Kent Law Clinic

Law student wins benefits arrears for client on appeal

The University’s Law Clinic has won an appeal for a woman whose disability assessment appointment was cancelled while she was travelling to it and who was then penalised for failing to attend.

Her case was taken on by Kent Law School student Alexandra Nadasan, under the supervision of Graham Tegg, one of the Kent Law Clinic’s solicitors who specialises in welfare benefits law.

The client is diagnosed with osteoarthritis, osteopenia, spondylosis, backpain and frequent occular migraines. She is eligible for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) but must undergo regular assessments of her health.

On 29 September 2016, she was on the second stage of a bus journey from her home to the Health Assessment Advisory Service’s Medical Centre in Canterbury to undergo a Work Capability Assessment (WCA) when she received a message to say that the appointment at 3pm was cancelled.

When she called the Centre, she asked for a refund of her travel expenses as she was nearly there and was told it would be sorted out at the next appointment. Days later, she received a letter asking why she had failed to attend, followed by a decision letter from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) telling her that as she failed to attend a medical assessment without good cause, her entitlement to ESA had ended.

Her benefits were cut as a result and for the past 11 months, she was required to sign on as actively seeking work to enable her to receive jobseekers allowance.

Despite her having her bus ticket as evidence and screen shots showing the calls she made to the Assessment Centre in response to the voicemail cancelling her appointment, the DWP and an earlier Tribunal found that the appointment could not have been cancelled. It was at this point that the client contacted Kent Law Clinic and was represented by them at an Appeal Tribunal.

The principle for evidence in welfare rights law is that a claimant’s version of events is to be believed without the need for corroborating evidence as long as it is neither ‘self-contradicting’ nor ‘inherently improbable’.

At the appeal hearing in August at Ashford Tribunal Centre, Judge Fagg’s judgment stated: ‘I find it extraordinary that her evidence…was not accepted and it has taken this long to overturn the original decision. I trust that the Respondent (the DWP) will reimburse her for her aborted bus fare.’

Kent Law Clinic is now pursuing the arrears of benefit owed, as well as for the £6.40 bus ticket for her wasted journey.  She has also instructed the Clinic to make a formal complaint to the Regional Chair of the Social Entitlement Chamber, which oversees the social security appeals service about her case.