Government admits failing to record actions after benefit suicide inquiries

The government failed for more than three years to keep a record of what actions it took – if any – after carrying out secret reviews into the suicides of benefit claimants, Disability News Service (DNS) can reveal.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has admitted to the information commissioner that from February 2012 until September 2015 it kept no records of what happened to recommendations made by internal reviews into cases in which the department’s own actions may have contributed to suicides and other deaths of claimants.

The department failed to record how it responded to the recommendations, even though it started managing the internal “peer reviews” centrally from February 2012.

DWP has now told the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) that it accepts that the peer review process lacked “robust governance” during this period.

It means there is no way to confirm if Tory ministers took any action to prevent further deaths connected with the work capability assessment (WCA) – which has been linked by public health experts from the Universities of Liverpool and Oxford to hundreds of suicides between 2010 and 2013 – or ignored the recommendations of their own civil servants.

The admission came as a result of a DNS appeal to ICO into DWP’s failure to say whether it implemented 10 recommendations on improving the safety of “vulnerable” disabled people, following a freedom of information request.

DWP claimed last year that it held no information about the actions taken in response to each recommendation.

Each of those 10 recommendations followed the death of a benefit claimant in which there were concerns that DWP failings may have contributed to that death.

And all 10 of the recommendations concerned the deaths of disabled people who had applied for the out-of-work disability benefit employment and support allowance through the WCA process.

A letter from ICO to DNS has now revealed that DWP realised that the peer review process lacked “robust governance” following a series of freedom of information requests submitted by DNS and other campaigners from the autumn of 2014.

The existence of the peer review process had been uncovered by DNS in October 2014, after  a DWP spokesman finally admitted that it did carry out secret internal inquiries into the deaths of some benefit claimants.

The 10 recommendations for improvements in national policies and procedures were just some of the suggestions made by civil servants who carried out 49 internal peer reviews into the deaths of claimants between February 2012 and August 2014.

Last May, following a 21-month battle to keep them secret, DWP was forced to publish the 49 heavily-redacted peer reviews.

As a result of the freedom of information requests made by DNS and other campaigners, DWP quietly launched a review of the peer review process in April 2015.

The ICO letter says: “[DWP] explained that it identified changes to improve accountability and responsibility and ensure that recommendations were identified, logged centrally and followed up so that outcomes were tracked, audited and understood.”

As a result, peer reviews were renamed “internal process reviews”, all of which are now tracked centrally with their outcomes recorded.

The information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, told DNS that she “found it unusual that a Central Government Department would dedicate resources to a process of case reviews and recommendations but not require the relevant departments to report back or record the actions taken in response to those recommendations”.

She concluded that, “on the balance of probabilities”, DWP did not hold the information requested by DNS, following a detailed search of the “electronic and manual records” of DWP’s “ESA customer journey team”.

A DWP spokeswoman said that because the inquiry had not yet been completed “it would not be appropriate to comment until it has.

“The department takes the safety and wellbeing of claimants very seriously, and regularly reviews processes and procedures to ensure claimants are supported.”

27 April 2017

 

 

Concern as minister appoints Tory peer as equality watchdog’s disability lead

The government’s decision to appoint a second consecutive Tory peer to lead on the equality watchdog’s work on disabled people’s rights could put its status as a leading international human rights institution in jeopardy, according to a former commissioner.

In a long-delayed appointment, Lord [Kevin] Shinkwin has replaced his fellow Conservative peer Lord [Chris] Holmes as the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) disability commissioner.

There are now fears that the four-year appointment, made by minister for women and equalities Justine Greening, could put at risk EHRC’s status as an “A-rated” national human rights institution (NHRI).

The United Nations has made clear through its Paris Principles that NHRIs must be independent of the government.

Sir Bert Massie, who chaired the Disability Rights Commission before it was merged into the new EHRC and was himself an EHRC commissioner, said the appointment of two consecutive Tory peers to the post could pose a risk to its A-rated status.

He said: “If the perception is that the equality commission is a tool of the Conservative party, it cannot legitimately be said to be independent.

“It is getting more and more difficult to say it is totally independent.”

He said he had known Lord Shinkwin for years and liked him, but questioned whether he had been the strongest candidate.

He said: “I don’t know who all the candidates were. Of those I do know, there were some I would say had a stronger track record, and that’s the issue: it’s about credibility.

“To have two Conservative peers consectively makes it look political rather than trying to make sure you have the most appropriate people on board, and that is a worry.”

He said he feared that Lord Shinkwin would not have the confidence or track record to speak out against his own government, which has “attacked disabled people in such a sustained way on social care, housing, the benefits system… there has been attack after attack after attack”.

Sir Bert said the Conservative government was making the same mistakes that the Labour government had made when it set up the EHRC and made the commission “highly-biased in favour of Labour” and as a consequence “didn’t get the full debate” in internal discussions and failed to “challenge the government sufficiently”.

