his team are themselves 'experts' in social security law in general and ESA in particular. Mr Vaux gave evidence in person to Professor Harrington in his review of ESA processes for example, and is a member of the DWP's national Policy and Strategy forum. He and his team have regular liaison at both national policy level and local operational level with Job Centre Plus about ESA matters. The issue about travelling time to medicals is one that the MAU raised with Job Centre Plus a number of years ago in fact, but obviously, we have no control over how they choose to respond to those concerns.
The purpose of the MAU webpages on hertsdirect is to provide relatively basic information to enable front-line staff and members of the public to get initial information about their benefits, with some guidance as to where to get further advice and assistance if required. It would not be possible or desirable for those webpages to contain very detailed information, which is more the remit of front-line advice agencies rather than the County Council, but of course that information is available from the MAU when required.
I hope and trust that this answers your questions and that we can now conclude our correspondence on this positive and amicable note.
Sue Darker, Assistant Director LD/MH