Putting it right when a client’s world has ended…
Citizens Advice Westminster’s Putting it Right campaign has achieved significant success for three clients since the start of the year. The campaign takes on individual cases where someone has suffered from very poor and shoddy treatment by a public or statutory body and seeks compensation, an apology and, where appropriate, calls for change in policies and procedures to avoid future mistakes or unfair practices for others.
My world had come to an end ….
“I felt as if my world had ended,” says Ms L, when out of the blue she received a call from her employer to inform her that, after 23 years, her services were no longer required with immediate effect.
Ms L had been employed as a seamstress in a dry cleaners and without any warning received a telephone call to say her employment was being terminated and that she would receive 12 weeks pay in lieu of notice.
“I felt devastated and shocked. Losing my job suddenly was a lot to take in. I thought there was nothing I could do. I didn’t know where to turn for help but my daughter found information on the internet and I had to pluck up courage to seek help. I went to my local Citizens Advice Westminster AdviceShop where I first spoke to Age Concern as I am over 70. I was very close to tears at that point as I was devastated that my job had ended. They advised me to speak to the Citizens Advice Westminster adviser and from that point things started to happen. I loved the atmosphere there and the way they treated people like me helped me relax.
“I first spoke to Adam who was so welcoming and helpful and he referred me to one of the advisers and the next day I had an appointment with their employment adviser Brenda. She explained my rights and the options for challenging my employer. She wrote them an initial letter setting out my concern about the way I had been treated and pointed out their failure to follow proper procedure. They replied saying they would come back within a week. That was before Christmas but by mid-January they had still not replied. I was disheartened but met again with Brenda and she sent a more formal follow-up letter pointing out that I could ultimately take them to the Advisory Conciliation and Advisory Service (ACAS) and an employment tribunal.
“I could see in Brenda that there was something to be done and that she was courageous and brave on my behalf and she made me feel that there is always hope.”
Brenda describes what action she took to support the client:
“I explained to the client that she was entitled to redundancy and holiday pay and that after 23 years’ work she should have been entitled to a fair redundancy process. I told her what steps she could take and then wrote to her former employer setting out her case and pointing out their failure to follow the fair redundancy process.
“ As we had still not heard back from them after the date they had promised to respond to our December letter, in January we wrote a second, more strongly-worded letter formally stating our client’s intention to take the case to the ACAS conciliation scheme and, ultimately, lodge an employment tribunal claim if they did not respond appropriately within the time limit and deliver a solution.
“ They responded immediately and Ms L received a cheque for over £4,500 redundancy pay and they followed that up with holiday pay in the end of February pay run, just meeting the deadline date after which she could have taken her case for unpaid wages to ACAS.”
Ms L said she was “very happy and “over the moon.” “Brenda was excellent and very professional. I enjoyed talking and dealing with her and everyone in the great team there. All the people I met were lovely and when the whole world is turning its back on you then I met Citizens Advice Westminster and am so grateful. It was so good to find kind people when you think your world has come to an end.”
Bereaved client finally awarded rightful benefits
Mr F approached Citizens Advice Westminster for much needed support as he was struggling to manage the claims process for bereavement benefit following the death of his wife in December 2018. He needed a lot of support to complete the paperwork and was frustrated with the delay in making the claim. He had to provide the marriage certificate from their wedding in Africa but needed to get a duplicate because he had mislaid his important documents when he returned to the UK in March 2019 from the funeral in Africa.
Mr F had initially contacted the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in March 2019 about the death of his wife the previous December. He believed he had made a claim for bereavement benefits, however he had not, and it was not until he had an appointment with Citizens Advice Westminster in October 2019 that he received help to make the DWP Bereavement Support Payment claim He was finally awarded a lump sum of £2500 and a monthly payment of £100.
We also assisted the client to submit a telephone mandatory reconsideration stating that when he informed them that his wife had died, he did not know he had to speak to a separate DWP department, which shares the same telephone number, regarding the bereavement payment. If this is upheld, instead of his bereavement allowance starting from October 2019, it should be backdated to March 2019, when he first called the DWP.
Mr F was very satisfied with the outcome and the service he received after months of distressing delay and frustration.
I would still be in a mess and coping on my own …
When Westminster residents Mr and Mrs B received notice in January 2020 from Westminster Council’s benefits service that they must repay a large overpayment of £5,600 of housing benefit, they could not believe that history was repeating itself. At the end of 2017 they had been the subject of a previous incorrect overpayment notification of over £34,000.
The clients were naturally distressed by this second notification and the Citizens Advice Westminster’s adviser immediately contacted the council’s revenue and benefits office after meeting the client in February. A week later they received a favourable response. The council explained that the normal rules are that, in spite of an official error, if a client could reasonably have known that there had been an overpayment this amount is recoverable. In this case errors had been made in assessing the clients’ income as it had included benefits they were no longer receiving. But the adviser challenged this interpretation of the regulations and after careful consideration, the calculation was corrected and the client was reassured that there was nothing further to recover.
This was a very successful outcome as a result of Citizens Advice Westminster’s intervention resulting in the overpayment decision being overturned and debt being written off.
Mrs B said that she was very relieved and impressed by how quickly the problem had been resolved. “My husband is seriously ill in hospital so without the speedy and effective support of Citizens Advice Westminster I would still be in a mess and coping on my own.”