A friend an hour ago posted on facebook that her benefits had been stopped all because she couldn’t phone them to arrange an interview (she’s Deaf). She won’t receive her entitlement on Monday.

Pesky People asked if we could do a short blog post to alert others to her situation to see if it could get her help and she agreed.

Since when was it possible to stop anyone’s benefits all for the sake of a phone call?

This is what she said on facebook (edited):

” I got a letter middle of week before last saying I had to attend an interview that Saturday at midday or I’d lose my benefits.

I’m deaf, I struggle to use phone, I prefer sms and e-mail. I’ve got an amplified landline phone, but at mo it’s on limited service cos I’m struggling with bills.

I hate using phone cos its stressful. So having voice phone is not my priority.

But the letter said ‘if you cannot attend you must phone this number’. I’d intended to go in … thinking if I could get childcare…

Anyhow on the saturday I was coming down with cold, there was no text or e-mail number to ring. I didn’t attend but sent e-mail to the disability advisor. I was told my benefits would be stopped unless I went in the following week… I’ve been ill all week but went in on friday.

Nearly got punched in face on my way in cos people were fighting outside (and they say children are welcome and I should take my child).”

I’m struggling to comprehend that we have a benefit system that is completely failing to take into account Deaf people’s access needs and why email and text messaging is not available for deaf people to contact every jobcentre?

She  went on to say the receptionist failed to understand  that she was deaf and she took out her hearing aid to explain. It has resulted in a complaint being made about her actions.

This all smacks of deaf discrimination and a failure of the Job Centre to take their responsibilities under the Equalities Act 2010.

She was eventually told by an advisor that the decision had been made to stop her benefits, and the advisor would write her comments as an appeal and even if she was Deaf she should have phoned!

Today she received a letter about  the receptionist complaints and told that being ill and unable to use a phone becuase she is deaf is considered an unreasonable appeal…

It’s astounding that as the push to put all benefits online by the Digital Taskforce there are still no mechanisms in place for deaf people to easily contact the job centre digitally by text, email or even skype or facebook chat!

She now faces the stress and franticness of sorting it out (with no communication support from the job centre as they have previously refused to book British Sign language interpreters) and being left wondering whether she will receive her benefit at all on Monday. As it is she can’t phone anyone for help.

And this is the big society?

UPDATE from DWP:

I contacted the Department of Work and Pensions to ask them to investigate and respond to the issues raised. They have sent us a copy of their policies and procedures for Deaf access posted below in full. I urge everyone to read it.  It is very clear that in this instance the DWP office has systematic failed a Deaf person. In this instance the  “offer (of) a welcoming and professional service to deaf people” is seriously discriminating the very people they are supposed to help.

DWP Departmental diversity and equality policy approach

The Department aims to provide services that meet the needs of all disabled people, including those with hearing and visual impairments.

  • Operational support – services and information across Jobcentre Plus and PDCS

The Department seeks to provide our full service to deaf people via front line advisers in Jobcentres, Disability Employment Advisers where needed and appropriate to meet customer need, and with some adjustments as necessary via the telephone and internet. To help provide this service the Department ensures the availability of BISL interpretation services where this meets the customers’ needs or preferences. The Department is currently in the process of rolling out a new textphone system to make our telephony service more inclusive for customers with speech and hearing difficulties.

Jobcentre Plus has developed Disability Awareness / Disability Confidence training & guidance to ensure that staff have access to advice which will help them offer a welcoming and professional service to deaf people. Jobcentre Plus has just agreed to make more widely available some learning and development called “Raising the Game on Disability Seminars”. These events will soon be helping more front line staff in Jobcentre Plus deliver a high quality service to disabled customers and specifically included in this learning is advice on how to ensure that this quality service includes deaf people. The Department also uses Employers Forum on Disability guidance and information products to support its staff.

Help for deaf people via Access to Work – The Access to Work programme is a specialist disability programme delivered by Jobcentre Plus that is designed to help overcome the barriers that disabled people face in retaining or entering employment, above and beyond the reasonable adjustments that an employer would be expected to provide.

Access to Work is a flexible programme which can be tailored to the individual customer’s needs. Deaf customers may particularly benefit from the Communicator Support at Interview element, which meets the full cost of hiring a British Sign Language Interpreter to remove any communication barriers faced at an interview and/or the Support Worker element, which can meet the cost of providing an interpreter or a helper in the workplace, and/or the Special Aids and Equipment, which may help towards the costs of purchasing special equipment to enable a deaf person to do a job (the employer would be expected to make a contribution towards this element.

To be eligible to apply for Access to Work, a customer must:

  • have a disability or health condition as defined under the Disability Discrimination Act which is affecting their ability to work;
  • be 16 years-old or over;
  • live and work in Great Britain;
  • be in work already, or have a confirmed start-date;
  • not be in receipt of Incapacity Benefit (however the customer may get limited help if they will be working under Higher Level or Supported Permitted Work rules).

