People often think that giving welfare rights advice should simply be a matter of entering a few details into a computer programme and letting the PC do the work. That superficially attractive idea ignores the fact that most advice work is only 50 per cent “science”. Equally important is the “art” of negotiation, advocacy and representation. There are now several websites available to you – at little or no cost – that can help you with both the science and the art.
Neil Bateman, a former Community Care welfare rights columnist, has created a free website which contains some standard letters that you can download without charge, and adapt for your client. They can all be found on www.neilbateman.co.uk where there is a front-page link to the letters in question. So far, the list includes letters on the following topics: client consent to disclose information; tax credits – consent to disclose; notify a change of circumstances; revision or supersession request; request to waive recovery of overpayment: both housing benefit and council tax benefit and other benefit payments; Social Fund Review requests; support for a community care grant application; benefit and tax credit appeal letters; and a request to waive recovery of tax credit overpayment.
If you are more interested in the technical aspects of benefit advice, the best generic site for welfare rights advice remains www.rightsnet.org.uk The site was set up by London Advice Services Alliance but can be used by organisations from across the UK. There is now a small subscription fee to use the site’s full range of facilities.
The Department for Work and Pensions’ site is another useful source of information. The benefit information is a bit dry and featureless but there are useful links to various internal and external guides. For example, the Agents, Appointees, Attorneys and Receivers’ Guide, known fondly as the AAARG, has just been added to the site.
It gives guidance to DWP staff to ensure “consistent procedures for dealing with agents, appointees, attorneys, receivers and third parties”. Given that many social workers are either trying to sort out benefit payments for their clients, especially those in residential care or who are unable to handle their own affairs, it could be useful for you to know how the DWP deals with requests.
It also confirms that the DWP can still make cheque payments to people unable to use direct payments into bank accounts: “Where very exceptionally the customer is unable to be paid by direct payment… they can be paid by cheque payment.” Cheque payments are an option for those who have difficulty in these areas:
This could be very useful, for example, to quote back at the DWP if you are having difficulty organising pension collection for home care clients. The guide also warns DWP staff about awarding appointeeship status to staff in the client’s residential care home except as a last resort. The document can be found at www.dwp.gov.uk/advisers/docs/aaarg/index.asp
Gary Vaux is head of money advice, Hertfordshire Council. He is unable to answer queries by post or telephone. If you have a question to be answered please write to him c/o Community Care