Will the pandemic help us to get a grip of Universal Credit?

Will the pandemic help us to get a grip of Universal Credit?

Will the pandemic help us to get a grip of Universal Credit?

Nearly a million people awarded UC over just 2 short weeks

It’s hard to believe that nearly a million successfully applied for Universal Credit in the two weeks between 16th and 31st March alone. Coronavirus has triggered a rise of more than 500%, from 60,000 to 371,000 claims a week. The surge in applications dwarfs the impact on the benefit system during the last recession triggered by the 2008 financial crisis. It’s hard to avoid using that over-used word we’re hearing at the moment ‘unprecedented’;  we really have never seen anything like this before!

As a result of this hike in numbers, DWP had no option other than to make the Universal Credit application process easier, with appointments over the phone and a less stringent application process where people are (understandably) not having to attend work-focused interviews with a nominated work coach at the job centre. This change has – temporarily at least – made it less complicated to apply for UC for applicants facing barriers to access (you have to ask yourself why it couldn’t have been made a bit simpler before now) …

The UC claim system has been simplified but still far from simple

 But last week’s statistics published by the Citizens Advice network tell us that the network of charities delivering the Citizens Advice service helped 90,000 people with their UC claims since lockdown started on the 23rd of March. So the process may have been simplified but it’s still definitely not simple. Ok maybe it should never be really easy – the right checks and balances must be put in place when it comes to accessing benefits, but at the moment the system is still really problematic.  So let’s cast our minds forward. What happens when we revert back to the pre-pandemic claim process with more people now losing their jobs through sectors like the hospitality  industry not being able to carry staff financially through the crisis?

We’re in trouble.

Food banks in the Trussell Trust’s network are reporting their busiest time ever, with an 89% increase in emergency food parcels given to people across the UK in April 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

As the impact of coronavirus continues to unfold, a lot of people facing financial difficulties will be waiting for their first payment of Universal Credit for 5 weeks, and will already have taken the ‘advance payment’ which will cover bills and essentials temporarily. But it’s also recognised that, before the pandemic struck, in every area Universal Credit has been rolled out, food bank usage figures have shown a rise up to to 48%.

UC claimants too often end up in debt

We also need to be aware of the worrying issue of debt for Universal Credit claimants. A recent survey showed that 70% of people fell into debt during the 5 weeks wait for their first payment. Step Change said that since the beginning of lockdown in late March, as many as 1.2 million people had fallen behind on utility bill payments, 820,000 people on council tax, and 590,000 on rent. They also estimated that 4.2 million people had borrowed to make ends meet, mostly by using a credit card, overdraft or a high-cost product such as a payday loan.

People clearly need more financial support whilst they are waiting for their first payment. This is an issue that is going to continue to get worse as more people are losing their jobs and having to claim Universal Credit.

Radical change needed in housing and homelessness for UC claimants 

If we look at the Housing situation in context of the Coronavirus, we have seen some positive measures brought in by the Government. The Eviction ban has just been extended for a further two months and there was a huge drive (the biggest since the second world war) to get the homeless of the streets during the peak of the pandemic.

Many ‘street’ homeless are now on Universal Credit for the first time and are being supported by DWP staff and given the Job Centre as a ‘care of address’ so they can overcome the barrier of not being able to claim the benefit because they aren’t able to provide a permanent address. Again, this is very positive, but this needs to be upheld as restrictions are lifted.

Surely it is morally wrong to protect people and give them accommodation because of the pandemic, but then turf them back onto the streets once it is over?

Let’s hope that doesn’t happen. Local housing authorities face a huge task, and will undoubtedly need support from the Government, charities and the community and voluntary sector to get this right – we need to work together and be absolutely determined to make sure people don’t fall through the cracks at all costs.

This is going to be a challenge. Housing is already a big issue when it comes to Universal Credit.  The Trussell Trust found that housing was the primary problem for 56% of claimants, citing the 5 weeks wait as the reason because people were pushed into rent arrears with either a private or social landlord, making it difficult then to recover. People on Universal Credit have also said they have found themselves being discriminated against by landlords who have lost confidence in the benefit due to late payment of rent or arrears due to complications with Universal Credit. If you’ve looked at local houses for rent adverts recently you’ll see they’re still proclaiming no DSS! This is a vicious circle.

