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Monday, 3 March 2014

Fees for Benefits Appeals? Can we get any lower?

Many of were shocked over the weekend to read about the tragic death of Mark Wood. 

He was a 44 year old with numerous mental health problems. A few months before his death, his benefits had been drastically reduced to just £40 a week. This was because ATOS had declared him fit for work. Prior to this he had been living independently. His health deteriorated dramatically. At an inquest last week the coroner found that his death was - “caused or contributed to by Wood being markedly underweight and malnourished”. 

His BMI was incompatible with life.

In short he starved to death, in the UK in the 21st Century.

This is a particularly sad story because of the terrible outcome. But hundreds of claimants have faced hardship because of the decisions of this agency. I first blogged about this almost 2 years ago –

But developments since then have made their plight far worse. This concerns the steps that have been taken to block any effective right of appeal. Back in 2012, I was told by a CAB advocate that the success rate at appeals for claimants who were represented was as high as 80%. In April 2013 the right to Legal Aid to pursue the appeals was removed. Most voluntary agencies including CABx simply do not have the resources to help them. This has created a virtual waste land.

There are now moves afoot to make things even worse by charging claimants who wish to pursue appeals. So somebody’s benefits can be reduced to below the poverty level but they then have to find a fee to pay to put things right. The outcome will certainly be a dramatic drop in the number of appeals. In 2013 the Government brought in similar rules for those who wished to go to Employment Tribunals. This has led to a huge reduction in the number of cases being brought. The same will happen with benefit appeals, leaving thousands facing destitution with no realistic avenue of appeal, even if they can find someone to represent them.

You begin to wonder what else can be thrown at the most vulnerable in society.

We are now on the run in to another election. The party which deserves a vote will be the one which commits to reversing these shocking cuts. We cannot afford to have another Mark Wood.

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