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Ensuring our customers achieve their financial entitlement with a SAWBA

VOICES courtroom

By Karen Dunn, Specialist Benefits Advisor, Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke on Trent

At VOICES the customer risk assessment process involves giving much consideration to a person’s levels of safety and wellbeing in addition to other risks identified and is termed a Safety and Wellbeing Assessment (SAWBA) in preference to ‘risk assessment’.

 

Each SAWBA identifies the level of risk to:

  • the emotional well-being
  • physical health of the customer
  • risks associated with their substance misuse, behaviour, offending and homelessness / housing
  • risks from others

 

The SAWBA also considers the financial capability for each person.

These are all highly relevant factors for PIP and ESA claims and can be used to support entitlement and other criteria; for example:  evidence of why a customer is unable to attend an assessment and / or evidence of why a customer is unable to return a completed form in time.  The SAWBA includes information contained within each risk category that provides the reader with valuable context, background and history.  Being able to communicate a ‘bigger picture’ is particularly useful when medical evidence is not available.

Once a SAWBA is completed I am able to use the information to prepare for my first meeting with the customer. It provides me with ‘the bigger picture’, enabling me to pick out the key information needed.  Making a claim for sickness and disability benefits means that the customer is going to have to provide a lot of very personal and uncomfortable information about themselves.

 

“If most of this information is held on their SAWBA it goes a long way toward the aspiration of not having to tell their story twice”

 

It reduces the need for me to ask probing questions, making my assessment more of a conversation rather than subjecting the customer to a lengthy interview.  In supporting customers to access benefit entitlement the SAWBA has helped me in all stages of the process:

Point of claim

  • Informing the assessor and the decision maker in substantiating how the person’s symptoms affect their daily life.
  • It can be the difference between having to attend a clinic assessment or, a decision being made without a face to face assessment because there is sufficient written evidence to support an award.

 

Changing decisions

  • The SAWBA has been influential in changing decisions in the customer’s favour without having to go to tribunal, but this is not always the case:  the DWP generally prefers medical evidence, however, in many cases the only medical evidence available to the DWP will be the assessment provider’s report which can be unreliable.

 

“This preference for medical evidence makes it very difficult for many of our customers as accessing health services is either not possible or intermittent at best”

 

Tribunals

A tribunal for PIP hearings is made up of 3 panel members: a legally qualified tribunal Judge, a medically qualified member (usually a Doctor), and a disability member (a person experienced in dealing with the physical or mental health needs of others, or they may be disabled themselves).  For ESA there is a Judge and a Doctor.

A customer will not always feel at ease in a tribunal setting (locally they are held in small court rooms).  It can feel very intimidating and those suffering with mental ill health can struggle with rising anxiety in this kind of situation.  Many of our customers are happy to give “yes” and “no” answers, or tell the tribunal what they think it wants to hear in order to get out of there as quickly as possible.

 

First Tier Tribunal (FTT)

  • A well completed SAWBA that includes historical information, context and the person’s assessment can aid the panel in seeing the ‘person’ rather than a claimant, and in turn assists them to make a more fully informed decision.

 

Upper Tier Tribunal

  • If the FTT’s decision needs to be challenged, the SAWBA will also provide the Upper Tribunal with the vital information they need when looking at whether the FTT made an error of law, e.g. if certain information was before the tribunal but it failed to take it into consideration when making its decision, or did so but applied the law incorrectly.  This is especially so as most are not decided at an oral hearing but a decision is made on scrutiny of the papers.

 

At VOICES we have achieved 100% success in changing decisions through appeals since the start of the project in October 2014. Both the model of service integration and the SAWBA have been the main contributors in this outcome.  Seeing the difference that this has made for our customers – both in weekly amounts and one off back payments – is highly satisfying.  I encourage all services to support their customers to achieve their full entitlement and recommend the use of a SAWBA in their processes.

Click here to download a copy of the VOICES SAWBA, in .xls format

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