How Bath Mind’s Benefits Caseworker stood up for Mental Health in the Benefits System
I have more hope and something to live for, I feel that justice has been done and I have been believed.
Here at Bath Mind, we have an incredible team of staff who work day in and day out throughout the year to support members of the community with their mental health and wellbeing.
Today’s post features a chat with Bath Mind and Citizen’s Advice B&NES’ (CAB) mental health and benefits caseworker: Patrick. We’ve asked Patrick a few questions on his work with us, including highlights and case studies on his varied role.
Patrick, can you tell us a bit about benefit appeals?
Every year about 300 people get in touch for help appealing a benefit decision. Of these about 60% identify as having a mental health need. In 2017, St John’s Foundation provided funding which was used to employ me in helping clients to appeal these decisions and, more recently, this was added to by funding from the national charity Mind as well as Quartet.
By the time someone has submitted an appeal they will normally have waited around 6 months to get the right decision and, due to the volume of appeals in recent years, that means a wait time of another 6 months before their appeal will be heard. A twelve-month timeframe for clients to get the right outcome is therefore typical.
We found from our work that many people with mental health problems don’t appeal in a timely way and often only submitted an appeal due to the intervention of a carer or family member. Others did so because of the support, advice and encouragement of an adviser.
What inspired you to become a benefits case worker?
I started advising for CAB in 2012 as a volunteer, qualifying as a generalist adviser in 2015. My clients have always been really appreciative of my help, which has made my work hugely rewarding. I also like the challenge of dealing with complex problems and finding a way forward.
Growing up I’ve known many people who suffered mental distress and/or self-harm and I really wanted to make a difference. A few of my friends have claimed benefit and found the process so arduous that they gave up. For this reason, when I started advising clients, benefits always had a special place in my heart.
Can you tell us about a case you’ve worked on?
One of my proudest moments was securing substantial benefits for a young, single mother who had recently suffered gender violence.
She wanted but couldn’t afford private talking therapy at an extremely difficult time in her life. She had so little money she had to choose between paying for nappies for her young child and paying the council tax each month.
We applied for and then appealed Personal Independence Payment, securing £145 per week and an additional £336 per month in Universal Credit..
Now, she’s getting the right support and has started talking therapy. Her feedback detailed:
“Your adviser took my mental illness seriously. He treated me like a human being rather than a number on a bit of paper.”
I’m proud of what we did to help this client, but we shouldn’t have to fight this hard just to secure a reasonable income and standard of living for people. Far from ‘making work pay’, reforms like Universal Credit can have devastating effects on people’s lives, encouraging many who are calling for reform.
For many clients, the fact we listened to their story was just as important as helping them to challenge the decision. When a client of ours was interview by BBC Points West, they told the reporter: “for the first time someone seemed to believe my story and that in itself was a big help.”
“I was in a situation where I felt alone & abandoned by society because of my anxiety & ADHD.
You believed me and were willing to help. I am very happy with the outcome because not only can I fund things to help me manage my conditions, I also feel vindicated and that I am not being dismissed anymore.”
Part of your role has been to tackle unfairness in the benefits system. Can you tell us about any success you’ve had?
To name just two notable successes:
- Evidence from our clients was instrumental in a PIP case at the Supreme Court regarding ‘social support’ where the Court ruled against DWP: 10,000s of people with mental health problems will now get the right support because of this ground-breaking decision.
- We had 4 of our clients featured on radio and television talking about Universal Credit. For example, BBC Points West featured the story of a client who was going to lose out on UC due to the two-child limit. As a result of campaigns like this, the government has changed the law, for example by limited the two-child policy to new claimants (originally it was intended to be retrospective, affecting all claimants).
And finally Patrick, what have you enjoyed about working for Bath Mind and alongside Citizens Advice B&NES?
Making a difference! Through the partnership project, I have secured over £1.4 million in benefits for approx. 250 individuals.
Although most appeals were resolved within 9 months, a handful continued for up to two years. But even when the going got tough, we did not give up and in this shows in our success rate (97%).
We successfully challenged complex and unusual decisions, and part of our fight for equal treatment for those with mental distress; we referred strategic human rights and discrimination cases to legal aid solicitors concerning benefits and housing.
We left no stone unturned to prove our clients right, gathering evidence from parents, carers, health professionals and got several Tribunal decisions set aside. In cases where the outcome was unsatisfactory, we empowered clients to claim additional benefits.
A huge thank you to Patrick for talking us through his role here at Bath Mind, and the incredible success he’s had since beginning his work as a Benefits and Mental Health caseworker. Watch this space for more upcoming conversations with our incredible Bath Mind staff!
Posted on: 5th August 2020