Government’s VAT attack ‘sends out mixed messages on independent living’

The government has been accused of “sending out mixed messages” on independent living, after it emerged that it wants to charge VAT on the payroll services provided to disabled people who receive direct payments for their social care.

Cheshire Centre for Independent Living (CCIL) is having to take HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to the first-tier tribunal to fight off its attempt to force it to charge disabled service-users 20 per cent VAT on top of their monthly fee for using its popular payroll service.

The tribunal case is due to be heard in Manchester in early December.

Other disabled people’s organisations are also challenging the HMRC VAT demand on their own payroll services, but CCIL’s will be the first to be heard at tribunal.

CCIL insists that its payroll service – which is used by nearly 3,000 disabled people across the north-west of England who use direct payments to employ personal assistants – should not be subject to VAT under HMRC’s “welfare” exemption.

It has been trying to persuade HMRC to withdraw its claim for more than four years, but the government refused even to take the dispute to a mediation service.

Tom Hendrie, CCIL’s head of policy and communications, said the imposition of VAT on payroll services was “absolutely not right”, but he said HMRC had refused to see it as qualifying for an exemption and had “really dug their heels in about it”.

He said: “It’s a tax on independent living. It goes completely against promoting independent living and trying to keep people at home as long as possible, so the government is sending out really mixed messages.

“It’s giving money with one hand and taking it away with the other. It does seem odd to us.

“It just further reduces the limited resources disabled people have to lead independent lives at a time when the whole care system is under pressure.

“It just seems to us that it’s wrong.”

Although the amount charged for the payroll service is not large – clients in Cheshire pay £15 a month – Hendrie said the addition of VAT would still have a significant impact on many service-users of nearly £3 a month.

He said: “It’s just another element of the fixed money people have got to manage their support having to go on something else.”

And Hendrie warned that a victory for HMRC “could undermine the whole notion of the welfare exemption for VAT”, and could affect many other charities and the services they provide to disabled people.

An HMRC spokesman confirmed the case was ongoing, with a tribunal hearing expected later this year.

He said: “While I cannot go into specifics about this individual case, I should point out that HMRC’s role is to apply rules around tax and we don’t have discretion to alter them.”

He said that VAT was exempt in a range of welfare services, including “the provision of care, to promote the physical or mental welfare of elderly, sick, distressed or disabled people” when provided by organisations devoted to social wellbeing, according to European Union law.

But he claimed that VAT had to be paid “on payroll services provided for direct payment and independent living schemes”, which “have never been included within the welfare exemption and have always been standard-rated”.

24 August 2017



DWP rejects PIP claimant’s appeal… before she receives decision notice

Fresh concerns have been raised about the integrity of the disability benefits system, after a disabled woman’s appeal against having her benefits removed was rejected before she was even told her claim had been turned down.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) sent Mandy Moseley a mandatory reconsideration notice, confirming that her appeal against the decision to reject her claim for the new personal independence payment (PIP) had been unsuccessful.

But she was astonished to receive the letter because she had not yet been told the result of her claim.

Until a claimant receives a decision notice that informs them of the result of their claim, they cannot ask for a mandatory reconsideration (MR) of that decision, and she had not done so.

Moseley, from Birmingham, who was assessed on 28 June, had been receiving disability living allowance since 2004, and has been receiving the highest rates of that benefit since 2007, but has been told by DWP that she will receive no PIP at all, a decision which has cost her £141 a week.

She said: “They are saying it was a mistake and it was an internal document. How can it be an internal document if it’s [described] as a mandatory reconsideration?”

She believes her case proves DWP is preparing the MR notices – automatically turning down the first-stage appeals – at the same time it prepares the original decision notices.

Disabled activists have been questioning for months why success rates for MRs are so low, when so many appeals that are taken to tribunal – the next stage of the appeal process after the MR – are successful.

A DWP spokesman said: “Clearly, this was a clerical error. We’ve apologised to Ms Moseley and asked her to ignore the letter.

“Any mandatory reconsideration outcome would be based on an appeal being lodged in the first place, and Ms Moseley hadn’t even received her decision notice.”