And he said Lord Shinkwin’s appointment showed again that the commission should be taken away from direct government control, with responsibility given instead to a cross-party parliamentary committee.

Asked if it was concerned about its A-rated status, an EHRC spokesman said: “We are an independent and robust defender of equality and human rights that holds the government of the day to account and our record demonstrates that.

“All our commissioners work in the best interests of the commission and we have a strong programme to deliver over the next year and beyond as we work to make Britain a fairer society.”

As well as being an EHRC board member, it was assumed that Lord Shinkwin would chair the commission’s new disability advisory committee (DAC), which will replace its disability committee – which was scrapped on 31 March – but will not have the same legal powers.

But the commission said it was still “considering what arrangements for chairing and membership of the new DAC will ensure we are best-placed to develop strong arrangements for engaging with disability stakeholders for the future”.

Lord Shinkwin himself spoke out in the Lords last September to back calls to reinstate the disability committee, which he said was “essential if the commission is to enjoy the confidence of the disability community”.

He also called in the same speech for the government to take a “more robust approach” towards businesses that failed to meet their obligations to disabled people under the Equality Act.

Since his appointment to the Lords in October 2015, Lord Shinkwin has spoken in the Lords on issues such as the charitable sector, his concerns about the impact of Brexit on European Union staff working in the NHS, and on disability equality.

Last December, he voted against the government when the crossbench peer Baroness Deech – backed by EHRC – tried unsuccessfully to introduce measures that would have forced licensed premises to obey laws on accessibility when renewing their alcohol licences.

Lord Shinkwin, who served on the National Disability Council that advised the Conservative government on the implementation of the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), told fellow peers in December: “I have to say that 21 years on from the DDA, I am suffering not from my disability but from a sense of déjà vu.

“Despite the milestone that the act represented both for disabled people and for the Conservative party, disabled people are still waiting.

“The regrettable fact is that the passage of time has not been matched by the passage of progress.”

He added: “Accepting this amendment would enable the government to prove to disabled people that they mean what they say when they commit to building a country that works for everyone.”

He avoided voting last year when crossbench peers launched a bid to over-turn the government’s controversial plans to cut payments to new claimants of employment and support allowance placed in the work-related activity group by £30-a-week, a measure that was implemented earlier this month.

But last month he supported “discriminatory” new government regulations that will make it far harder for people with experience of severe mental distress to secure mobility support through the extra costs benefit personal independence payment (PIP).

He told fellow peers: “Taxpayers surely understand that conditions such as visual impairments and learning disabilities, where these are severe and enduring, are much less likely to fluctuate than, for example, psychological distress.

“Indeed, it makes sense that people who cannot navigate due to a visual or cognitive impairment are likely to have a higher level of need and therefore face higher costs.​”

He then appeared to suggest that he could not support providing the extra mobility benefits for people with severe mental distress until his local council stopped handing him parking tickets and provided him and other disabled people with their own parking bays, and the state stopped imposing “such indefensible extra costs on disabled people”.

Nearly all of his written interventions in parliament have been connected to his interest in pro-life issues, particularly his efforts to introduce a private member’s bill that would outlaw disability discrimination in abortion  laws.

His bill would make it illegal to carry out an abortion on the grounds of disability on a fetus that was more than 24 weeks old, unless there was a risk of serious, permanent damage to the mother or her life was at risk.

During a debate on his bill in February, Lord Shinkwin accused the renowned fertility expert Lord Winston of “crass insensitivity” for “hijacking” the disability equality bill of a disabled peer “in order to advance a blatantly discriminatory eugenic agenda”.

The conservative Christian blog Archbishop Cranmer described Shinkwin’s EHRC appointment as “good news for all who care about conservative and Christian apprehensions of equality, rights and justice”.

It added: “He is not only devout in his Christian faith, but tireless in the application of his theology to the cause of conservative philosophy.”

Following his appointment to the Lords, Lord Shinkwin received “research and support services” from an employee of the pro-life charity Right to Life, although that support ended in May 2016.

He is also a trustee of the National Council for Palliative Care, and before he became a Tory peer had worked for the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, Macmillan Cancer Support, Cancer Research UK and The Royal British Legion.

David Isaac, EHRC’s chair, said: “Lord Shinkwin brings a wealth of experience and we welcome him to the board as a commissioner.

“We look forward to working with him on our many projects to improve equality, fairness and human rights for all.”

Meanwhile, Disability Rights UK (DR UK) has appointed Kamran Mallick to replace Liz Sayce as its chief executive, following her decision to retire.

Mallick is currently chief executive of the London disabled people’s organisation Action on Disability, and previously worked for the spinal injury charity Aspire and ran his own business.

He is on the board of Inclusion London and the Lyric Hammersmith theatre, is chair of Candoco Dance Company, and is a member of Transport for London’s independent disability advisory group.

