27th June, 2020
Yesterday, Saturday 27th June, I received notification of a First-tier Tribunal outcome, to an appeal lodged more than 1 year ago. What’s so unusual about this is, I had no knowledge, neither did my client, the case was being considered, under new temporary rules, created by the COVID 19 crisis, that permit First-tier Judges to make decisions, in “urgent cases” without an oral hearing, on the basis of the written submissions of the parties.
The good news is, the appeal succeeded. It originated from an online claim made in August 2018, after which my client was invited to an interview with a “Work Coach” to validate her claim details, discuss her claimant commitment and produce a satisfactory form of ID. Unknown to my client, DWP changed the time of the proposed interview, by claiming to have posted alternative details on her “journal”. My client maintained she received no such messages and had already produced medical evidence, proving she suffered from a mental health condition, which she maintained, excused her from a “Claimant Commitment”. Despite her pleas and evidence, DWP refused to exercise its discretion to extend the statutory period of 1 month, which could have allowed reconsideration of her claim and whether she could satisfy DWP her claim was neither defective nor invalid.
Having considered the written evidence, the Judge allowed the appeal and, in reaching his conclusion remarked – “The appellant’s UC claim was validly made on 23rd August 2018 and the DWP did not have grounds for its “closure”. The Judge also refers to DWP’s “incorrect and muddled dates” and its response being “unsupported by any corroborating evidence”.
By DWP’s own estimation, around 20% of all UC claims fail at this stage, with its Director General, Mr Couling, placing the blame firmly at the doorstep of claimants (or victims). On occasions, I’m sure he’s quite right. But, in my experience, far too many claims are prematurely or incorrectly closed by DWP’s own failure to comply with the legislation & own “Decision Maker’s” guidance.
After the claim is “closed”, claimants still have the right to request a review, but have difficulty accessing their journal, while attempting to resurrect the original claim. In this case, like so many others, tenants are duped into making “new” claims, rather than address DWP’s perceived defects. My client made a further claim in late November 2018 and thereafter received payment of UC, including her housing costs. However, there remained a gap of fully three months, where she received nothing, causing her to accrue £3000 in rent arrears at her London property. Only through the benevolence of her landlord has she been allowed to remain.
I challenged the original decision to cancel the claim by making a “late revision” request. When this was refused, I drafted the claimant’s Mandatory Reconsideration (MR) fully expecting DWP to concede. I also pressed DWP hierarchy for a quick turn around, given her predicament of being under threat of eviction. When I didn’t secure the anticipated response, I escalated matters to various DWP staff, including its Neil Couling and the ex Secretary of State Amber Rudd. Neither had even the courtesy to acknowledge never mind reply.
Completely frustrated by DWP and Ministers, I referred matters to the Tribunal Service in January 2020 which prompted today’s outcome. The Judge’s decision should now allow payment of the 3 months UC, including sufficient HCE to clear the arrears and protect the tenancy.
After lockdown, the Tribunal Service was directed to stop chasing DWP for late appeal submissions (i.e. anything beyond 1 month). However, there is nothing to stop you asking the Tribunal Service, as I did, to refer an “urgent case” to a District Judge for consideration under the new rules.To do so, you need to provide a summary of the case and convince the Judge it’s an “urgent” matter; it’s not reasonably practicable for there to be an oral hearing; and it’s in the interests of justice to do so.
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