If we’re to get a grip of Universal Credit there’s a lot to do

Coronavirus and lockdown has really made a bad situation significantly worse. More people are now claiming Universal Credit, and have just had to adapt. 

However, now we have an opportunity to get it right and this is our call to the Government and DWP. There’s a lot to say, but if we were only able to make one challenge, it would be:

Please accept that the 5 week wait is simply too long.

Society Matters cic is doing its bit to make its mark, and thousands of charities working hard on the front line are saying the same thing. Let’s stop people losing their homes, getting into debt, reaching crisis point, for the sake of a system that can be changed. Social welfare matters. Society matters. Let’s call to Government to invest what has been learned through the pandemic to get a grip of Universal Credit once and for all.

This window of opportunity may never arise again.

Adam Matthews, Social Welfare Instructor at Society Matters cic

We’d like to know what you think. Please post a comment below.

Why we need to make sure the system works for everyone

Why we need to make sure the system works for everyone

In this short video Director of Society Matters cic, Jayne Graham MBE, gives us a little insight into why Society Matters is playing such an important role in making the social welfare system work, and how you can get involved.

If you’d like to know more about the work of Society Matters cic, and how you can get involved in supporting our Pay it Forward Charity Discount Fund click here

Pay It Forward Charity Discount Fund launches

Pay It Forward Charity Discount Fund launches

 Pay It Forward Charity Discount Fund Launches


The team at North East social enterprise Society Matters cic has decided to take positive action to support the community and voluntary sector to access its critical social welfare training by asking for donations into a Charity Discount Scheme that has been launched today.

Jayne Graham MBE, Executive Director of Society Matters cic, who has led the development of the scheme explains:

“Local charities and voluntary organisations play such an important role supporting people who are facing life challenges that, let’s be honest, would be difficult for most of us to really comprehend. Before Covid-19 those problems existed, but now demand on the community and voluntary sector is even greater than ever. The Pay It Forward Charity Discount Fund is our call to the people who would love to help but aren’t sure how to do it.”

By contributing to the Pay It Forward Charity Discount Fund, donors will be directly supporting charities and local voluntary groups to build their social welfare knowledge in areas such as Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payments (PIP), so they have the confidence to help the people who approach them for support to navigate these really complex benefits. 100% of hundreds of participants on Society Matters’ courses so far have said that the training will improve their ability to support their clients effectively, so the team is determined to make sure the community and voluntary sector get the best chance possible to make their mark, by having the knowledge they need to help people in the best way possible.

Jayne went on to say “Knowledge and understanding of benefits across the whole of the social welfare support system is crucially important, but at the moment it is severely limited, and at worst it’s really out of date. Our social welfare training, that has been developed in partnership with our parent charity and social welfare experts Citizens Advice Gateshead, puts this right.”

In an attempt to help the local community and voluntary sector in their local area in Gateshead the social enterprise recently decided to donate 12 free places to community and voluntary sector organisations in Gateshead for their Get to Grips with Personal Independence Payments (PIP) course which is delivered in a virtual classroom environment. The places were taken up immediately, demonstrating the huge demand.

Trading Manager Lee Booth explained about their recent campaign “We couldn’t really believe it – the 12 free places were snapped up in a matter of hours and we now have a waiting list of another dozen people or more who need to attend so they can properly support people in their communities. That’s spurred us into action to set up this fund!”

Society Matters works nationally delivering social welfare training to people and organisations in the social welfare system. This includes social housing organisations, employability services, national charities such as CentrePoint, and other organisations you might not expect that want to understand more about the impact of welfare benefits on their customers, such as utility giant Northumbrian Water who recently had staff participating in a Get to Grips with Universal Credit course that’s been shifted online since lockdown.

If you would like to know more about the Pay it Forward Charity Discount Fund and how you can get involved click here.

To make your mark with a donation, please click on the Donate button below, or get in touch to arrange for us to send you an invoice. Every pound counts.


10 point checklist for employers worried about getting back-to-business

10 point checklist for employers worried about getting back-to-business

It’s totally understandable that many employers faced with thinking about getting back to the business as we start to move into the Covid-19 recovery might feel like heading for the hills.