He was not available to comment on his appointment, but said in a statement: “I am delighted to be joining the country’s foremost user-led disabled people’s organisation at such an exciting stage in its development.

“Disability Rights UK is working hard to expand its reach to all disabled people, and people with long-term health conditions, and ensure it is their lived experiences which influence policy change.

“I am looking forward to working with the trustees and staff team and building on the organisation’s achievements to date.”

Anne Beales, DR UK’s chair, added: “There were some exceptionally strong candidates for the post of chief executive and we’re delighted to be welcoming Kamran, who comes with wide ranging experience and a strong track record in the disability rights movement.”

27 April 2017

 

 

Online campaign ‘could enable disabled people to affect election outcome’

Activists hope a new non-partisan online campaign – based on a successful US user-led movement – could finally enable disabled people to become a political force in the UK, and play a significant role in deciding June’s general election.

The hope is that the #CripTheVoteUK campaign will allow the millions of disabled people in the UK to use their weight of numbers to affect the election’s outcome.

The campaign will not support any particular political party, but will encourage disabled people to register to vote and use social media such as Twitter and Facebook to discuss discrimination, oppression and inequality and the policies and practices that most affect them.

Its first major action will be a #CripTheVoteUK Twitter discussion on the Department for Work and Pensions and benefit cuts, on Sunday (30 April) from 7-8pm, hosted by the disabled political journalist Dr Frances Ryan.

Other Twitter chats are likely to include independent living, inclusive education, and the threats to disabled people’s rights of a “hard Brexit”.

#CripTheVote was launched by three US disabled activists who were frustrated at the failure of the 2016 presidential candidates to talk about disability issues.

The trio – Gregg Beratan, Alice Wong and Andrew Pulrang – are now supporting the UK extension of their movement, after being approached by Canadian disabled activist Alex Haagaard, who had asked if they were planning any work around the snap UK election called by prime minister Theresa May earlier this month.

They put Haagaard in touch with disabled activist Eleanor Lisney in the UK, and the two of them have recruited other experienced disability activists, including Rick Burgess and Dennis Queen, to organise and lead #CripTheVoteUK.

Lisney said: “We want to make enough noise [so that politicians] realise that disabled people are a big proportion of the population and that they cannot disregard our voting power.

“We are an important voice.”

She said it was crucial that #CripTheVote and #CripTheVoteUK were both “intersectional”, acknowledging that disabled people also face discrimination because of other characteristics such as their race, sexuality and gender.

Lisney said the attacks on disabled people’s rights were so serious that the new campaign could save lives.

She added: “I think disabled people all over the world are realising what is happening globally, that we are taking a step backwards.”

Haagaard said she had become involved after spending a year in the UK, and joining an online narcolepsy support group.

She said: “Since returning [to Canada] I have continued to watch member after member struggle with cuts to their benefits, assertions that they’re fit to work despite doctors’ letters to the contrary, and draconian reassessment cycles that leave them in a constant state of stress (which in turn severely exacerbates many of their symptoms).

“It’s been horrifying to witness this, and having participated in the discussions of the #CripTheVote movement during the US election cycle, it seemed clear to me that these sorts of conversations needed to be made a key issue of the next UK election.”

She said she accepted that “the fact this is a snap election with a very compressed timeline puts us at a disadvantage as an awareness campaign”, but she said she hoped that social media could play “a major role in changing the mainstream conversation” on the election.

She said: “It’s a big goal, but I hope #CripTheVoteUK can contribute to making disability rights in the UK a viral topic.”

Burgess said he hoped the six weeks leading to the election would be just a “starting point” for what would be a long-term campaign, but the immediate priority was “getting people to make sure they are registered to vote and getting them enthused so they will vote”.

He said it would “take effort” for the campaign to remain non-partisan, but he said: “I think we will be direct about facts and policy but we will not be saying ‘…and therefore we think ‘X party’ is really great.’

“We have to be realistic about the position we are in and critical of policy, regardless of who it’s implemented by.

“As happened in America, you don’t want to be partisan and aligned to a party, but you do need to talk about policies, principles and rights, because if you don’t, something like Trump could happen.”

Burgess said he and others had started thinking about the idea of a more organised disabled people’s “voting block” following the successful WOW petition, which he helped organise and led to a House of Commons debate in 2014 on the impact of welfare cuts and reforms on disabled people.

He said: “There are 13 million disabled people. If that was more organised and engaged we would be a serious electoral force that parties would have to listen to.

“In the long-term, disabled people have to be more of an organised block of voters in the same way people talk about the grey lobby.

“Politicians need to be a little bit afraid of offending us. At the moment, they don’t appear remotely worried about what they do.”

Burgess said he hoped that #CripTheVoteUK would see disabled people taking on some of the influence currently wielded by the big disability charities.

He said: “It is about fertilising and organising the grassroots. Power should come from the bottom, from the real people.

