Bitesize Benefits Briefing 6.8.21 / Universal Credit uplift is ending

Bitesize Benefits Briefing 6.8.21 / Universal Credit uplift is ending

The Universal Credit £20 uplift awarded to all UC claimants as a result of the pandemic is now due to end on 30th September. What does that really mean to the people it will affect most?

Our Social Welfare Instructor Adam Matthews talks through the implications with Jayne Graham in this 9 minute Bitesize Benefits Briefing.

Team helps IEP members with Universal Credit Webinar

Team helps IEP members with Universal Credit Webinar

We’re so happy with our very first webinar, kindly hosted as a ‘Live Learn Lunch’ by the Institute of Employability Professionals mid December. We chose to talk about the 6 elements of Universal Credit, with an explanation of each element, and then a focus on how changes in circumstances can impact on people’s claims, as well as some obvious references to adjustments associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The webinar was formatted as a presentation from myself and Adam, followed by questions and answers. We think it’s so important for the support system to understand this dimension of the benefit, because then they can spot opportunities to help early on, before a problem brews and a claim is affected, so we were really pleased to have a good turn-out but also to have the opportunity for a recording to be viewed by those who weren’t able to attend.

You can see the full webinar here.

Of course there’s a lot of detail we weren’t able to explore during the session, that we cover in a lot more detail in our Get to Grips with Universal Credit online training course, but the webinar did provide participants with some red flags they should look out for so that’s definitely a good start.

Lee Booth, 18th December 2020

6 things employers need to think about before making staff redundant

6 things employers need to think about before making staff redundant

6 things employers need to think about before making staff redundant


The BBC news report yesterday that Citizens Advice is now receiving calls seeking redundancy advice once every two minutes is staggering.

We talked to Society Matters’ employment and discrimination specialist Richard Owen, who has over 40 years’ experience of advising and tribunal representation in employment and discrimination cases, to get his thoughts on what employers need to be thinking about if they are considering making staff redundant, particularly when people are returning from furlough.

Here are the top 6 pieces of advice Richard would offer to employers to ensure they don’t fall foul of their legal responsibilities to their staff during these difficult times:


1. Plan ahead

It is now essential that employers start to plan ahead. Make sure you have a clear business strategy including processes, paperwork, timetables and the right people in place to manage the redundancies. To give you a hand if you need it, Society Matters’ employment law team has prepared a checklist of things employers need to think about before making redundancies. Click here to request a copy now.

2. Think about your core business functions first

It really is advisable to decide from the outset which employees and/or roles are essential for the continuation of the core business function, including possible merging of roles, restructuring of departments and teams. Carefully consider any options for changing the operation of the business to minimise redundancies (such as homeworking, flexible hours, reduced hours, alternate or rotating shift patterns). Also consider asking for voluntary redundancies – this might help you to reduce your staff numbers to acceptable levels (although you may also risk losing people from core roles, so make sure you have your criteria set out first before you go for this option).

3. Prepare your selection criteria carefully

The pool of employees to be placed at risk, and the selection and scoring criteria to be used to make your ultimate decisions, need be prepared very carefully, ensuring that the criteria are then applied fairly and consistently. You’re at liberty to choose your own criteria which should be fair and if possible objective and measurable – such as length of service, disciplinary record, absence record, skills and competencies, standards of performance, qualifications, flexibility. Just be fully prepared, for each criteria you use, to justify the scoring of employees against these criteria if challenged (that’s why you need to be as objective as you can). It can be very risky to base a score solely on someone’s verbal personal opinion.

4. Follow the legal process

It’s really important that you follow the correct procedures at all times including all stages of consultation with the affected employees, ensuring clarity and transparency throughout. Refer to ACAS website if you are unsure of the process to follow. Above all, remember that consultation is not just a tick box exercise and must be meaningful and proactive. Ensure that each employee has a fair opportunity to have their say. Remember to also consult with those employees who are not at risk but may be expected to take on additional duties as a result of redundancies. If you’re unsure it’s definitely best to seek advice from an employment law adviser before taking action.

