Universal Credit: Issues associated with making a claim

Universal Credit: Issues associated with making a claim [pdf]


Universal Credit full service guidance published


Source: Deposited Papers: DEP2018-0759

reblogged from Frank Zola

I. Letter dated 18/07/2018 from Alok Sharma MP to the Deposited Papers Clerk regarding a document for deposit in the House Library. 1p. II. Universal Credit full service guidance [refresh of previous guidance published on 26 Oct 2016 (DEP2016-0778) and 14 Sept 2017 9DEP2017-0556)](147 documents)

Corporate Author: Department for Work and Pensions

Review For PIP Planning And Following Journeys Cases Finally Starts

Since the Review For PIP Planning And Following Journeys Cases Finally Starts I thought I’d add this article on the subject

Mobility – Activity 1: Planning and following a journey

Activity 1 considers a claimant’s ability to follow the route of a familiar or unfamiliar journey as well as to plan and undertake a journey. As with all the other activities, a claimant is to be assessed as satisfying a descriptor only if they can do so reliably.


The descriptors for Activity 1 are –

  1. Can plan and follow the route of a journey unaided. 0 points
  2. Needs prompting to be able to undertake any journey to avoid overwhelming psychological distress to the claimant. 4 points
  3. For reasons other than psychological distress cannot plan the route of a journey. 8 points
  4. For reasons other than psychological distress cannot follow the route of an unfamiliar journey without another person, assistance dog or orientation aid. 10 points
  5. Cannot undertake any journey because it would cause overwhelming psychological distress to the claimant. 10 points
  6. For reasons other than psychological distress cannot follow the route of a familiar journey without another person, an assistance dog or an orientation aid. 12 points

Source: Part 3 of Schedule 1 to the Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) Regulations 2013 (SI.No.377/2013) as amended (with effect from 16 March 2017) by regulation 2 of the Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) (Amendment) Regulations 2017 (SI.No.194/2017)

NB – the March 2017 amendments made by SI.No.194/2017 to descriptors c, d and f – that added the words ‘For reasons other than psychological distress’ – have been held to be unlawful by the High Court in [2017] EWHC 3375 (Admin). Amendment regulations, in force from 15 June 2018 (SR.No.121/2018), have been issued in Northern Ireland to remove the words from descriptors c, d and f. Until the regulations that apply to Great Britain are amended, the descriptors should be read as if those words are not part of them. For further details, see our case law commentarybelow.


Terms used in the PIP descriptors are defined in regulations and, in relation to Activity 2, are –

  • “aid or appliance” – (a) means any device which improves, provides or replaces [the claimant’s] impaired physical or mental function; and (b) includes a prosthesis;
  • “assistance dog” means a dog trained to guide or assist a person with a sensory impairment;
  • “orientation aid” means a specialist aid designed to assist disabled people to follow a route safely;
  • “prompting” means reminding, encouraging or explaining by another person;
  • “psychological distress” means distress related to an enduring mental health condition or an intellectual or cognitive impairment;
  • “unaided” means without – (a) the use of an aid or appliance; or (b) supervision, prompting or assistance.

Source: Regulation 2 and Part 1 of Schedule 1 to the Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) Regulations 2013 (SI.No.377/2013)

See also DWP guidance on the ‘planning and following a journey’ activity from the Personal Independence Payment assessment guide for assessment providers (part 2).

Case law

Commentary: A three-judge panel in [2016] UKUT 531 (AAC) (the MH case) considered the meaning of ‘to plan and follow a journey’ (descriptors c, d, and f) which had been subject to conflicting interpretations in earlier cases – [2015] UKUT 344 (AAC)[2015] UKUT 386 (AAC), and [2015] UKUT 694 (AAC). The panel held, in a decision dated 28 November 2016, that the descriptors could be met by a person experiencing overwhelming psychological distress. To reverse the effect of this ruling, the government amended the PIP Regulations from 16 March 2017 to explicitly exclude psychological distress as a means of meeting descriptors c, d. and f.

However, in December 2017, the High Court ruled in [2017] EWHC 3375 (Admin) that the March 2017 amendments were unlawful and should be quashed and, in a written statement in the House of Commons on 19 January 2018, the Work and Pensions Secretary announced that ‘after careful consideration’ she had decided not to appeal the High Court’s judgment and would implement the three-judge panel decision in MH. The Minister for Disabled People has stated in written answers on 30 January 2018 that anyone owed arrears as a result of the MH case would be paid either from the date of their claim or the date of the judgment, whichever is later.

In [2016] UKUT 420 (AAC) Judge Jacobs confirms that, although the DWP guidance on Activity 1 defines a journey as being a ‘local’ journey, the legislation does not state this and there is therefore no requirement for the descriptor to be assessed in relation to a local journey.

[2017] UKUT 480 (AAC) confirms that a ‘SatNav’ is not an orientation aid unless it has been specially designed or modified to assist the disabled.