“What disabled people want is not the same thing as what a corporate charity that represents disabled people may want.

“If you look at disability rights history, often we have felt very betrayed by charities.”

Beratan, who himself lived in the UK for 15 years, said #CripTheVote was “geared towards both engaging the disability community in discussing the policies and politics that will most impact our lives but also to use our collective power to amplify the community’s voice on these issues”.

And he said that “shrewed” politicians would use #CripTheVoteUK to engage with disabled voters.

He said he and his colleagues had been more than happy to advise on setting up #CripTheVoteUK but “have been clear that #CripTheVoteUK needs to develop into whatever the UK disability community needs it to be.

“As we saw in the US, #CripTheVote took off because the disability community took ownership of it.”

Although he did not want to speak for the UK organisers, he said it had been “very important” in the US to keep #CripTheVote “nonpartisan”.

He said: “Most of the evidence out there shows that the disability community breaks all across the political spectrum, but as we’ve seen many times, with the issues that affect our community most, partisan allegiances fall away.

“We do tend to make it clear though that nonpartisan does not mean non critical. We’ve always been highly critical of policies that harm disabled people.”

And he said he saw a lot of similarities between the two communities.

He said: “We’ve both been largely ignored by the mainstream political discourse, and are both more likely to be scapegoated than engaged with.

“So ideally I’d love to see them force disability into the conversation in this election.”

27 April 2017

 

 

Minister announces new PIP flexibility on Motability… but no sign of scheme extension

Disabled people hit by the government’s benefit reassessment programme will be able to keep their Motability vehicles for up to six months while they appeal against losing their eligibility, thanks to a new series of measures.

The changes will help former claimants of disability living allowance (DLA) who lose their eligibility for the higher rate of mobility support after being assessed for the new personal independence payment (PIP), and are therefore no longer able to stay on the Motability scheme.

The need for the new measures has been highlighted by new Motability figures, which show the overall number of its customers plunged by 22,000 (3.4 per cent) to 633,000 between March 2016 and the end of March 2017.

This is only slightly higher than the 629,000 customers at the time PIP was launched in April 2013, despite tens of thousands of new customers joining the scheme in the last four years.

Last summer, Disability News Service (DNS) revealed that Motability expected 35,000 vehicles – up to 700 a week – to be handed back during 2016 as a result of the reassessment programme.

But other new figures, highlighted by the disability charity Muscular Dystrophy UK, show that 51,000 disabled people have had to hand back their Motability vehicles as a result of the PIP reassessment process since it began four years ago.

The figures also show that about 900 customers are now having to return their vehicles every week.

Thanks to the new measures, some claimants who had their eligibility downgraded following a PIP reassessment and previously had to return their Motability cars, scooters or powered wheelchairs within three weeks, will now have this extended to six months.

But Penny Mordaunt, the minister for disabled people, appears to have made no progress on a suggestion she made last November that she wanted to extend the Motability scheme to PIP claimants qualifying for lower levels of mobility support.

The Motability announcements, made in a written statement from Mordaunt to MPs, means the package of support already introduced by Motability to help those caught in the transition from DLA to PIP will be updated.

Customers who first joined the scheme before 2013 can now return their car within eight weeks of their DLA payments ending – instead of just three – and still qualify for a “transitional support payment” of £2,000, or they can choose to keep it for up to 26 weeks and qualify for a payment of £500.

For customers who first joined in 2013, the same time limits will apply but the transitional payments will be £1,000 and £250.

All other customers will have to return their car within eight weeks, instead of three.

Motability said the “additional time and flexibility will prove helpful to former scheme customers in a variety of circumstances”, including those challenging the DWP PIP award decision and who do not wish to return their car “until they have completed the processes of reconsideration and appeal”.

The charity said it was “for the customer to decide whether they wish to challenge the DWP award decision” and the new package was not “in any way linked to their decisions”.

Mordaunt originally announced last November that she had “a plan” to help three groups of Motability customers caught up in the reassessment programme.

She said she wanted to help those appealing against losing their entitlement to higher rate mobility support.

She also said she wanted to help PIP claimants who leave the country for more than 13 weeks, for example to study or take a sabbatical.

Mordaunt said this week that such claimants who return to the UK within a year, who have not reached their award review date, and whose needs have not changed, will be able to use a new “rapid re-claim process” – rather than having to start a fresh claim from scratch – that should enable them to start reclaiming PIP within a couple of weeks of their return.

Mordaunt shocked many campaigners and mobility experts last November by suggesting that she also wanted to help a third group, by extending the Motability scheme to those who do not qualify for higher-rate mobility support but are only found eligible for the PIP standard mobility rate.

They pointed out that recipients of the standard mobility rate receive only £22 per week, compared with £58 a week for recipients of the higher, enhanced rate, which is unlikely to cover the cost of leasing a new car, as well as insurance, servicing, repairs, maintenance, breakdown assistance and fitting adaptations, all of which are covered by the Motability scheme.