5. Try to find alternatives to redundancy

Do everything you can during the whole process (including notice periods) to find alternatives to redundancy for each employee affected. Remember this is a legal duty. Please consider seriously any positive suggestions made by employees regarding alternative roles that they think you could offer them, as failure to do so may cause you serious problems later.

6. Keep in touch with government incentives

Finally, when considering the financial impact don’t forget the Chancellor’s announcement of a government bonus of £1000 payable to every employer for each employee taken back to work off furlough”. Details are available on the .gov website if you’d like to know more click here.


The team at Society Matters cic understands that there are difficult times ahead for employers and it is inevitable that many jobs will be lost. It is clear now that many businesses that have already lost so much are at risk of losing so much more, especially when it comes to our greatest assets which are our employees.

It is more important now than ever that we stick to the regulations and protect our employees as much as we can – they are the people who keep us moving through all our business challenges and they are the very people who will get us through this unprecedented time too. By working with your employees to find a solution to the difficulties you’re facing you could find a way through you hadn’t even considered before.

For more employment law advice from Richard Owen read this 10 point checklist for employers worried about getting back to business

Covid19 has infected the very foundations of our society

Covid19 has infected the very foundations of our society

Covid19 has infected the very foundations of our society


As we are seeing restrictions lifted and emergency financial help from the Government eased, we take a breath and reflect on how society as we know it has evolved with the impacts of the pandemic; we need to quickly get to grips with the changing needs of society – how people and communities have already been impacted, but also the continually shifting landscape as we already see a second wave of challenges being faced.

If you think in terms of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we really have seen the Covid-19 virus has infected society’s absolute foundations, with people’s basic physical and security needs being thoroughly tested.


Coronavirus has had multiple physical impacts

Many of our colleagues and clients have expressed concern with their overall health and wellbeing as a result of lockdown-related isolation at a very basic level. Layer on top of that concerns with possible and actual health issues both directly associated with covid-19 and either exacerbated by, or caused by, the pandemic, and we realise that not many of us have escaped unscathed.

Food shortages

Of course, a factor that has a huge impact on health is food and nutrition. Reduced earnings has led to a lack of food resources, and this is a really serious concern, with a huge reported rise in families that are going without this basic, fundamental, physical provision. Earlier in the lockdown this in part related to difficulties associated with accessing supermarkets, particularly for those who are at high-risk, notwithstanding the scarcity of food in the early days of the pandemic due to bulk panic buying.

The most concerning impact is a lack of funds, leading to exceptionally high demand for food bank supplies to mitigate this crisis. The Trussell Trust reported a 175% increase in requests for emergency parcels in May, and the struggle continues to worsen. Many who are still shielding and who have lost pay or, in many cases, their employment, face an uncertain future, and those that are still on furlough will be understandably worried that they may be next in line for redundancy as the impending recession looms. The reality is that some people are now putting themselves and their families at risk as the only way they can find to put food on the table. For these people’s lives, coronavirus has served a terrible blow.


The pandemic has impacted on people’s security in so many ways


We are hearing a lot about the predicted economic recession that Government is now attempting to avert, but if we look at the impacts at an individual family level, personal security has taken a massive nose-dive, driven by serious impacts on financial stability.

Universal Credit

The Government uses the increase in the number of Universal Credit claimants as a proxy for measuring reduced income. On that basis the shocking reality is that there have been over three and a quarter million new claims for the welfare benefit since the start of lockdown, with the Government now being forced to invest close to £7 billion extra in the welfare system since the pandemic began, money which is now supporting approximately 10 million families in the UK. This would have been beyond comprehension earlier this year.

Payment delays

As well as claimant numbers soaring, the impact of the well-publicised issues associated with Universal Credit pre-Covid-19 have now touched millions more people, massively impacting on their financial security. The 5 weeks waiting period before the first benefit payment is received has understandably been a major problem area experienced by families who have found themselves ‘locked down’ with extra outgoings, no income and an uncertain financial future. And this really is lose, lose situation. For those who choose to take an advance they then need to pay it back, resulting in reduced benefits for an extended period once their payments actually start, with resulting difficult choices about which creditor must come first; for those who choose not to borrow, the impact comes that much sooner – 5 weeks can equate to 2 months’ arrears in rent, utilities, and a hole in the pocket when it comes to feeding the family. In other words dire straits.