Unpaid carers face ‘benefits cliff edge’ under universal credit

Carers could lose almost £65 a week in Carer’s Allowance if they move into paid employment or take on more hours.
The Work and Pensions Select Committee has warned that many of the UK’s 6.5 million carers face losing almost £65 a week under Universal Credit, with MPs urging the UK Government to remove the “cliff-edge” that will deter carers from looking for work or increasing hours worked.

Under the new system, which sees a number of existing social security benefits and tax credits replaced with a single payment, family carers face losing eligibility for Carer’s Allowance if they earn more than £120 a week.

MPs claim this is “a clear contradiction to Government’s stated aims of ‘making work pay’“, with those affected immediately missing out on £64.60 per week in Carer’s Allowance as soon as they exceed the £120 a week earnings threshold.

Those affected also face the enviable decision of having to choose between losing Carer’s Allowance or losing free childcare for their three or four-year-old, the cross-party Committee says, because Universal Credit rules require them to work a minimum 16 hours a week.

The Committee argues that whilst the roll-out of Universal Credit still has a way to go, it may disincentivise work for carers unless ministers recognise the problem and make changes. It is believed that carers save the UK economy an estimated £132 billion a year, due to providing unpaid care for family members and love-ones which would otherwise have to be paid for by the state. “They are indispensable to the person they care for and vital to society”.

Councils ‘underpaying guardians and not offering full support’

According to the Commitee’s report published today, around 1 in 9 working people have to juggle care with paid work. However, only a third of working age carers are currently in full-time work, compared with almost half of non-carers.

“One in six carers have at some point given up work to take on caring responsibilities, and almost three million have reduced their working hours”, MPs claim, with a large number of carers already believing that juggling caring and work is too difficult and not worth the effort.

The Committee says that more carers more carers could be encouraged to enter, or stay in, employment if they were able to convince employers of the benefits of flexible working, or were better supported when forced to take time off for appointments and emergencies.

However, under existing legislation they are required to have worked for the same employer for a minimum of six months before they can request flexible working patterns.

They can also made to sacrifice annual leave or sick days in the event of having to take time off work to fulfil caring responsibilities, the Commitee says.

MPs have called on the UK Government to (as quoted):

  • withdraw Carer’s Allowance gradually as income rises, in line with the Universal Credit taper system.
  • link the earnings threshold is to rises in the National Living Wage
  • allow carers to request flexible working from day 1 of their employment
  • when resources allow, introduce a statutory 5 days paid carer’s leave
  • act as model-employer itself: at present just six government departments are members of the Employers for Carers forum and only five have specific carer policies

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Work and Pension Committee, said: “Carers are heroic and undervalued. They are a great untapped resource for our high employment, low productivity economy – and a sorely unrecognised one.

“They contribute hundreds of billions of pounds in unpaid work to our economy which is not counted on any Treasury balance sheet.

“Ensuring work pays and that employers adapt to accommodate caring is not just good for the carers: it is necessary for the whole economy. Government should lead on both practice and policy.”


Concerns Raised About DWP’s Mandatory Reconsideration Forms

Concerns have been raised by a welfare benefits specialist about misleading information in a DWP form.

Earlier this month we wrote about the DWP mandatory reconsideration form they don’t want you to use.

The 7 page form can be downloaded to your computer, filled in and then printed off, signed and sent to the DWP.

However, the form also tries to encourage people to phone and make a verbal request rather than complete the form. This is something we would strongly advise people not to do as it means you have no evidence of what you said or even of whether you asked for a reconsideration at all.

Since publishing the article we’ve been contacted by Neil Bateman, a specialist adviser in welfare rights and social policy.

He points out another troubling aspect of the form. On page three it encourages people to ask for an explanation before challenging a decision, because “This can be much quicker and if we find a mistake, we will look at our decision again.”

The next section goes on to say:

“If you’ve had the decision explained to you but still don’t agree with it, you can ask for a Mandatory Reconsideration.”

In fact, we have always advised people not to ask for an explanation because it can be used by the DWP as an opportunity to try to talk claimants out of challenging their decision.

But Neil is concerned that the form gives the impression that you can only ask for a reconsideration after you’ve had an explanation.

And indeed, in the past, claimants have wrongly been told by the DWP that they will cannot accept a mandatory reconsideration request unless the claimant has had an explanation of the decision first.

Neil told us:

“I thought we had killed off this bit of unlawful, obstructive behaviour a few years ago, but like an insidious virus, it recurs.

“It has been raised very recently with DWP via one of the policy fora and a response is awaited, but I thought you and your readers might be interested.”

So, please do be aware that there is no legal requirement to ask for an explanation prior to asking for a mandatory reconsideration, no matter how much the DWP would like you to believe otherwise.


DWP Produces Mandatory Reconsideration Form They Don’t Want You To Use

The DWP have published a 7 page mandatory reconsideration form which can be used with any benefit, but they make it clear they would rather you didn’t use it.