The new measures announced by Mordaunt this week made no mention of extending the scheme to those on the PIP standard mobility rate.

Motability has told DNS that it has no plans to change the scheme to allow recipients of the PIP standard mobility rate to obtain vehicles through the scheme.

Declan O’Mahony, director of Motability, said: “We meet regularly with the DWP to discuss a broad range of issues of common interest.

“Although we are constantly discussing options for the future, we have no immediate plans to change the eligibility criteria for the scheme.”

Asked if Mordaunt’s proposal had been abandoned, and whether DWP was concerned or pleased at the plummetting number of Motability customers, a DWP spokesman said the department was now bound by the rules of “election purdah… which means we can’t issue new statements on any plans a future government might have, but, as you’re aware, we constantly review our processes to make sure they are working in the best way possible.

“As we have said previously, there are more people on the Motability scheme than there were in 2010 and since 2015, 42,000 people on PIP have received cars to help them get around.

“Decisions are based on all the available evidence provided by the claimant and their medical specialist, and most people leaving the scheme are eligible for a payment of up to £2,000 to meet their needs.”

Meanwhile, Motability celebrated its 40th anniversary on Tuesday with the Queen, the charity’s chief patron, at Windsor Castle.

She presented five disabled people with the keys to their new Motability vehicles.

One of them, Edward Todino, a disability advisor at Kingston University, said: “I have always had to rely on other people for lifts, but my powerchair has made this difficult due to its size.

“I’ll be able to drive my Motability car directly from my powerchair, meaning I’ll have the freedom to go where I want when I want.”

The charity has funded both the adaptations to his vehicle and his driving lessons.

The scheme has leased 4.5 million cars, powered wheelchairs and scooters to disabled people in exchange for all or part of their mobility allowance since it was established in 1977.

27 April 2017

 

 

Disabled people face ‘unacceptable barriers’, and government must do more, say MPs

The barriers disabled people face in navigating the built environment are an “unacceptable” attack on their quality of life and right to equality, according to a committee of MPs.

The report on disability and the built environment, by the Commons women and equalities committee, calls on the government to take a more visible lead in improving access and inclusion.

The report mirrors last year’s report on disabled people and the Equality Act by a Lords committee by concluding that the “burden” of achieving an accessible environment “falls too heavily” on individual disabled people.

Instead, it says, this burden “needs to lie more obviously with the bodies who create, occupy and manage the environment”, such as central government and local authorities.

The report describes a catalogue of barriers that were reported to the committee by disabled witnesses, including the shortage of accessible homes; public and commercial buildings without step-free access or with poor signage; inaccessible workplaces; sports halls with surfaces unsuitable for wheelchairs; and the failure to exempt assistance dogs from bans on dogs in public parks.

Other barriers reported to the committee included the failure by service-providers to install or maintain hearing loops; restrictive gates on paths and cycle routes that block wheelchair-users and those with adapted cycles; pedestrian crossings that fail to give disabled people enough time to cross the road; and streets made impassable by pavement parking, cars parked in front of dropped kerbs, and street clutter such as wheelie bins and advertising boards.

The report also calls for major improvements to national planning policies and guidance.

Local plans, it says, should not be approved by the Planning Inspectorate without evidence that they address access for disabled people across housing, public spaces and the wider built environment.

And planning consent for developments should only be given by a local authority “where there is evidence that a proposal makes sufficient provision for accessibility”.

The report says: “More ambition is needed in the standards the Government sets for the homes that the country desperately needs.

“There is ample evidence, nationally, for the Government to require a reasonable level of accessibility for all new homes.”

Among its demands, it calls for employers to build more accessible workplaces, and to be incentivised to improve existing ones; for building regulations to be updated; and for laws to be changed to make a basic level of access a key consideration in granting licences for pubs, clubs and other licensed premises.

It also says that all large building developments should have to include a Changing Places toilet, facilities with extra space and equipment for disabled people who cannot use standard accessible toilets.

And the report calls for better engagement with disabled people “to ensure that they have a meaningful input, at both national and local level,” in creating inclusive buildings and environments.

The report also calls for urgent new government guidance on shared space street schemes – and a temporary halt to all such developments – following reports to the committee “from many groups and individuals” that “unsafe” schemes have “severely curtailed” their ability to move about freely in public.

Maria Miller, the committee’s chair and a former Conservative minister for disabled people, said the burden of ensuring an accessible environment “falls too heavily at present on individual disabled people”.

She called instead for a “proactive, concerted effort by ‘mainstream’ systems and structures – including national and local government and built environment professionals – to take on the challenge of creating an inclusive environment”.

She said the government must be “more ambitious”, and added: “Our current environment was not created overnight and will not be mended overnight – but those with the influence to do so have had over 20 years since the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 first set out the standards expected of them.

