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Website reviews

1 May 04

Reviews of websites dealing with social security law

by Iain Nisbet

The Appeals Service

www.appeals-service.gov.uk
An appeal against a benefit decision is the first stage at which a solicitor is likely to become involved in a client’s social security claim. Although the site is well presented, there is actually nothing much of use for the browsing solicitor. Much of the content is introspective or concerns operational matters only. However, it is just possible that the internal guidance section may prove useful if you have to rely on one of the President’s protocols or a housing benefit/council tax benefit communication bulletin. Worth a quick glance only.

Ease of Use: 3/5
Site Design: 3/5
Usefulness: 2/5

Office of the Social Security and Child Support Commissioners

www.osscsc.gov.uk
Further appeals on a point of law may be heard by the Commissioners, whose official website provides a number of helpful resources for the solicitor representing a client at this level. On a practical level, the site provides a useful section on “how to appeal”. Clearly designed to cater for the party claimant, it would serve the novice lawyer well too. In particular, there is a facility to download the appropriate appeal form and links to cases which explain the competent grounds of appeal.

The practice and procedure section is also very useful, with links to appropriate cases accompanying the points made. The jewel in the crown of this site, however, is the thousands of full-text, free-to-download Commissioners’ decisions. Binding on the appeals service tribunals, these decisions are essential to anyone working in this field. They come in three flavours: reported decisions; starred decisions; and others – this site has more than a smattering of all three. Cases can be accessed by date, by category or subcategory, and by a number of other variables, a search function operating to throw up a manageable number of cases in any given topic.

Ease of Use: 3/5
Site Design: 3/5
Usefulness: 4/5

The site also refers to some other sources of Commissioners’ decisions online:

DWP decisions of the Commissioner: This contains decisions from 1991 onwards broken down by year, type of benefit and something to do with what series the decision is from. Once you get the hang of the weird navigation system, it’s actually quite useful and quick to use.

Commissioner Howell’s website: At one point, this was as good as it got when it came to Commissioners’ decisions on the net. It is still worth a visit from time to time if you want to track down that elusive (slightly older) decision unavailable elsewhere – or if you want to revel in nostalgic wonder at the old school web design.

Northern Ireland Commissioners’ decisions: Although the benefits system in Northern Ireland differs from that which applies in the rest of the UK, the two are sufficiently similar that these pages may be of occasional use.

rightsnet

www.rightsnet.org.uk
If you bookmark only one site from this month’s review, make sure it’s this one. Rightsnet is one of many websites provided by the London Advice Services Alliance (www.lasa.org.uk) and claims to provide “free access to the most up-to-date welfare benefit and tax credit information on the web”. It more than lives up to this ambitious claim. For the regular visitor information is added all the time on the latest news, discussion, decisions and statutory instruments. For the occasional visitor and adviser on social security law, there is also much to commend it.

The swopshop is worth a stop. Here, altruistic welfare rights workers from across the country deposit useful information, guides and tools which will assist anyone advising benefit claimants. A lot of the resources are actually external links to other sites, but they all start in the swopshop. I found the various online calculators to be particularly engaging and useful. These tools take a person’s financial and other details and instantly calculate the relevant figures for income tax, national insurance, tax credits, pensions credits, income support, housing benefit, council tax benefit, etc etc.

With all the latest benefits rates, guides to entitlement and interactive gizmos just a few clicks away, you should find all the answers you need. If you are still scratching your head, simply log on to the discussion forum and pose your question online – you’ll find hundreds of experienced welfare rights advisers literally queuing up to answer and offer useful hints on strategy, preparing for an appeal and suchlike. A magnificent site.

Ease of Use: 4/5
Site Design: 5/5
Usefulness: 5/5