But Moseley said she was “disgusted” by DWP’s tactics, and added: “I am just astounded by what they have done.”

She has a number of long-term health conditions, currently receives 17 hours of care a week from her local authority, is constantly in pain, and is awaiting training so she can start using a white cane because of her deteriorating vision.

After her son moves out from the family home in October, she has been told by her local council that she will probably receive 40 hours of care a week.

But she was awarded a total of just two points after being assessed. She would have needed eight for the standard rate and 12 for the enhanced rate of the daily living and mobility components of PIP.

24 August 2017



Lib Dem frustration at lack of disability debate at conference

Senior disabled figures in the Liberal Democrats have spoken of their frustration that the party is not set to debate key issues of concern to disabled people at its annual conference next month.

Disability News Service (DNS) contacted key disabled party members after an analysis of the party’s conference agenda and directory showed there was currently not a single debate or fringe event devoted to disability-related issues.

There is nothing scheduled to discuss welfare reform, the social care funding crisis, the shortage of accessible housing, the highly topical problems facing accessible public transport, or the UN’s public examination in Geneva of the UK government’s alleged breaches of the UN disability convention, which took place yesterday and today (Thursday).

Although many fringe events are organised by groups unconnected to the Liberal Democrats, not one of them is set to address disability-related issues such as welfare reform, social care or access to the built environment or public transport.

One motion due to be debated at the conference in Bournemouth, on encouraging companies to be “responsible corporate citizens”, mentions (in line 31 of the motion) the need for greater representation of disabled people on company boards.

Another, on the recruitment, retention and welfare of armed services personnel, mentions – in line 56 – the need for better treatment of veterans’ mental ill-health.

And a third motion, on the impact of Brexit on public services, points out that “nearly 100,000 non-UK EU staff work in the social care system”.

These appear to be the only mentions of issues linked to disability in motions scheduled for debate.

The Liberal Democrats’ disabled president, Baroness [Sal] Brinton, told Disability News Service (DNS) that some of the motions that will be debated at conference – including the three above – came from the party’s federal policy committee, which was “very aware of the impact of those policies on disabled people”.

She said she was “hoping (no, encouraging) disabled members to speak up in those debates”, including on the motion on the impact of Brexit on public services.

Other motions are submitted by party members, and she said she was “frustrated” at their failure to submit motions on disability-related topics.

But she said she was hopeful that members would submit emergency motions on issues such as widespread claims of dishonest personal independence payment assessments – due to fresh evidence reported by DNS over the summer – and this week’s examination by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, in time for the deadline early next month.

Members vote for the two emergency motions they want to debate, so she said she hoped there would be a push for a disability-related motion to be submitted – possibly by the Liberal Democrat Disability Association (LDDA) – and that members would vote for it to be chosen.

She said: “I am really hoping that there will be something to reflect the extreme concerns that the party has on what’s going on at the moment for disabled people, particularly for benefits and allowances.”

She added: “I’m frustrated that there are no fringe events [on disability-related issues], but the party doesn’t control these from HQ. It is up to organisations inside or outside the party to book events.”

Stephen Lloyd, the Liberal Democrat shadow work and pensions secretary, told DNS he was “very disappointed” to see that his party had failed to allocate time to discuss social care, welfare reform, or other issues such as accessible housing or transport.

He told Disability News Service: “I was very disappointed to see the many strands around disability which are under such attack from this government not warranting serious discussion and floor time at our conference, be it as a motion deploring the cuts on a range of important issues or the shambles that is the introduction of universal credit or WRAG*.

“I appreciate it’s all been a bit last minute because of the snap general election and the result, but as the Lib Dems new shadow secretary of state for the Department for Work and Pensions, I can promise that such a paucity of comment, debate or even leadership on these issues will change dramatically in the near future.”

Robert Adamson, chair of the LDDA, said he was less concerned.

He said: “Our conference decides policy that remains in place until it is changed by replacement policy.

“So, as for example with transport, why do we need to change policy that is already strong? Basically, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!’”

And he said the conference needed to debate issues “that are important to all citizens (and in the Lib Dems that word ‘all’ does include people with disabilities and all other diversity groups)”.

