An Irish charity in London has secured funding for a tribunal worker who will assist with challenging increasingly stringent social welfare decisions.
Since 2010 the UK welfare system has undergone major reforms – specifically the controversial rolling-out of universal credit – and due to repeated requests from their clients, the London Irish Centre charity (LICC) decided to request a worker from the Trust for London.
A key aspect of the changes to welfare entitlements is the introduction of an intensified conditionality and the sanctioning regime, the charity said, whereby Irish people are now required to meet certain conditions or they face losing benefits.
Many of the LICC’s older clients who have been on long-term disability benefits are now classified as “fit for work”.
They are being forced into a work-seeking environment despite the fact that, in many cases, they have worked in manual trades for years, resulting in poor physical health.
The tribunal worker will aim to provide “intensive casework, advocacy and representation to vulnerable clients” and will support all suitable clients throughout all stages of the process, including representation at tribunal hearings.
The LICC has had a 100 per cent success rate in overturning social security decisions at tribunal thus far.
“An increasing number of clients are finding their ESA claim to be unsuccessful. Many of our clients are older clients who have poor physical health,” Director of Community services at the LICC, Caitriona Carney, said.
“By having this dedicated specialist, we will be able to support clients to navigate the Appeal system, which is the most time-intensive part of the Appeals process”.
Advice and Outreach Manager at the LICC, Ashley Harmon, added: “In the past few years, there have been dramatic changes to the benefits system making it increasingly difficult for people to access their entitlements.
“Previously, someone would apply for an illness benefit (ESA) and would be awarded it on first application. Now, people are initially refused and dragged through the appeals and tribunal process.
“During this time, which can take six to nine months, people are left destitute with no money to live on. Perhaps even more significantly, this gruelling process can have a detrimental effect on their health and well-being.”.
Earlier this year the Irish World revealed that Helen Hookins, a former Ministry of Defence civil servant, told by the Department of Work and Pensions that she was fit for work and denied illness benefits despite several severely debilitating brain tumours.
She had since won an appeal thanks to the intervention of Sally Mulready of Irish Elderly Advice Network (IEAN), an organisation based at the LICC who also assist with welfare appeals.
Helen Hookins was diagnosed with meningioma in 2005, with four substantial brain tumours, for which she underwent surgery at King’s College Hospital. She subsequently had four more operations and her neurosurgeons told the DWP that given how debilitated she was going back to work would in all likelihood kill her.
Ms Hookins, who overturned a further appeal on her Personal Independence Payment claim, has now secured a higher rate, both for care and mobility, which will have a “changing impact on her life’s circumstances”.