Expect the unexpected

Richard Owen, Society Matters’ employment law and discrimination specialist, recommends that businesses need to plan hard – expect the unexpected and do your best to think about all of the eventualities in advance – and to get advice about anything you aren’t sure about to help you to make socially responsible decisions that get the best outcomes for the staff as well as the business.

“It’s a challenging time for everyone, but employers have to shoulder responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of their staff as well as their customers, so there’s a lot to think about. Then of course none of us have been here before – we’re in un-chartered territories which makes it that much harder.”

So here’s our 10 point checklist to get you started


1. Can the business afford to continue to operate with all the pre-lockdown workforce or will redundancies have to be considered? We’re living in uncertainty at the moment, so the more clarity you have on this point the better – try to make this decision sooner rather than later, then do everything you can to stick to it. It may be that you have to start from determining the minimum essential workforce you will need to continue to carry out the business function and work from there.


2. Should you start discussions with the continuing workforce over terms and conditions (including temporary changes until things pick up to near pre-lockdown levels)? Consultation is key, so the earlier you start these conversations the easier it will be for everyone involved.


3. How will the way you manage the business day to day need to change, in the short and possibly even the long term, and how would you expect these changes to affect your staff?


4. Can you change working practices to enable more homeworking, and if this will improve business viability what investments might you need to make to improve access to IT and telephony? Can you start talking to your suppliers now to evaluate some options?


5. What changes will you need to make to your policies and procedures associated with staff and safety if you do plan to change your working practices?


6. If homeworking isn’t practical for some or all of the time, what social distancing and health measures need to be put in place in your workplace to ensure you provide a safe working environment (think about the layout of work stations and furniture, machinery, break out areas, public face to face areas/interview rooms, washing and hand sanitising facilities). Check the latest government HSE guidelines for safe working so you cover every aspect.


7. Think about the adjustments that may need to be made or altered in respect of any disabled employees, and also for staff with health conditions which do not amount to a disability under the Equality Act, as well as staff with caring responsibilities and pregnant women. Talking openly to the staff who may be affected is definitely a good starting point as they are highly likely to be able to help you to understand the barriers they may face that you may not even have considered.


8. You’ll also need to consider whether restrictions on use of public transport could affect staff getting to and from work. Can you provide some flexibility on start and finish times, and help people to consider alternative forms of transport such as bike or car (do you have car parking space you could offer to staff that previously wouldn’t have been available)?


9. There’s no doubt that for lots of reasons you will encounter employees who are reluctant or refuse to return to work because of their concerns about becoming infected. How are you going to anticipate this and what policies can you put in place to alleviate their concerns and support them with their transition? 


10. Back the first point. Now you’ve considered all of this, what are the practical, logistical and importantly the financial implications of the decisions you’ve now made, and what help or advice do you need to make further progress with your plans?


If you need to talk through any of your concerns, or get advice on employment and discrimination issues to help you to make the right decisions to get back to business please get in touch with Richard and the team here at Society Matters cic.


#StaySafe #MakeYourMark

What it means to be a ‘socially responsible corporate’

What it means to be a ‘socially responsible corporate’

CSR? It’s just ‘marketing’ isn’t it?

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is part of a bigger agenda for Society Matters to stimulate and enable Corporate Social Action – encouraging businesses, and the people within them, to take an active role in driving and enabling social change.  

But we’ve found CSR to be a subject that can generate a degree of cynicism – and sometimes ill-feeling – amongst businesses and their staff and, if we’re honest, amongst the community and voluntary sector as companies strive to ‘do their bit’ for the local community, or the environment, or charities. It can sometimes be derided as a thinly veiled piece of marketing promotion or an insincere attempt to look virtuous, rather than a ‘real’ commitment to the causes the company is helping.

But the team at Society Matters is passionate about helping businesses to make their mark through taking social action, and really would argue that there doesn’t need to be much of a gap between the objectives of sound marketing strategy and a well-planned commitment to championing social value; that it doesn’t have to be an either-or situation, rather it is a case of two valuable business aims that complement each other.

What is Corporate Social Responsibility?

In its broadest sense CSR is an overt commitment by a business being responsible, carrying out its activities in a way that is ethically, socially and environmentally appropriate, making a positive impact on their local and global community and environment.