In the 2009/10 year Access to Work supported 37,210 disabled people.

Help for deaf people via Work Choice

  • This has been introduced to ensure that the Department’s disabled customers with more complex support needs, which cannot be met through the Work Programme, have access to the right level of support to help them prepare for, enter and/ or retain employment. A written Ministerial statement on 27th July 2010 announced that Work Choice will replace WORKSTEP, Work Preparation and the Job Introduction Scheme from 25th October 2010. The Government is keen to ensure an appropriate ‘fit’ between employment programmes. The Department will be working to ensure that Work Choice and the Work Programme fit together, both in the eyes of disabled people and of those whose role it is to support and advise them.
  • Work Choice will offer high quality specialist customer support. Prime providers will work closely with their sub contractors to offer appropriate support to people with a wide range of disability
  • The Department is aware that some people have been on WORKSTEP for a number of years when they really do not need that level of intensive support to work effectively and stay in a job. Therefore under Work Choice, customers will get more consistent, quality support that helps them progress at work and, where appropriate for the individual, move into unsupported employment.
  • The Department is taking great care to make sure that people who are currently on WORKSTEP (approx 14,000) make the transition onto Work Choice smoothly and seamlessly. This includes disabled people who work in supported businesses.

What will Work Choice look like?

  •  Work Choice will replace the current suite of specialist disability employment programmes (i.e. Work Preparation, WORKSTEP and the Job Introduction scheme). It will provide customers with severe disabilities and more complex support needs, with a seamless service covering all stages of the journey into work:
    1. finding a job and preparing to enter work,
    2. short to medium-term in-work support or longer-term supported employment, and
    3. ultimately progression into open unsupported employment, where it is appropriate for the individual.
  •  Customers can join the programme at different points depending on their needs. Module one provides pre-work support; module two provides supported employment lasting up to two years; module three is for customers requiring long-term support to sustain their job.
  •  This new programme will provide a better customer experience. By ensuring that the Department’s services make best use of limited resources, it believes that it can help more disabled people with complex needs leave out-of-work benefits and enter and stay in work, giving a better quality of life for themselves and their families.
  • Critically, success will depend on working more effectively with employers to help disabled people access work opportunities and gain the right level of support – from both their employer and ourselves – to achieve their full potential in work.

Benefit entitlement:
People who have hearing difficulties are entitled to claim DLA on exactly the same terms as anyone else with a long-term disability.

Disability Living Allowance (DLA) provides an important non-contributory, non-income-related and tax free cash contribution towards the disability-related extra costs faced by severely disabled people. It is paid to people with care and/or mobility needs irrespective of whether they are working and is available to disabled children and working age people alike.

DLA is not paid for particular conditions – the extent of the care and/or mobility needs of the individual arising from their condition are what matters. This is why the claims process concentrates on a person’s personal care and/or mobility needs and not the particular diagnosis in their case. Knowing the particular condition does not help decide what rate of benefit is appropriate or the period over which it should be paid.

Other information and support:

 Community 5000 project

  • The Department has established the Community 5000 project which aims to give 5000 staff days to work with voluntary organisations. Placements have included DWP staff working with people with sensory impairments and with people of single minority backgrounds. These have included working with the Royal National Institute for the Deaf and other voluntary organisations.
  • The Pensions Disability and Carers Service (PDCS) have worked extensively to identify the barriers that exist in some communities to claiming entitlements. PDCS have developed videos, DVDs, posters and other printed material for customers in a number of languages which describe the Service and what it does, benefit entitlement and what that means for people, and the types of changes that people have to report.

Consultation with external groups

  • PDCS provide early consultation on change initiatives and service delivery issues that impact on its customers, through the PDCS Advisory Forum. This comprises of 22 organisations which collectively represent a broad range of, pensioners, disabled people and single minority groups, including 2 organisations who specifically represent customers with hearing impairments: the Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) and the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS).

Claim forms and leaflets alternative formats

  • A wide range of products are available in alternative formats, including large print, Braille, British Sign Language and other languages. Textphone services are available and can be used instead of a voice mail telephone by people who have speech or hearing difficulties. This service provides access to the department to obtain help and advice.

Background

  • 5. PDCS, provides a face-to-face service (Local Service) for vulnerable and disabled pension age customers, working age customers and children who cannot access services via telephone or post. It provides home visits along with appointment based Information Points in places that customers are familiar with, such as local libraries and community centres.

Working with RNID

  • Local Service has been working with the Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) to achieve the ‘Louder than Words’ Chartermark. An accreditation is expected imminently. To achieve the accreditation the actions that have been implemented are:
    1. all Local Service visiting officers have received training from RNID;
    2. Local Service letters have been revised to include an offer to customers to have a sign language interpreter present at the visit and the provision of a hearing loop that the visiting officer can take with them;
    3. hearing loops have been purchased for each office, and
    4. a number of staff are trained in sign language.