“Disabled people have the right to participate in all parts of life under the law; this is undermined if the built environment locks them out.”

27 April 2017

 

 

EHRC threatens Premier League clubs with formal investigations over access failings

Only three out of 20 Premier League football clubs have met minimum requirements on providing accessible spaces and seating for disabled fans, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

A new EHRC review says Premier League clubs have made “only limited progress on stadia accessibility”, have broken Premier League rules, and have failed to provide sufficient information when questioned by the watchdog.

It also concludes that access issues may never have been discussed at board level at some clubs, while three of the clubs do not appear to have appointed anyone to the “key” position of disability access officer.

The EHRC said that some of the information provided to it by the clubs was of an “appalling” standard, and it warned that it could launch a statutory investigation into the failings of some of the clubs.

Seven of them appear to be breaching the Premier League’s own rules after failing to provide a comprehensive disability access statement – including all the information a disabled person needs when attending a match – on their websites.

Only seven of the 20 clubs provide the recommended number of wheelchair spaces, and only eight provide the minimum number of amenity [extra leg-room] and easy access (AEA) seats.

The figures could be even worse, says EHRC, as some of the wheelchair spaces may not meet the relevant criteria in the guidelines.

The worst performers for providing wheelchair spaces were Burnley (27 per cent of the recommended number), Crystal Palace (38 per cent) and Spurs (31 per cent, although it is building a new stadium).

Just three clubs – Swansea City, Manchester City and West Ham – meet recommended levels for wheelchair spaces and AEA seats and provide no more than a quarter of wheelchair spaces at pitch-side.

EHRC points out in the review that the relevant guidelines, contained in the Accessible Stadia Guide (ASG), were published 14 years ago.

In August 2015, 17 of the clubs – all of them except those promoted this season – pledged to meet all of the ASG standards by August 2017, but the review suggests most of them will break that promise, although it says that there is “a lot of work being undertaken by clubs” in the run-up to the deadline.

EHRC points out that football clubs have been required by law to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people since 1999, and adds: “Given the considerable wealth of the majority of Premier League clubs we would expect them to have taken significant steps over the past 18 years to ensure that they comply with their legal obligations.”

It adds: “Following our analysis of the information provided to us, the Commission remains concerned that not all clubs in the Premier League are complying with their obligations under the Act.”

It is now seeking meetings with clubs that have yet to demonstrate their plans to meet their legal obligations, and next month will issue a call for evidence from disabled fans on their experiences of attending Premier League matches.

But it warns that it will launch formal investigations into clubs in September if “we continue to suspect that a club or clubs are not complying with their legal obligations”.

Tony Taylor, chair of the national disabled supporters’ organisation Level Playing Field (LPF), said: “Once again, we need to make absolutely clear that these minimum standards have been in place for many years and that there is simply no excuse as to why any club should fail to meet these basic criteria to providing an inclusive matchday experience for disabled fans.

“Indeed, we believe that Premier League clubs, with all their resources, should go well beyond what is considered to be the minimum requirements and should set the standard for all sports stadia.

“LPF have always worked closely with Premier League clubs and will continue to do so, and  unequivocally welcome the firm stance the EHRC is taking on the issue.”

David Isaac, EHRC’s chair, said: “The end of the season is fast approaching and time is running out for clubs.

“The information we received from some clubs was of an appalling standard, with data missing and with insufficient detail.

“What is clear is that very few clubs are doing the minimum to meet the needs of disabled supporters.

“The Premier League itself does not escape blame. They need to make the concerns of disabled fans a priority and start enforcing their own rule book.

“We will be meeting individual clubs and asking them to explain themselves and tell us what their plans are.”

A Premier League spokesman said in a statement that clubs were “working hard to improve their facilities and rapid progress has been made”.

He claimed that the improvements were “unprecedented in scope, scale and timing by any group of sports grounds or other entertainment venues in the UK.

“Given the differing ages and nature of facilities, some clubs have faced significant built environment challenges.

“For those clubs, cost is not the determining factor.

“They have worked, and in some cases continue to work, through issues relating to planning, how to deal with new stadium development plans, how to best manage fan disruption or, where clubs don’t own their own grounds, dealing with third parties.

“Clubs will continue to engage with their disabled fans and enhance their provisions in the coming months, years and beyond.”

The Premier League will publish a report in August to detail the work carried out by clubs since August 2015.

27 April 2017

 

 

Setback for taxi wheelchair access, after councils snub new laws

Local authorities are refusing to take simple measures that will provide new legal protection from discrimination for wheelchair-users who want to travel by taxi.

On 6 April, the government finally brought into force legislation that imposes fines of up to £1,000 on drivers of taxis and private hire vehicles who refuse to accept wheelchair-users, try to charge them extra, or fail to provide them with appropriate assistance.

But the new laws only apply in those areas where the local authority has drawn up a list of all the wheelchair-accessible taxis and private hire vehicles in their area.