This can involve an array of activities, starting with simply contributing to the economy, fulfilling your legal obligations and acting in an ethical manner towards your employees. It is usually when a business moves towards more philanthropic activities, though, that it starts to be recognised as CSR; contributing to charities, creating opportunities for employee volunteering, addressing environmental impact and initiatives that focus on other discretionary practices that impact on society.

However, there are many examples of companies who have CSR policies that have generated Corporate Social Action (CSA) that has not been well received by customers, seeming incongruous to the purpose of the business or, worse still, like an attempt to off-set some negative impact with a positive contribution. This type of action gets labelled as tokenism, fake publicity stunts and marketing ‘spin’ and end up doing substantial damage to the business’s reputation.

You must be more than your promise

The answer, of course, that you make your ‘CSR’ about action – we call that Corporate Social Action (‘CSA’) to differentiate the intent to ‘do good’ and the real grass roots action. This can be achieved by making your CSA part of your product (or service, or experience) rather than something that is added on at a later date (think of it as part of your total product concept, alongside your after-sales service or your customer care commitment). This way it becomes a natural part of your brand, and you become recognised for it. Get it right, and your business identity becomes synonymous with being a good corporate citizen and both you, and society, reap the rewards. It is a classic win-win scenario. This blog features 6 socially responsible companies to applaud because ‘they have made it their mission to do good’ and they pretty much all follow this approach – Ben & Jerry’s ice cream being a case in point, with safe, responsible business built into their business model, from their working practices to their ingredients and supply chain.

There is, as always, a different perspective to be had. If your product is already strong, and selling well, with strong profits and great market position, why would you spend time and energy on actions that simple reduce your margins?

The case for Consumer Driven CSA

The answer is simple; the market is changing and customer expectations are evolving to make CSA an essential part of corporate strategy – doing good is good for business as well as society.

Consider the changing needs of your customers. From a B2C angle, there is clear evidence that customers are becoming increasingly concerned about the activities that a company undertakes and the reputation that it gains, as part of their decision making process. Studies show that modern consumers are highly likely to favour brands that address social problems, prioritise CSA and act in an open and honest way about these activities.

From a B2B angle, if you are part of a supply chain those upstream from you may be operating an ethical supply policy and looking not just for competitive pricing from you, but also for social and environmental impact that is in line with their policies and brand.  

Now there is a case to be argued that there is a difference between consumers (or supply chain partners) stating an interest in CSA and them actually changing their intentions to create different behaviours. However, if someone wants to have their personal or professional branding reflect their ethical consumption, they are more likely to do it if the product or service is already there that matches their need. Cone Communication’s 2017 study suggests that 87% of consumers will make a purchase if a company advocates for an issue they are concerned about – and 76% will refuse to purchase if the company’s stance runs contrary to their interest.

If your customers are now increasingly expecting higher levels of overt social responsibility from your business, and seeing that as part of the total product that you are generating, the question is not whether you should address this as an option for your business; it is a question of whether you can afford not to?

Consistency with Vision and Values

Were it this simple – casually ensuring your CSA matches with the latest issues to make the news for consumers – everyone would do it. However, there is another hurdle to be considered, and that is whether your actions match your own corporate identity? Do your values and vision match your social intent? When you act, do you act with integrity and commitment because your whole business is genuine in its direction of travel? Do you truly want to ‘make your mark’? Consumers exist in a world of readily available information and comparison – if your actions are not genuine, they will find out and in all probability, you will be called out in public by them.

However, it is certainly possible for your company to align the values that inform its operations with those of your customers. Analysing the way that you work, the way that you impact the world around you, and the way that you enrich your community,  and ensuring that they are all heading towards the same goal – this is the way to ensure that your ‘CSR’ is the best sort of marketing you can have at your disposal; genuine, committed and resonant with your customers.

At Society Matters we passionately believe that companies will prosper if they can invigorate socially responsible policy and practice into exciting plans of action that reflect the mood of their customers. In so doing, every business can contribute towards a fair society for all and making a tangible difference to people’s lives.

If you think your business could benefit from reviewing how you can make your mark on society, get in touch to chat about how we can help.

