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Welfare Rights is an activity aimed at ensuring that people are aware of and receiving their maximum entitlement to state welfare benefits. It has been established in the UK since 1969 and has also been developed in other countries including Ireland, Australia and the USA. It became necessary because of the complexity of the UK social security system and had links at the time with a growing Claimants Union movement. As local authorities realised the advantages of having well-informed front-line staff such as housing officers and social workers, who often have to deal with benefit queries as part of their wider tasks, they turned to welfare rights staff to provide that expertise for both training and handling complex cases. In the 1980's, as local authorities took on the wider 'equalities' agenda, anti-poverty work was seen as a valid local activity in itself. Increasing benefit income helps individuals but also boosts the local economy.

Welfare rights advice and advocacy in the UK

Some local authorities in the UK employ welfare right staff and this role is also carried out by the voluntary sector through local advice agencies like the Citizens Advice Bureau.

Welfare rights advisers offer free, impartial and independent advice, information and support on all aspects of social security benefits and tax credits.

Most local authority Welfare Rights advisers offer free representation to people at a social security appeal tribunal, which are administered by the UK Ministry of Justice.

Welfare Rights advisers offer representation and advocacy in dealing with the local authority Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit services, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as well as offering expert lay representation at social security appeal Tribunals.

Welfare Rights advisers will generally:

  • Provide advocacy and representation before social security appeal Tribunals
  • Assistance with complex welfare benefit applications
  • Advise and represent on all aspects of social security law, including entitlement to all benefits, backdating, suspensions and over payments
  • Represent all appeals involving disability living allowance, attendance allowance, incapacity for work and all other benefits
  • Check whether there are any benefits or tax credits people are entitled to that they are not getting

Welfare Rights officers are closely involved with campaigning groups and charities like the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), which provides a great deal of welfare rights training in the UK and also publishes several welfare rights manuals.

Welfare Rights advisers' professional organisation is the National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers (NAWRA) at a UK level; Scotland has its own professional association, Rights Advice Scotland (RAS).

Bibliography

  • Welfare Benefits and Tax Credits Handbook (annual publication) Child Poverty Action Group. London.
  • Disability Rights Handbook (annual publication). Disability Alliance. London.
  • Bateman, N. (2006) Practising Welfare Rights Routledge. Oxford.

External links

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