Even though the government has been encouraging councils to start drawing up such lists for the last seven years, early responses to freedom of information requests sent by a disabled activist to every council that licenses taxis in England, Scotland and Wales have revealed that many are refusing to draw up the lists.

So far, about one in four of the councils that have replied to Doug Paulley have said that they do not intend to draw up a list, so rendering the new laws useless in those areas.

Among those so far to have told him they have no plans to draw up a list are Hertsmere (in Hertfordshire), Oldham, Telford and Wrekin (in Shropshire), Stratford-on-Avon, Epping Forest (in Essex), Suffolk Coastal and Waveney (in Suffolk).

A spokeswoman for Hertsmere Borough Council confirmed to Disability News Service (DNS) that they do not maintain a list and “don’t have plans to”, although all taxis in the borough must be wheelchair-accessible and drivers must undertake training in handling wheelchairs, while private hire drivers receive a discount on their licence if their vehicle is wheelchair-accessible.

A spokesman for Oldham Council confirmed that they had told Paulley that they do not have a list and had no plans to draw one up, but told DNS that although they “don’t have a list at present” the issue “will be discussed with the Licensing Committee in June”.

Telford and Wrekin Council, which told Paulley that they “have not produced and do not have any plans to produce a list”, told DNS that all of its taxis had been wheelchair-accessible since 1998, that it provided disability awareness training to all new drivers, and that its licensing service can already deal with drivers who refuse to carry a wheelchair-user, overcharge them or fail to provide assistance.

The council said in a statement: “We have no current evidence that there is a problem within Telford and Wrekin.

“As we said in our response to the freedom of information request, should it come to light that there is a problem in the borough regarding our licensed drivers, we will review the situation.

“We have not said that the council will not maintain a list of designated vehicles… we merely do not propose to introduce one at this time.”

Although Epping Forest District Council said in its freedom of information response that it did not keep a list and had no plans to draw one up, it told DNS that it was now the council’s intention “to consult with members over this in the near future”.

Stratford-on-Avon District Council said in its freedom of information response that it did not keep a list and had no plans to draw one up, but after this was queried by Paulley and DNS a spokeswoman claimed that it “hasn’t drawn up a list, but it is intending to” and that it had “already pursued enforcement action where there have been incidences of discrimination”.

Two other councils, Suffolk Coastal and Waveney District, originally told Paulley that they had no list and “no scheduled plan to produce such a list” although they did not rule out drawing one up in the future.

But after being contacted by DNS, the councils, which work closely together, said they were “looking to produce one within this year”, while both offer a 50 per cent reduction in licence fees if a vehicle is wheelchair-accessible, and neither “has any complaints on record relating to wheelchair users not being assisted in the correct manner and no reports of excess fees being charged”.

The new laws, included in the Equality Act 2010 as sections 165 and 167, affect England, Wales and Scotland, and were first included in the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995 but were never brought into force.

The government finally agreed to act last May, after a hugely-critical report on the impact of equality laws on disabled people by the House of Lords Equality Act 2010 and disability committee.

But taxis and private hire vehicles are only obliged to follow the new rules if they are fully wheelchair-accessible, and it is up to each local authority to decide how to define “wheelchair-accessible”, and whether they will draw up a list.

Paulley has already warned that that the new laws could provide far less protection for wheelchair-users than had been hoped, because they only apply if local authorities co-operate with the new legislation.

27 April 2017

 

 

Nursing regulator finally clarifies stats on benefit assessment complaints

The nursing regulator has finally clarified how many disabled people have lodged complaints about nurses who have carried out disability benefit assessments for government contractors.

The figure produced by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) is its third attempt to produce accurate statistics on how many complaints it has received about the conduct of nurses carrying out assessments for personal independence payment (PIP) and employment and support allowance.

NMC said that it received just 22 complaints about the conduct of nurse assessors working for Atos, Capita and Maximus during 2016, and not one of them was taken forward past the initial screening stage for further investigation and regulatory action.

Many benefit claimants have raised concerns about the apparent refusal of NMC and the Health and Care Professions Council – which regulates paramedics and physiotherapists – to take seriously their complaints about healthcare professionals who carry out assessments.

Disability News Service (DNS) has been trying for four months to secure accurate figures on complaints to the NMC about assessors, after originally lodging a freedom of information request in mid-December.

NMC first responded in January with figures that showed it had received more than 1,600 complaints in five years about nurses working for Atos, Capita and Maximus.

Those figures were published as part of a DNS investigation that showed how healthcare professionals – mostly nurses – working for Capita and Atos have lied, ignored written evidence and dishonestly reported the results of physical examinations in PIP assessment reports compiled for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

But in February, NMC withdrew the figures, blaming its failure to use the correct terms in searching its database. It also said the data it had provided had not been “manually checked or filtered”.