The 7 page long form can be downloaded to your computer and completed offline before being printed off, signed and posted.

According to the notes on the form it can only be saved and opened in Adobe Reader XI or newer versions. The DWP say it will not save in other pdf readers such as Preview on a Mac or Foxit on a PC.

The form, however, tries to discourage people from actually making use of it. Instead, the DWP make it clear that they would much rather you made a verbal request for an MR:

69% Of Claimants Win PIP And ESA Appeals

“It is easier to call

You can ask for a Mandatory Reconsideration over the phone. Your claim will be looked at in exactly the same way. It’s much quicker and you can explain why you think the decision is wrong over the phone, without needing to fill anything.”

Benefits and Work would always advise claimants to make their MR request in writing, so that you can give precisely the information you wish and do not have to justify what you are saying to a potentially discouraging DWP staff member.

If you do ask for an MR by phone, perhaps because you are very close to the deadline, it is still worth confirming in writing the fact that you made a telephone request.

You do not have to use this form to make a written MR request. If you prefer, you can still do so in a letter.

We would be interested to hear from anyone who does make use of the form. Please let us know if you encounter any technical – or other – problems.

You can download the form from this page.

I volunteer to help vulnerable people the jobcentre lets down

A broken universal credit system means local volunteers hand out food parcels and give advice to those with nowhere to turn

People walking into a jobcentre
Every week, we see a steady stream of people who need our help to navigate the DWP’s complicated system.

I’ll never forget the day myself and a team of volunteers decided to stand outside Ashton Under Lyne jobcentre on a weekly basis.

It was 2014. My daughter, who was 19 at the time and heavily pregnant, had just attended her weekly appointment at the jobcentre. Her advisor sanctioned her for three years for attending a workfare appointment and telling the interviewer she was expecting a baby. In the week that followed, we encountered a further three pregnant women who left the jobcentre distraught because they too had been sanctioned for various reasons.

I was told ​have been told ​by ​​one lady that going to prison is less stressful than the DWP regime

Ashton Under Lyne is a small market town in Greater Manchester. It is run down in parts, unemployment levels are high and opportunity is low. Many people experience poverty – Tameside Hospital was the first in the UK to have its own food bank situated on site.

In 2013 the town became one of the first to pilot the universal credit system, along with Oldham and Wigan. It came with a strict set of criteria that, as universal credit has been rolled out elsewhere, seems much harsher than elsewhere in the country. Our evidence for this is largely anecdotal but Ashton Under Lyne was often top of the controversial league tables for the number of sanctions it imposed.

Four years later, the misery has been clear for us to see. Every week, a team of up to 10 volunteers supports a steady stream of worried, stressed, undernourished people. Most claimants don’t sleep well because they’re so worried and are often dressed inadequately for the weather. Three quarters of the people we speak to are hungry and making the daily choice between eating or paying to heat their homes. The instability of having no income is brutally punishing.

 I worked at a jobcentre – I’m so sorry for the way we treated you

Some claimants will be sanctioned for missing an appointment, even though they didn’t receive the letter. It’s not until they go to withdraw their payment and find there is nothing there that they realise what has happened. They then have to meet with an advisor and request an appeal. Some can’t cope and take themselves off the system, leaving them with no support at all. I was told by one lady that going to prison is less stressful than the DWP regime.

As volunteers, we offer solidarity, advice and leaflets for support services, because these are things not offered by the jobcentre. Most are simply handed a piece of paper with telephone numbers on it, despite the fact they don’t have the ability or means to make a telephone call. We have a good relationship with organisations like Citizen’s Advice and Welfare Rights and help signpost people to their services when they feel they have nowhere to turn. We also help people fill in long, complicated forms, and hand out food parcels. Some are embarrassed to take them but I’ve no doubt this has kept many people alive.

I wasn’t surprised to see the findings of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, which said shortcomings in the ESA and PIP assessments were causing “untenable” human and financial costs. An estimated 290,000 people only receive the correct award after challenging DWP’s initial decision. We’ve helped a lot of people through that process. The main complaint we hear is that the assessor has lied and said they’re able to work. Many people aren’t told they can appeal and resign themselves to looking for a job, even if this is physically impossible. Others are put through endless assessments and become worn down by the stress and stigma they suffer for something that’s outside of their control.

The system as it stands is failing people because it isn’t built to help them. It has no regard for individual situations, or someone’s ability to navigate the various rules . It’s too complicated, departments don’t communicate with each other, and the punishments are punitive and extreme. It also assumes that all claimants have access to the internet at all times, which is rarely the case, or that they know how to use a computerised system. They are almost treated like criminals because they have dared ask for help.

I do not deny that DWP staff are also put under immense pressure themselves but they could do more. There shouldn’t need to be an army of volunteers outside jobcentres to provide the assistance that wasn’t offered inside. We see the desperate need to stop and scrap the benefits system and to develop a fairer way of supporting the most vulnerable. Until that happens, volunteers will always be needed to fill the void.