The DWP is planning to change the rules on Universal Credit so that claimants don’t face such an obstacle course to get their benefits.
There has been criticism that the current system is causing “distress and delays” for vulnerable claimants.
A new system is being devised for claimants to more easily nominate someone to help them deal with claims and appeals. It’s being tested and fine-tuned before being officially launched.
In a new report, the Social Security Advisory Committee explained: “Having someone to represent them in their dealings with the Department – whether a friend, family member or voluntary sector worker – is essential for many claimants. Some would simply not be able to navigate their way around an often complex benefit landscape without that support.
“At the same time, the Department has a clear responsibility to safeguard the integrity of an individual’s personal information. This requires a claimant’s consent for any third party to act on their behalf.”
But it says there have been concerns because, at present, the DWP requires ‘explicit’ consent to be given repeatedly for help with Universal Credit.
This means that rather than saying once that you would like an organisation, friend or family member to deal with Universal Credit on your behalf, claimants must jump through hoops by making lots of specific individual requests and getting consent each time.
Each consent lasts only either the request is completed or the end of the next monthly Universal Credit payment period.
And the committee admits this is causing some problems.
It says: “Many of the organisations that responded to our consultation raised concerns that the explicit consent model used in UC was not working well for organisations and the claimants they are trying to support.
“They explained that it hinders their ability to help, causes distress for some claimants with mental health problems who rely on the support of an advocate and creates delays. We were told that the consent process causes particular challenges for corporate appointees who were tasked with making and supporting online claims for multiple claimants.
“These challenges would be exacerbated during periods when volumes were higher which could, for example, occur during the managed migration process.”
The DWP has revealed it is now looking at makiing the system more flexible.
It explained: “Because Universal Credit is delivered on a different platform to legacy benefits, and it replaces six major benefits, the approach taken to consent needs to be different.
“The amount of personal data available on Universal Credit is far greater than the individual legacy systems, meaning that any data breach has far reaching consequences for claimants. We therefore need to balance consent against this risk.
“Where consent is needed it can be quickly given in different ways. For example, claimants only need to put a note in their journal to give consent, this is a far simpler and more straightforward process than in legacy systems. Once consent is given, advisers will work with the claimant’s representatives.
“We therefore, agree to explore options for improving the process of explicit consent in relation to Universal Credit in collaboration with the Social Security Advisory Committee to consider how current practices could be enhanced and to publish a report on our joint conclusions.”
The Department says it has been developing a broader system for allowing UC claimants to get help to others.
Once signed in to their online account, claimants would be presented with a ‘give consent’ tab and asked to provide information about:
- the person or organisation helping the claimant
- why help is needed
- the areas where help is required such as earnings, health conditions, housing payments, sanctions or reduced payments etc
They would be asked to clarify when this help would be no longer be needed.
Claimants could choose what sort of help they wanted. For instance, a person acting on their behalf could be permitted to see details of their earnings, rent and childcare payments until their next payment was received, without getting access to details of their health conditions.
Universal Credit is the biggest change to the welfare system in a generation.
But what exactly is it and how does the system work? Here’s all you need to below. Follow the links below to find out more.
1. What is Universal Credit?
Universal Credit is a new social security benefit that was approved in the Welfare Reform Act 2012 and first appeared in 2013. By the end of 2018, it was rolled out to all jobcentres.
It replaces six existing benefits, now known as ‘legacy benefits’. Find out more by clicking on the link above.
2. Universal Credit calculator – how much you will get
The amount you are given is calculated according to various factors.
The Government says if you have children, a disability, or you need help paying for your rent, you may be entitled to extra amounts on top of the standard allowance. Find out more by clicking on the link above.
3. Universal Credit eligibility and how to apply
Among the qualifying criteria, you must be on a low income or out of work.
And it’s important to bear in mind your partner’s income and savings will be taken into account, even if they themselves are not applying for the benefit. Find out more about eligibility by clicking on the link above.
4. How often is it paid and how the online account works
To get Universal Credit, TWO accounts are needed.
One is a Universal Credit online account where your details (such as the date of the next payment) are available to look at, the other is a payment account at a bank or building society where the Government pays in your money. Find out more by clicking on the link above.
5. Universal Credit contact numbers if you need help
There are some special helpline numbers to call if you want assistance. They have been changed to freephone numbers so there is no charge for calling. Find out more by clicking on the link above.
6. How to change your payments if you’re struggling
Claimants need to be aware the first payment doesn’t come through until five weeks after a claim – and then every month after that.
If you’re not used to waiting a whole month for your payment, it can prove difficult. But there is a little-known way around that. Find out more by clicking on the link above
7. What to do if your Universal Credit payments are cut
There are occasions where the Department for Work and Pensions imposes sanctions on claimants if they appear to have broken the rules, for instance by not showing up at jobcentre appointments.
In such cases, Universal Credit can be cut or stopped altogether. Find out what to do by clicking the link above.
The system would generate a unique code which would be shared with the person or organisation providing support so that they could access relevant parts of the claimant’s account within the specified period.
Access would automatically cease at the point the end date or event had been reached unless the claimant had decided to extend it.
This model is now being adjusted and tested further before being officially introduced.
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The Social Security Advisory Committee concluded: “We are pleased that the Department continues to develop and refine its prototype in a positive collaboration with end users.
“We also recognise and commend the Department for the remarkable work that it has been undertaking to respond at pace to a changing landscape, including a significant set of policy and operational challenges, as a result of the outbreak of the coronavirus.
“However, the circumstances that many claimants currently find themselves in as a consequence of Covid-19 simply serves to underline the importance of having effective consent arrangements in place.
“It is therefore essential to ensure that the final model works effectively – both for those who need support and those who provide it – and enables the right support to be provided to claimants in the right way at the right time.”