Northumbrian Water gives thumbs up to online UC training

Northumbrian Water gives thumbs up to online UC training

As Universal Credit claimant numbers rocket, North East social enterprise Society Matters cic has moved its crucial ‘Getting to Grips with Universal Credit’ training courses online as its country-wide classroom-based courses dried up through lockdown. 

The social enterprise launched its specialist social welfare courses last year to respond to the confusion surrounding Universal Credit and other benefits. They had a full order book as the pandemic hit, but due to social distancing rules the courses had to be cancelled. Several of their customers, however, didn’t want to miss out, wanting to help their staff and customers to cope with living on Universal Credit. So, the Society Matters team fast-tracked their plans to move the training online and are now delivering it in a virtual classroom format.

Northumbrian Water pilot online delivery approach

Northumbrian Water were quick to re-book the staff training that had been cancelled to comply with social distancing.  Tracey Greener, the utility giant’s Workforce Development Manager explained:

“Our customer teams are continuing to develop their knowledge and skills whilst working from home. By partnering with Society Matters we have piloted an online training package to help our advisors understand more about Universal Credit. The learning from the course will ensure our teams have a thorough understanding of the benefit system and the challenges our customers face.”

Society Matters knows that their training is needed more now than ever to help  both corporates and charities to cope with the fallout of over a million people having to move onto the controversial benefit since the start of the Covid19 pandemic.

Lee Booth, Trading Manager of Society Matters who delivers the course alongside welfare benefits specialists trained by parent charity Citizens Advice Gateshead, said:

“When our whole team moved to homeworking last month, we immediately set about getting the course into a format that could be delivered online. It was too important to shelve just because social distancing got in the way. We need corporates and charities to really understand how Universal Credit works. By understanding it they can help their employees and their customers to properly benefit from it, and not put them at a disadvantage through their own policies without realising it.”

National delivery continues through the pandemic

The social enterprise has already trained people across the North and South West including national homeless charity Centrepoint, Northumbrian Water, Home Group, LSL Property Services, Gateshead Housing Company, Citizens Advice and Fedcap. The courses can be delivered in closed or open sessions in virtual classrooms, and within the next two months they plan to use the virtual classroom to deliver training in mental health awareness, employment law and discrimination, as well as all aspects of welfare benefits.

To find out more about our social welfare training that’s designed to help you to make your mark, please get in touch.

We’re expanding to meet high demand for our services for society

We’re expanding to meet high demand for our services for society

We’re expanding to meet high demand for our services for society

The last 6 months has seen our social enterprise Society Matters cic go from strength to strength, and the demand for our services has been increasing significantly. Despite the outbreak of COVID-19 causing the postponement of UK-wide face to face delivery, we saw a sharp increase in demand for our specialist training in Universal Credit; so rather than be defeated we decided to step up a gear.

We’re delighted to have been able to appoint a new team member, Adam Matthews who has joined us as Social Welfare Instructor for our learning and development programme team.

Lee Booth, Trading Manager

Adam has worked as an adviser for Citizens Advice North Yorkshire for the past few years, so brings with a wealth of experience in welfare benefits, debt and mental health support that he’s keen to share with our customers through our social welfare learning and development programme. 

Heather Lee, Chair of the Society Matters board explains “Adam is joining us at a critical time when, now more than ever, more capacity and capability is needed in the system to support an unprecedented number of people who find themselves on Universal Credit due to the effects of the pandemic.”

Alongside Adam’s arrival we’ve also been busy with moving all of our training into a virtual classroom environment. The beauty of the virtual classroom is that we can deliver the training from anywhere to people all over the country, whilst retaining the important element of discussion which allows people to share their knowledge about the complex topics we cover in the training – this helps to embed and deepen knowledge for the group.

We tested our new approach with the support of staff from Northumbrian Water who were keen to understand Universal Credit so they could give even more support to customers struggling to pay their bills. This proved to be a huge success, with really positive outcomes reported in terms of staff learning, engagement and the learning objectives of all of the participants being met. So with their endorsement we are now keen to roll out the training out to other organisations as understanding Universal Credit has never been as important as it is right now.