Power and heat

Another basic physiological need is heat – staying warm and being able to cook in our homes. The clement weather has at least been an antidote to heating bills, but with people being at home for longer stretches of time over the months of lockdown, energy use has rocketed. Citizens Advice had  already been warning that 6 million people were behind with household bills, and although energy companies were offering a temporary amnesty on chasing arrears while lockdown was at its peak, they’ve now been given the go-ahead to start chasing payments. This really is going to get very messy.


All of these impacts have a high chance of leading to debt, but there’s more risk to come in the second wave of impacts as mortgage holidays come to an abrupt end and more people lose their jobs after being furloughed. Rent and council tax arrears are already rife. Citizens Advice has estimated that around 2.6 million tenants had expected to fall behind on their rent because of coronavirus just last month, so debt is looking like it will be the new pandemic for society to deal with.

Housing and shelter

Whilst the Government’s ban on evictions during the height of lockdown has eased people’s fears of losing the security of their homes, once this ends on 23rd August a housing crisis is looming. Our team of social welfare advisers and caseworkers with our parent charity Citizens Advice Gateshead are bracing themselves for this next wave, concerned about their own and other charities’ capacity to cope with what homeless charity Shelter have predicted to be “a tidal wave of homelessness after the end of August”.

Job security

The increase in claims for Universal Credit is a clear indicator that jobs are disappearing fast. Employment Is a major pillar of society and critical to long term personal stability. When the number of people on employers’ payrolls has dropped by 612,000 between March and May, this gives the clearest sign yet of the looming crisis.  The services sector which covers a range of businesses from law firms and accountants to travel agents and restaurants represents 80% of UK economic output, and it’s the service sector that has been hit the hardest. It saw its steepest downturn in activity since records began in July 1996, almost entirely due to the closure of non-essential businesses and the cancellation of orders.

A recent article in the Independent, The story of the UK’s coronavirus jobs crisis in six charts, presents a pretty stark reality when it comes to the employment market. Some 8.7 million British workers have been furloughed since the current crisis began – around a quarter of the UK’s workforce. Under the terms of the furlough scheme, employees receive 80 per cent of their usual wages, up to £2,500 a month, from the government. A further 2.5 million claims have been made under the “Self-Employment Income Support Scheme”. Both schemes are welcomed and have been vital in supporting society through the challenges faced so far, but they are currently only in place until October, and employers are being asked to cover some of the costs from August as the scheme starts to taper.

It is inevitable that many employers who have been able to maintain their staff so far are going to have to make cutbacks and many jobs are still to be lost. The employment advice and law sectors are facing a perfect storm of unfair dismissals and discrimination cases with a spike already appearing in maternity discrimination cases since lockdown began. Will the Government make the decision to extend the furlough and protect businesses and employees’ rights? Balancing the books is going to be difficult and people will inevitably fall through the cracks that are widening in job security.


So has lockdown rocked society’s status quo?


Let’s be honest, not everyone has faced economic impacts on a personal level, yet, as a result of the virus. Some families have managed to cope better than others. Physical exercise has gone up, credit card balances have gone down and, although on a smaller scale, the heartbeat of normal life for many has continued to beat. However despite people’s personal financial security being robust enough to see them through the worst of this crisis, its psychological and social impacts are far reaching.

The nation is reeling from losing almost 45,000 loved ones, neighbours, colleagues, carers, family members. The horrible reality of not being able to say goodbye, and the suspension and minimalisation of funerals has devasted so many people.  The estimated 30% rise in reported domestic abuse cases since lockdown started is symptomatic of the pandemic. Refuge reported a 700% increase in calls to its helpline in a single day in April as families felt the pressure and victims have become trapped in their homes. PTSD is already starting to emerge across key workers and children, and a recent survey found that some 14 per cent of people aged 16 and above are experiencing a mental health problem “much more than usual”. Extrapolating these findings to the whole of the population indicates that a massive 7.2 million people have experienced problems with their mental health in recent months. The second wave of issues we have identified as being on their way will only add to this.

People’s lives are being damaged. No one will escape the impact of the pandemic altogether – because it has rocked society’s status quo.

