Community Advice Fermanagh and Tribunal Representation

It’s been a busy year for Community Advice Fermanagh and the demand for tribunal representation.

Over course of the last 12 months they have represent clients at a wide range of Disability and Social Security tribunals, and Commissioners Hearings. This has been an important project for the organisation and we have represented at over 6,500 tribunals since it started in 1998.
The appeal process is long and complex and the provision of this service is vital as the service provided by solicitors and other representatives who charge fees cannot be availed of by most clients as they live on the poverty level.  
Over the last 20 years it’s estimated that the organisation in Fermanagh has save people in the local area around £1.95million in legal fees. The delivery of this crucial service is an achievement the charity are very proud of.
The appeals process takes at least five to six months from start to finish but the length of each case depends on its complexity. The process is complicated and full of red tape – some of our clients have reported that it can exacerbate their already fragile mental health.
An important part of their role is to assist and enable our clients to express their medical problems (including any disability they may have), their care needs, mobility problems and any other difficulty they have because of incapacity or disability. 
Tribunal Adviser, Kathryn Williams, works with clients to help them articulate their needs to a tribunal panel made up of legally and medically qualified members.  Many of these members are professional and committed to ensuring the client receives a fair hearing. Unfortunately some are not and display very little appreciation of how stressful and traumatic a tribunal hearing can be to the average member of the public.
Community Advice Fermanagh work closely with health professionals and social workers to get a better understanding of the client’s needs including asking them to provide medical reports. The Tribunal Adviser, as part of her role, liaises with the client before, during and after the appeal. Clients find this support invaluable, as they are unable to present their own case due to their disability, long term illness or lack of self-confidence. In order to help clients overcome this, the Tribunal Adviser will advocate on their behalf, provide written submissions and construct strong legal arguments in order to support a client’s case.  They also provide supportive case law in the form of Commissioners Decisions. 
The work the organisation do will only increase and grow. As demand for tribunal representation increased dramatically from 2011 to 2014 with the conversion from Incapacity Benefit to ESA, and then with the introduction of Personal Independence Payment in June 2016, there is a growth in Universal Credit appeals and these are expected to continue. During 2018/19, we represented at 601 Tribunal Hearings (please note – some PIP Appeals have 2 hearings, one for Mobility and one for Daily Living).  
Case Studies.

Case Study 1 (to illustrate importance of spending time on Mandatory Reconsideration).

A Female client, single and living in private rented accommodation. The client had multiple health problems and was unable to work. She received both Employment and Support Allowance and Disability Living Allowance. She was invited to apply for Personal Independence Payment but failed to score any points on her medical assessment. We initially assisted the client by requesting Mandatory Reconsideration but this was disallowed. The Client then needed our assistance with appealing the decision. We drafted and lodged the appeal, submitting further medical evidence in support. Before the appeal could be heard, the client was advised that the decision had been changed in her favour and the tribunal would not now go ahead. She was awarded Standard Rate Mobility and Standard Rate Care – the equivalent to her former DLA award.

Case Study 2 (to illustrate time commitment involved). A 60 year-old female suffering from a rare form of cancer was in receipt of DLA when she was called forward to apply for PIP in July 2017. Community Advice Fermanagh assisted at each stage of the process as follows:-

The initial PIP application was made on July 25th, 2017 followed by the medical questionnaire form on 15th August, 2017. Advice was also provided that the Disability Assessment was to be carried out by Capita.
  • PIP1 initial application on 25/7/17, PIP2 medical questionnaire form on 15/8/17 also providing advice re. Disability Assessment to be carried out by Capita. 
  • Capita Assessment carried out on 2/10/17.
  • Client’s claim disallowed on 20/10/17, awarded zero points.
  • Bureau assist client with Mandatory Reconsideration on 8/11/17.
  • Mandatory Reconsideration disallowed on 21/11/17
  • We assist client with NOA1 notice of appeal form appeal form on 6/12/17.
  • Appeal papers received 22/2/18 & Tribunal Representative starts to prepare appeal. 
  • Appeal date received to be heard on 7/4/18.
  • Tribunal Rep offers appeal prep appointment for 27/3/18 to prepare client.
  • Medical Evidence sought.
  • Tribunal Representative attends tribunal with client on 6/4/18 – hearing lasts 1.5 hours.  Client’s appeal is successful.  Given 28 points.  Awarded Enhanced Daily Living and Enhanced Mobility Components, or £145.35 per week.