With the successful migration of our Get to Grips with Universal Credit course online, we have also been busy with the development of a range of other courses and there’s a lot more to follow! Get in touch – we’d love to hear from you if you’d like to know how we can help your organisation to make your mark.

Mythbusting facts about Universal Credit

Mythbusting facts about Universal Credit

Mythbusting facts you might want to share about Universal Credit

When we’re delivering our Get to Grips with Universal Credit training course we’re often surprised by some of the misconceptions that exist about Universal Credit, leading to misinformation being passed on to the people who need the true facts the most.

So we’ve put together 4 mythbusters that you might want to share about Universal Credit, drawn  from the most regular misunderstandings we have come across so far.


1. You can be eligible to receive the Carers element of UC even if you work full time.

It doesn’t matter how many hours a week you are working. You can be eligible to receive the Carers element of Universal Credit as long as you care for/support someone for at least 35 hours a week. The benefit is designed to take into account individual situations  So, for example, if your client works 5 days a week for 7 hours each day but they also look after an elderly relative before and after work for 4.5 hours total a day, then spend 6 hours each Saturday and 7 on Sunday they can claim UC.


2. You do have flexibility about how UC is paid to the household

UC is usually paid as one household payment, but you can ask for payments to be split even if for couples, if:

  • it’s in your interest, for example because one of you has trouble managing money and it’s causing financial problems;
  • it’s in the interest of a child you’re responsible for;
  • you get an amount in your Universal Credit because you care for a severely disabled person and it’s helpful for them to get paid like this.

If you are having problems managing your payments you can also ask for an alternative payment arrangement where, for example, housing costs are paid direct to your landlord or you can be paid more frequently eg fortnightly.  


3. Some people are better off on Universal Credit than legacy benefits

There is a genuine fear for most people who are transitioning from legacy benefits to Universal Credit, however some people are actually better off on UC.  The tapering of earnings as UC reduces is better for some people than when they were on legacy benefits. 

If a claimant worked over 16 hours they would have lost all entitlement to means tested benefits that are being replaced by UC, such as JSA & IS. However, with UC, for every pound earned UC is reduced by £0.63p, which is a more generous tapering. If this is then added to a claimant having a work allowance included in their claim (money that can be earned prior to the means test being applied) it can increase income and result in retention of benefit entitlement for a longer period.

Here’s a working example offered by Citizens Advice:

Zoe earns £900 a month. Without a work allowance her whole income reduces her Universal Credit by 63p for each £1 she earns. This would reduce her Universal Credit by 900 x 63p = £567. She looks after her young child, and doesn’t get the Universal Credit housing element. This means she gets a work allowance of £503. The work allowance means £503 of Zoe’s income is ignored, leaving £397 that will reduce her Universal Credit payment. This means her payment is reduced by 397 x 63p = £250.11.


4. You don’t have to make a UC claim digitally

 The Government has made it clear that digital claims are very much the norm, however there is still provision to manage a claim non-digitally in special circumstances – a claim can be made by phone  or, in exceptional circumstances, through someone making a home visit.

The circumstances when non-digital claims may be permitted include:

  • lack of regular access to the internet;
  • lack of confidence using a computer or smartphone or having a physical condition that prevents it;
  • having problems with sight;
  • having a long term physical disability or mental health condition which prevents an online application;
  • having difficulties with reading or writing

Check out our other articles about Universal Credit to find out more, and if you’re new to Universal Credit you can watch our Introduction to Universal Credit video.


New Video Help Series | Personal Independence Payments (PIP)

Personal Independence Payments (known also as PIP) are geared to doing exactly what it says on the tin – helping people to achieve an improved level of personal independence despite experiencing a disability.

Several of our customers who work in the welfare support sector in some shape or form, particularly those who have attended our Getting to Grips with Universal Credit course, have told us that they also struggle to understand the complexities of PIP, worrying that their clients might not get the best possible support when completing their PIP application. Evidence shows that a high proportion of people who apply for PIP actually fail in their application – indicating that this is a real concern. Many of those with failed applications ultimately do go on to successfully acquire the benefit when it is recognised that the first decision wasn’t fair, however this is often after pursuing a long appeals process which causes delay, money worries and of course a lot of stress.