Society does matter, and this will be our saving grace

Amidst all of the bad, however, there is still a shining light, because people recognise that society matters. Communities have rallied to protect the vulnerable; hundreds of thousands of volunteers have helped to deliver groceries, pick up prescriptions and check in on neighbours. They have organised local mutual aid groups, helped through existing volunteering networks and offered their time in a host of different ways. Then there’s the overt support we have seen for the NHS and frontline workers, people showing their gratitude in many ways, from donations to clattering pans; we are showing that we care.

This humanity has demonstrated that society does matter, and this will be our saving grace.

But we must still recognise that Covid-19 has infected the very foundations of our society. People need to have their basic needs met to be able to move on in other areas of their lives, so it’s clear that the Government will need to do more to make this happen than an attempt to focus on medium term economic recovery.

Goodwill and friendship can only stretch so far …


Adam Matthews, Social Welfare Instructor


Employment Tribunals continue digitally during Covid19 pandemic

Employment Tribunals continue digitally during Covid19 pandemic

Employment tribunals continue digitally during Covid-19 pandemic


Anyone involved in Employment Tribunal cases should be aware that, under the procedural rules which govern Tribunals, the overriding objective is to enable the Tribunal to deal with cases fairly and justly.   This is set out in the Employment Tribunals (Constitution and Rules of Procedure) Regulations 2013.

How are Tribunal claims being processed during the pandemic?

Although from our own discussions with clients it seems the general assumption is that, like the courts, the Tribunals are not operating during the pandemic, this isn’t the case. They are continuing to operate and their offices remain open to process and progress claims.

Claims should continue to be submitted on-line as normal.  There will be no automatic extensions to time limits due to Coronavirus-related delays, although individual applications to extend time can be considered as in the usual way. However, there will be inevitable delays in the process due, for example, to reduced admin staff levels and Judges working from home. All face to face hearings are currently suspended but these have been replaced with telephone-based Case Management discussions with the parties to decide how existing cases should proceed.

Case Management hearings can be undertaken by phone

In order to give effect to the overriding objective during the Covid-19 pandemic, Tribunals have been given guidance about dealing with the restrictions which will impact on how cases can be dealt with practically and realistically. Where all parties have legal representation Case Management hearings have for some time been conducted by telephone conference call, with the agreement of the parties and the Tribunal. Hearings have usually only taken place face-to-face if either of the parties involved are not legally represented.

During the pandemic all of these hearings for the time being will be conducted by telephone, provided this meets the overriding objective.

Next steps can be undertaken by video conference

Tribunals will be considering whether and in what circumstances judicial mediations, preliminary hearings and full hearings can proceed effectively and fairly by being dealt with remotely utilising video link technology. At Case Management discussions parties will be asked to discuss whether they are interested in and able to participate in this type of hearing, to avoid the matter being delayed indefinitely as a result of the pandemic.

In making this decision a number of important issues are considered, including:

Does the Tribunal concerned have access to the necessary technology?

Do the parties and their representatives have access to the necessary technology?

If the Judge (and panel members if relevant) and the parties are not present in their offices can all parties have simultaneous access to the case documents and papers, either hard copy or electronic?

Will representatives be able to consult privately with clients during the case?

Will all parties be able to understand and fully participate in the hearing?

Will parties be in a suitable environment where there will be no distractions or disturbances?

What alternatives are there if the suggested method of remote hearing is not possible or practical?

Is the only practical option in a case to delay until it is possible for face to face hearings to resume?

Above all, is it in accordance with the overriding objective to hold a hearing by remote means?

Often the progression of the case using video conferencing will be feasible but inevitably there will be exceptions. Tribunals are treading unknown territory during the pandemic as we all are, however there is an imperative on Tribunals to ensure that as far as reasonably possible the wheels of justice continue to turn so there’s definitely hope. There’s no doubt of course that a high level of co-operation between all  parties and the Tribunals will be necessary to make sure the process works, and only retrospectively will we be able to tell how effective this has proven to be.

If you need representation to help you to pursue a matter through the Tribunal during the pandemic, get in touch with Citizens Advice for free advice on the best way to achieve this or go to their website here. You can also contact Society Matters cic employment law service for information about our fair and affordable fixed fee tribunals service.

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