Memorandum submitted by The National Deaf Children's Society (DM 25)
National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS) is the national charity dedicated to
creating a world without barriers for deaf children and young people. We
represent the interests and campaign for the rights of all deaf children and
young people from birth until they reach independence. There are over 45,000
deaf children in the
1.2 NDCS offers a range of services to families
including a core team of 2 specialist benefits advisors, as well as a team of
25 family officers around the
2. How effective is the decision making process? Could it be improved, if so how?
2.1 The decision making process has, over the years, improved with a greater understanding of the issues that affect deaf children. However, NDCS is concerned that there still appears to be a presumption by decision makers that the supervision needed by deaf children is not substantially in excess of that normally needed. In fact, deaf children, especially deaf babies, need continual supervision to avoid substantial danger to themselves. For example, hearing aid components can be a choking hazard and are far smaller than toys recommended for a child under three. Hearing aid batteries are especially dangerous.
2.2 NDCS believes that the decision making process could be improved by ensuring that decision makers have a greater awareness of the needs of disabled children. Cases on deaf children should be considered by those with a good and detailed awareness of their needs. Decision makers should also ensure that the process results in the different needs of deaf children with additional disabilities being considered as a whole.
2.3 NDCS further believes that the decision making process would be improved if decision makers specialised in certain age groups to ensure greater awareness of the specific risks and considerations for different groups of children. NDCS would suggest:
· Children from birth to 5 years of age;
· Children from 5 year to 16 years of age; and
· Adults 16 years of age and older.
3. Are there sufficient numbers of decision makers and is the training they receive adequate?
3.1 NDCS is unaware of any data that details the numbers of decision makers and their expected case loads, and so feel unable to respond directly to the first part of this question.
3.2 With the introduction of PiDMA, Professionalism in Decision Making Accreditation, we feel that the decision maker training has improved. We feel it could be improved further by involving external presenters from organisations working to support children with specific disabilities such as deafness. This could be either working directly with decision makers or through cascade training with the decision makers' leaders. NDCS has in the past been asked to present such training and information sessions. We would welcome the opportunity of being involved in any ongoing training.
4. Is the decision making process clear to claimants?
4.1 NDCS's experience of working with young deaf adults and families of deaf children leads us to conclude that the decision making process works is poorly understood by most parents of deaf children. Before sending in a claim, many parents report that they feel the process is a "mystery". Some parents have told us that they feel it is almost a lottery as to whether they will be given an award of DLA or not and that on occasion, other families have been awarded DLA for similar or lesser need.
5. How effective is the review stage of the decision making process?
5.1 The review stage allows claimants to contact an external organisation, such as NDCS, and to take advice regarding gathering further evidence in support of their claim. This will enable young deaf people and parents of deaf children to add more information to their claim and will enhance the decision making process, often leading to a negative decision being overturned. However, we feel that decision makers should be more proactive in contacting more claimants and requesting further information and evidence.
6. Is DWP effectively addressing official error?
6.1 In our experience, official errors are not always addressed by DWP unless first raised as an issue by an external organisation. For example, once families alert an external organisation to a problem where they feel they have been given a wrong award or wrong information was used, this is only then taken directly to DWP through Pension and Disability and Carers Service (PDCS) Advisory Forum. From that point onwards, the official error is generally dealt with in a clear and focused manner.
7. How well does the decision making process operate for different benefits (e.g. ESA, DLA and Housing Benefit)?
7.1 NDCS supports families of deaf children and deaf young people through a DLA claim, and to a smaller degree with ESA claims. To date we have not gained enough information regarding ESA to comment on the decision making process.
8. How does the appeals system work from the claimant's perspective?
8.1 This varies from family to family. Some families do take their case to appeal with no support, others need a minimum of information to enable them to do so. Some families say the process is not over complicated but appears slow. Others tell us that they feel overwhelmed by the process and rely on NDCS Benefit Appeal Advisor team to guide them.
8.2 For families that need more in-depth support, NDCS offers individual representation throughout the appeals system, and at the tribunal hearing. Families often find the appeal system stressful and worry that they will not be listened to, feeling their evidence will be worth less to the judge and tribunal members than that of the decision maker.
9. How has the introduction of the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council (AJTC) impacted upon the appeals process?
9.1 The introduction of AJTC has had little or no negative impact on the appeals system.
10. How effective are the Upper Tribunal Judges (formerly Social Security Commissioners)?
10.1 The Upper Tribunal Judges are usually effective in their judgements but tend to over rely on referring appeals back to the 1st tier appeals service. This results in families having to go back to a further hearing and the accompanying stress this brings. Some Upper Tribunal decisions take a long time to be processed and sent out to families.
11. Is the timeframe of appeals reasonable?
11.1 The process from claim through revision and on to the appeal hearing is too long. It is common for a claim to take between 9 to 13 months from start to appeal hearing. This is a long time for families to be denied benefit that they may be entitled to. The process of appeals is in itself not excessive but in some areas where there are more appeals families inevitably wait for a longer period.
12. Is sufficient support available to appellants during the appeals process?
12.1 NDCS believes that there is not sufficient support, as evidenced by the number of families who seek support from organisations. One way of increasing support to families would be to provide greater signposting information to families of relevant voluntary organisations.