In 2019 the Disability News Service reported that DWP’s own statistics show that as many as one in seven of all government decisions to reject claims for personal independence payment (PIP) is eventually overturned, a rise of 6 percentage points since 2014/15. They also suggest that this is probably the tip of the iceberg as many such decisions aren’t actually challenged.

So what can we do to help people who are entitled to PIP make a successful claim?

Society Matters cic aims to make its mark by mobilising the knowledge of the people who do know amongst those who don’t – our learning programmes draw expert knowledge from the people working at the front end of social welfare, based on the principle that the more people and organisations within the system who understand the detail the better the system can support the people who need the help.

As well as a half day workshop to really dig into the detail, we have developed some short introductory videos as an introduction to PIP and the PIP application process. This is the beginning of our Video Help Series – let us know if you need help in other areas as it’s your feedback and ideas that will help us to make sure our resources really make a difference.

Introduction to PIP
Introduction to Personal Independence Payments PIP

Introduction to Personal Independence Payments PIP

Lee Booth has a brief chat with an expert adviser at Citizens Advice Gateshead to get an introduction to Personal Independence Payments.

This 4 minute video is the first of a series aimed at supporting an improved understanding amongst support organisation of social welfare benefits, including Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payments.

If you’ve found this short video useful please sign up to our mailing list to receive a notification when the next video in our social welfare benefits series is released.

Dealing with unfair treatment at work

Dealing with unfair treatment at work

Work should be a rewarding environment. Yes, we all have bad days, but if you have a job with supportive colleagues and managers you should expect to be happy in your work most of the time. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case. Some employees may end up facing unfair treatment at work, and this can have a negative impact on both their physical and mental health as well as making the workplace a difficult place to be, no matter how generously they may be paid for what they do.

When you are facing unfair treatment at work it can take a while to realise that it’s not you that’s the problem but the person or people handing out the unfair treatment. It’s also sometimes not so easy to recognise that the way you’re being treated may actually be classed as discrimination, and is therefore against the law.

We talked this through with Richard Owen, our Job Law Employment and Discrimination Specialist who has over 35 years’ experience in this field, and Associate Employment Solicitor Azra Choudry, who has recently joined Richard to help people facing challenges with their employment. We asked Richard and Azra about how to spot unfair treatment in the workplace, and this is what they had to say:

Unfair treatment at work – and when is this discrimination?

We live in a diverse and vibrant society and our law recognises these differences, giving everyone a right to be protected equally under the Equality Act 2010. This legislation defines the nine ‘protected characteristics’ as:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

If you think you are being unfairly treated, and this has anything to do with any of these protected characteristics, chances are you are being discriminated against at work.

How to spot unfair treatment at work and what to do next

Richard and Azra describe how unfair treatment at work can stem from small issues relating to the way your Manager or colleagues interact with you.

Types of unfair treatment in the workplace can include:

  • Bullying (e.g. being shouted at or humiliated in front of colleagues);
  • Being given an excessive workload;
  • Being expected to achieve unrealistic targets;
  • Micro-management;
  • Exclusion from team activities, meetings and challenges;
  • Being picked on or singled out by Managers or colleagues;
  • Not being given the opportunity to participate in training or personal development.

If you notice you are being treated differently at work compared with other employees you should raise your concerns with your employer, but Richard and Azra also suggest you might find it helpful to follow these guidelines first:

1) check your contract – make sure you are familiar with your employment contract to understand what it is you agreed upon starting your employment and what has happened since;

2) keep a record – if you feel you are being treated unfairly make sure you keep a record of dates, emails, texts and events that may help you if you need to prove your case in the future;

3) act quickly but not on the spur of the moment – whilst you should act as quickly as possible when you feel you are being mistreated we would advise against resigning immediately without getting advice first. You should always consider making a formal grievance to your employer to try to resolve the issues. If you do feel you have to resign make sure you explain the reasons in writing.

Am I being discriminated against?

Sometimes the motive behind the unfair treatment can relate to one of more of the protected characteristics that we mentioned earlier, and in that case it may be classed as discrimination. For example,

One of the most common forms of discrimination found in the workplace relates to disability. According to research carried out by Scope, the disability equality charity in England and Wales, a staggering 48% of survey participants were unware of their rights as disabled employees. The report also goes on to say that 1 in 4 also believed they had missed out on securing a job due to their condition or impairment.