He added: “I use a wheelchair but the natural environment is important to me; as is climate change; as are public services and the impact of Brexit; as are safe building standards; as is defeating terrorism; as is knife crime and as is employment.

“In other words I am far more than a person with a disability, I am a British citizen and every aspect of life is important and relevant to me.”

*Cuts of nearly £30 a week to new claimants of employment and support allowance placed in the work-related activity group, a measure introduced by the government in April

24 August 2017



CPS hate crime statement wins support

Disabled campaigners say they are encouraged by a new public statement from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which describes how it will prosecute disability hate crime.

The statement was one of a series published by CPS that cover the different strands of hate crime, with others covering racist and religious hate crime; and homophobic, biphobic and transphobic hate crime.

Its publication came only days after the Disability Hate Crime Network (DHCN) wrote to the solicitor general to warn him that that “alarm bells are ringing” over the “massive discrepancies and inconsistencies” in the way the criminal justice system deals with disability hate crime prosecutions.

That letter pointed to the network’s “deep dismay” that six recent court cases involving violent attacks on disabled people – reported last month by Disability News Service (DNS) – had not been treated as disability hate crimes.

In its new statement, CPS pledges to “identify disability hate crimes and other offences targeted at disabled people as early as possible”, “build strong cases with our partners”, “remind the court of its powers to increase a sentence” under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 if there is evidence of disability hate crime*, and “apply for an increased sentence in all other cases where disability is an aggravating factor in the case”.

The statement also includes a commitment to the social model of disability, and a recognition that the belief that disabled people “are somehow inherently vulnerable, weak and easy targets is an attitude that motivates some crimes against disabled people”.

But it also states that some crimes are committed “because the offender perceives the disabled person to be vulnerable and not because the offender dislikes or hates the person or disabled people”, and are therefore not disability hate crimes.

CPS says that any such evidence will still be put before the court – even if the offence was not a hate crime – so that “the sentence reflects the gravity of such offending”.

It also promises that it will “not make assumptions about a disabled victim’s reliability or credibility, and [will] challenge others who do so”, will ensure that disabled people are aware of the support available to them to give their best evidence in court, and that it will be “more likely to prosecute cases where disability is a factor”.

And it adds: “We will avoid the use of the term ‘vulnerable’ where possible and we will always avoid any use of the term which may suggest disabled people are inherently weak or dependent.”

The statement also includes a pledge that CPS will treat online hate crime “with the same robust and proactive approach” used to address other hate crimes.

Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, told the Guardian that an increasing proportion of hate crime was now carried out online, which she said provided “a less visible frontline which is easily accessible to those in the UK who hold extreme views on race, religion, sexuality, gender and even disability”.

CPS has also published a new online support guide for disabled victims and witnesses of crime.

Anne Novis, chair of Inclusion London, who advised CPS on the new statement on disability hate crime, welcomed its publication.

She told DNS: “The CPS do seem to be doing all they can to improve prosecution of hate crimes, but are still limited by legislation inequalities and they can only prosecute based on the evidence police gather.”

Laws on publishing material intended to stir up hatred against people on the grounds of their race, religion or sexual orientation have so far not been extended to disability and transgender identity.

Novis said she had been “encouraged” by the CPS response to disability hate crime concerns raised by local communities, and through its engagement with mechanisms such as local case panels and community forums.

She said: “So overall it is positive as not only are they saying they will act, they are actively trying to do better.”

But she was critical of the police, and said that forces across the UK need to “step up their quality of evidence gathering and recognition of hate crimes”.

Stephen Brookes, a DHCN coordinator, welcomed the new CPS emphasis on online hate, but warned that “we need to see that disability hate crime does not become a poor second to race faith and gender online hate”.

Saunders said: “Hate crime has a corrosive effect on our society and that is why it is a priority area for the CPS.

“It can affect entire communities, forcing people to change their way of life and live in fear.

“These documents take account of the current breadth and context of offending to provide prosecutors with the best possible chance of achieving justice for victims. They also let victims and witnesses know what they should expect from us.

“I hope that, along with this week’s campaign, they will give people the confidence to come forward and report hate crime, in the knowledge that they will be taken seriously and given the support they need.”