It then provided – on 6 February – new figures which suggested that there had been only 29 complaints during the whole of 2016 across the three assessment companies, including just three complaints lodged against Capita nurses, one of which had to be abandoned because of a failure to secure consent.

But DNS questioned those statistics because two PIP claimants had come forward to describe how they had lodged complaints about Capita nurses last year.

NMC has now produced a new figure, which it insists is accurate, and has apologised for its earlier errors.

DNS agreed to narrow down the request to just one year because of restrictions imposed by freedom of information legislation.

NMC now says it received just 22 complaints about assessors from the three companies in 2016, and that all 22 were closed at the initial “screening” stage as NMC was “satisfied that these did not meet the threshold for regulatory action”.

The figures are likely to bemuse disabled campaigners, and those who contributed to DNS’s investigation, which found significant evidence of concerns about the honesty and competence of nurses who carry out benefits assessments.

27 April 2017

 

 

Bank finally admits it failed disabled customer, after three-year battle

A disabled activist has won a three-year battle with his bank over its refusal to allow him to communicate by email and provide him with a direct telephone contact number as reasonable adjustments.

The Financial Ombudsman ruled that the Co-operative Bank had failed in its duties under the Equality Act, and awarded Adam Lotun £800 compensation.

He had repeatedly asked over more than three years for the bank to make reasonable adjustments to take account of his hearing impairment, autism and memory problems.

As well as turning down Lotun’s request for a way to communicate with the bank by email, it failed to provide a direct telephone number for him and other disabled people to contact staff who were trained to deal with customers with access needs.

On several occasions, Lotun was stranded away from home without any money because his card had been blocked without his knowledge, as a result of the high level of PayPal transactions on his account.

The ombudsman found that he had been unable to unblock the card because he could not stay on hold on the phone for long periods.

On one occasion, Lotun had to wheel himself five miles from a retail park and didn’t arrive home until quarter to one in the morning after his card was rejected at a supermarket checkout and he was left without any money for a taxi.

The ombudsman said that if he had had a direct contact to call, “all of these occasions would’ve been avoided” because he could have called to get his card unblocked “with ease”.

The ombudsman also told Lotun that the bank had told him he could use its text relay system instead of an email, but that “if the time had been taken to understand your needs it would’ve become clear that this isn’t suitable”.

The ombudsman concluded: “Overall, I don’t think the adjustments you’ve asked for are unreasonable – namely to be able to communicate with Co-op via e-mail [and] to have a direct telephone contact for emergency situations only.

“The former has been rejected by Co-op on several occasions on the basis that they didn’t have a secure e-mail facility.

“I don’t think that this was a good enough reason and an attempt should’ve been made to explore this more fully. And I can’t see that Co-op ever proposed suitable alternatives.”

The bank has now agreed to set up a secure email address for him, and has provided a telephone number for a team set up to deal with “vulnerable” customers.

The ombudsman concluded that Lotun had been caused “unnecessary distress and inconvenience by Co-op’s failure to put your reasonable adjustments into place sooner”, although this appeared to be the result of the bank’s “limited resources” rather than discrimination.

The ombudsman said that “a period of three or four years of having to constantly ask for adjustments that weren’t actually that demanding is far too long a period of time.

“I also think that if the reasonable adjustments had been put into place in good time you would’ve been spared a lot of distress and inconvenience on several occasions.”

A spokesman for the bank said it accepted the ombudsman’s decision.

He said: “Since 2013, we have made significant progress in rebuilding the bank, and part of this process has been to completely review how we deal with vulnerable customers, leading to the creation of a vulnerable customer team in late 2016.”

He said the bank had introduced company-wide “customer vulnerability awareness training” for its staff, “front-line training in the identification and engagement of vulnerable customers”, and enhanced training for the new “specialist customer vulnerability support teams”, as well as an advice line for its staff.

As a result of a new partnership with Citizens Advice Manchester, a full-time advisor from the charity has been appointed to the bank to support customers with “multiple issues” who need support with such areas as housing, benefits and access to social support.

The spokesman said: “We also provide appropriate customers with a single point of contact within our central vulnerability teams via a freephone number, via mail or in some instances a secure/encrypted e-mail platform.

“We have made significant progress in improving our support for vulnerable customers since this matter was first raised in 2014 and we apologise to Mr Lotun for any inconvenience caused from his ongoing dealings with the bank.”

Lotun, who has been a Co-op customer for more than 20 years, said it had been a “long and hard-fought battle” to secure the reasonable adjustments he needed.

He said: “The Co-op have now been forced to recognise that they have consistently treated disabled customers negatively and that they have also been forced to recognise their actions and to also create and implement a specialist team to provide the best services possible for disabled customers.

“In my view, a bank that promotes itself as a ‘ethical bank’ should not have to be challenged for so long in this way for ‘ethical standards’ to be put into place.”

27 April 2017

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com