A report from the Young Women’s Trust also outlines issues like gender discrimination to be a lot more common within the workplace than you might think. For example 23% of woman aged 16 – 30 admitted that they had faced sexual harassment at work but only 8% of these women reported their situation.

The Race at Work report published findings that showed 28% of employees from Black, Asian and Minority Ethic (BAME) backgrounds had experienced racial harassment or bullying from their manager in the last five years.

If you think you are experiencing some of these issues or other unfair treatment associated with the nine protected characteristics, and wonder whether you may have a potential discrimination case against your employer, Azra suggests that it is always best to compare how you are being treated against other colleagues without your protected characteristic first. Ask yourself, compared to my colleagues …

1. Am I being treated unfairly?

2. What is the reason for the treatment?

3. Am I being treated differently to others?

4. Am I being put at a disadvantage compared to others?

5. Is there a direct link, or explicit words or actions, connecting the treatment and my protected characteristic e.g. specifically relating to gender, race, disability etc.

6. Is there another plausible explanation for the treatment?

If, having considered these points, you think the unfair treatment is due to your protected characteristics you should read this article from Citizens Advice which provides you a clear 3 step plan on what to do next if you think you are being discriminated against at work.

Seek Advice from Job Law

If you feel like you have experienced unfair treatment or discrimination in the workplace you may want to talk it through with an employment law specialist before you take action. Richard Owen and Azra Choudry are here to help.

Get in touch today at info@societymatterscic.com

WHERE NEXT? TRAINING – Gateshead | October 2019

WHERE NEXT? TRAINING – Gateshead | October 2019

Where Next? Training

Where Next? is a free short course for people in Gateshead who are considering their options for getting back into work.

– Learn about how to make the most of your money living on a tight budget
– Discover how you can volunteer locally to build skills and self-confidence
– Be supported by a local mentor to think through your goals and options
– Get involved in short work experience sessions and learn new skills 


The Elgin Centre, Elgin Road, NE9 5PA
Tuesday 29th October 1.00pm – 3.00pm


Citizens Advice Gateshead, The Davidson Building, Swan Street
Wednesday 16th October 11.30am – 2.00pm


Springwell Community Centre, Lanchester Avenue
Started 30th September 2019

“I now have more confidence and I’m able to do jobs I thought I couldn’t do … it was fantastic!”

Interested? Book a place now!

12 + 13 =

Accredited Learning Centre status for Gateshead social enterprise

Accredited Learning Centre status for Gateshead social enterprise

Society Matters CIC is proud to have been approved as an Accredited Learning Centre by national accrediting body ncfe.

Executive Director Jayne Graham MBE is excited about the opportunity to deliver accredited training, as this will make a huge difference to the people the social enterprise supports.

“Many of the people we support are looking for their next steps towards employment, so being able to provide a certificate or award that verifies what they have learnt on our programmes makes a huge difference. Qualifications not only demonstrate to an employer that the individual has committed to the learning programme and worked hard to achieve their certificate; they also make a huge difference to people’s self esteem, making it much more likely that they will apply for a job in the first place, and improving their performance in interviews”.






Beth Ainslie, Project Coordinator

Beth Ainslie, Project Coordinator at Society Matters CIC, has been supporting people through their community learning programmes for the past 12 months, and has first hand experience of the impact of being able to hand over a certificate. Beth explains

“People who honestly thought they had nothing to offer have been overwhelmed when we have been able to award them a Certificate of Completion at the end of their programme, which involves a wide range of learning opportunities, including work experience, classroom learning and mentoring.

Now being able to elevate this to a qualification will be even more transformational for the people we’re working with, most of whom are searching for where to go next in their lives.”

As well as becoming an accredited learning centre, Society Matters CIC has received independent quality endorsement from ncfe for its unique approach to social welfare training. Training courses provide support organisations with the knowledge they need to add even more value to their clients. You can find out about courses running across the North East here.

Society Matters CIC is a trading subsidiary of charity Citizens Advice Gateshead. The social enterprise, which is also registered as a community interest company, has the dual objective of adding social value whilst generating income to add to the resources of the charity to enable it to achieve its vision of a fair society for all with lives well lived.