*An offence will be a disability hate crime “if at the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after doing so, the offender demonstrated towards the victim of the offence hostility based on a disability (or presumed disability) of the victim; or the offence is motivated (wholly or partly) by hostility towards persons who have a disability or a particular disability”.

24 August 2017



Activists plan day-long musical tribute to ‘radical and brilliant’ Robert Dellar

Mental health service-users are planning a day-long musical celebration of the life of one of the survivor movement’s best-known – and best-loved – activists.

The 12-hour gig at a venue in south-east London will feature “a cornucopia of punk and rock bands”, and will celebrate the life and work of Robert Dellar, one of the founders of Mad Pride, who died last December.

Next month’s tribute has been organised by members of Mad Pride and the user-led campaigning organisation that grew out of it, the Mental Health Resistance Network.

Robertfest* will feature bands that performed in the many sell-out gigs he organised across London, in both mainstream and mental health settings, which raised the profile of the mental health survivor movement, the issues its members were trying to raise, and the idea of mad culture.

After his death last December, Denise McKenna, one of the network’s founders, described Dellar as “radical, anti-establishment, irreverent, non-conformist and funny” but also “disarmingly humble… steadfast and extremely hardworking” and with a “brilliant intellect”.

“Above all,” she said, “Robert was loved by so many people.”

Another friend, Gini Simpson, described him as a “an authentic punk, who opposed the chronic abuse of power he saw around him”, and as “a tenacious force for good in an uncaring world”.

She added: “This is the man who put punk rock gigs on in the acute ward at the then Hackney Hospital, who organised football matches at Broadmoor and who arranged for a stupendous line up of bands to play at the Mad Pride festival in Clissold Park, when the local council were expecting limp cheese sandwiches and ‘carers’.”

The one-off event will run from noon to midnight on Sunday 24 September and will also feature the first of what it is hoped will be an annual Robert Dellar Memorial Lecture, to be delivered by Professor Esther Leslie, a friend and fellow activist of Dellar’s.

Over nearly a quarter of a century, Dellar, who left a partner, Shirley Pearson, and a step-daughter, Sophia, helped organise countless gigs, compilation CDs and direct action protests, and was a key figure in protests against the last Labour government’s plans to introduce community treatment orders.

But he also worked tirelessly to support mental health service-users in a professional capacity for many years, and is remembered for his pioneering work in setting up a patients’ council and advocacy department at Hackney Hospital, a mental health institution in east London. He later set up another user council in Southwark.

And in the autumn of 2010, Dellar organised an anti-austerity protest in Hyde Park that led survivor-activists to set up the Mental Health Resistance Network.

Shirley Pearson said: “When someone dies there are traditions that are part of the wider culture that include somewhat formal funeral services and wakes.

“I found myself asking what would Robert have done when someone we loved and cared for dearly died? He would put on a punk rock concert! So that is what we are doing, as a eulogy to Robert.

“The idea of a Robert Dellar memorial lecture came from Denise McKenna. Hopefully the lecture will be something that is continued as an annual event in the ‘Mad’ calendar in some form or other.

“It is really important that we remember those that helped make life more bearable and Robert certainly did that.”

Zen Jones, one of the organisers of Robertfest, said Dellar was “all about building communities and then throwing different communities together”, and his death had left “a huge hole in the mental health survivor movement.

“He was the inspiration for countless people to realise that they have a voice, and the empowering force that drew people together to organize themselves into action.

“Robert was a natural innovator in everything he did, and driven by the highest of ideals and the purest of motives, empowerment at its core. We hope to capture this spirit at the Robertfest.”

Among those appearing at Robertfest will be Alternative TV, The Astronauts, The Ceramic Hobs, Vic Goddard and the Bitter Springs, The Long Decline, and Dave Kusworth.

*Ticket prices are £5 unwaged/low waged, £10 waged, £20 full price, with any profits to be donated to the Mental Health Resistance Network. It takes place at The Amersham Arms, 388 New Cross Road, Deptford, London SE14 6TY, which is near New Cross train station

24 August 2017


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