HC 576 Progress towards the implementation of Universal Credit

Written evidence submitted by Stockton District Advice and Information Service (Stockton CAB)

Stockton District Advice and Information Service is the Citizens Advice Bureau for the Borough of Stockton-on-Tees.

We are the main provider of advice in the Stockton area dealing with 35857 new issues a year of which 33% relate to welfare benefits.

SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS
SDAIS recommends that resources be made available to encourage digital and financial inclusion but that long term support and telephone routes for the resolution of problems remain (at least for third party contact)

It is suggested that sufficient provision for legal advice and assistance for claimants needing help with benefit issues should be put in place as soon as practicable

We suggest that there should be the discretion to be flexible regarding payment and splitting payments of Universal Credit

The contents of the Claimant Commitment should be subject to amendment and challenge and there should be a clear right to appeal or amend decisions regarding work requirements

The conditions surrounding the exemption from work-related requirements for victims of domestic violence should be removed

SDAIS submits that Hardship payments should only be recoverable in very limited circumstances. Many of our clients (especially those with debt) have little or no surplus income and to reduce this further will place this client group into greater problems.

Consideration should be given to a passporting arrangement between Enhanced PIP and entitlement to the support component.

Consideration needs to be given to premiums for LCW to be substantially higher than current provision to ensure that more severely disabled people are not disproportionately worse off.

It is recommended that claimants with disability should be exempt from loss of transitional protection on change in circumstances (in these cases it would be reasonable to reduce the TP only to the level which would have been paid if the circumstances had changed before the transfer to UC)

It is proposed that additional funding be provided to ensure that Community Care provision be maintained in the circumstances detailed above.

It is suggested that there should be multiple routes to qualify for the health related addition for workers or that the disability disregard from earnings should have a wide basis for qualification

We suggest that the position of spouses of EU migrants should be no different to that of family members of UK residents

1. Claims

1.1 Financial and digital inclusion

We are concerned that the infrastructure proposed to support claimants and the expectations placed on them are unreasonable.

The insistence of making the provision "digital by default" including the presumption of a predominantly online system is likely to lead to difficulties.

We believe that there has been insufficient investment put into providing claimants with the expertise and means to manage an online system.

We note the view of Lord Freud [1] that 74% of claimants had a broadband connection but this figure masks the fact that certain groups of claimants have far less access. The same DWP research [2] demonstrates that 32% of JSA claimants, 35% of ESA/SDA/DLA claimants and 42% of Income Support claimants do not have access. Over 50% of claimants in the survey had no experience of online banking or said they did not want to use this facility [3] and 58% said they had not or would not make claims on line.

Though the aim of digital inclusion and indeed financial inclusion is laudable it is suggested that some individuals will still need some help (e.g claimants with significant learning disabilities) and this will create more calls on support organsiations and groups. Though we note that there "will still be face to face and telephone support in place … this support will be geared towards helping people to use the online channel." [4] . It is our experience that this will not be enough. As well as there being claimants whose ability to access internet based media will result in long term problems SDAIS have found, over the years that telephone access to decision makers and clerical staff at the DWP can quickly resolve benefit payment and entitlement problems that would have, otherwise, resulted in protracted letter contact. The retention of third party contact should therefore be maintained in order that staff time can be saved.

It is also suggested that, if the majority of correspondence will be electronic, there should be some clear system for identifying receipt of communication such as automatic read receipts, not least of all since failure to report changes in circumstances could, from 01/10/12, result in a civil penalty.

SDAIS recommends that resources be made available to encourage digital and financial inclusion but that long term support and telephone routes for the resolution of problems remain (at least for third party contact)

1.2 Need for advice

Comparatively few problems arise from problems between means tested benefits at the moment. Issues tending to focus on entitlement issues (e.g. if a claimant qualifies), status issues (e.g. Limited Capability for work assessment), information needs (e.g. failure to appreciate the need for certain evidence), understanding rules or delay issues. Thus we would not expect any major change to the core requirements for advice.

Unfortunately we suspect that there will be additional work both at a general contact level (especially surrounding transitional protection issues and due to inevitable teething troubles) and at a specialist level (considering case law issues). It is of concern that this extra workload is being introduced at time of uncertainty over funding and in particular reduced legal aid provision. It is noted that concessions to retain legal aid to cover first tier tribunals regarding points of law and in respect of Upper Tribunals have yet to be progressed. We are concerned that the sector in danger of loosing expertise to undertake these complex areas of law, due to delay in implementation.

We are also disappointed that arrangements for the distribution of the £40M over two years to partially compensate for loss of legal aid funding appear does not to have progressed at this point. It is suggested that the advice sector requires notice to effectively implement the provision.

It is suggested that sufficient provision for legal advice and assistance for claimants needing help with benefit issues should be put in place as soon as practicable

1.3 Payment

We also have concerns regarding payment of benefit. For people on low incomes small week on week variations in income can have significant impact on claimant’s budgets. Where benefit is paid monthly this problem is exacerbated. We can also foresee situations where payment to one individual in the household will not be in the best interests of the all the members of the household (e.g. where there is domestic violence). Given the concentration of payments into one benefit, carers for children will no longer be able to rely on receipt of child tax credit during relationship breakdown.

We suggest that there should be the discretion to be flexible regarding payment and splitting payments of Universal Credit


2. Sanctions, claimant commitment, and hardship payments

2.1 Claimant Commitment

We are concerned that there appears to be no provision to challenge or amend the claimant commitment. We would also like to see clarification that decisions regarding work requirements would be subject to an appeal process. This would empower claimants to seek appropriate support into employment.

The contents of the Claimant Commitment should be subject to amendment and challenge and there should be a clear right to appeal or amend decisions regarding work requirements

2.2 Domestic violence exemption

We feel that the domestic violence provisions need amendment. It is suggested that it is not appropriate to place a limit on requalifying for the domestic violence exemption and that the evidence requirement is arguably too strict. It is noted that it is the nature of some abusive relationships that victims can return to violent partners on several occasions before gaining the confidence to make the final break.

The conditions surrounding the exemption from work-related requirements for victims of domestic violence should be removed

2.3 Recovery of Hardship payments

SDAIS submits that Hardship payments should only be recoverable in very limited circumstances. Many of our clients (especially those with debt) have little or no surplus income and to reduce this further will place this client group into greater problems.

2.4 EU migrants

We are also concerned that requirement in regulation 83 that all persons including family members of workseekers are required to meet all work related requirements under s. 13 – 25 of the Act, regardless of circumstances. It is suggested that this together with the restrictive nature of draft regulations 7 and 8 ,which do not appear to be compatible with directive 2004/38, would be contrary to the European law and caselaw.

We are anxious that costly caselaw be avoided in this area and that clarity of the law in this area be maintained

We suggest that the position of spouses of EU migrants should be no different to that of family members of UK residents


3.0 Changes in the income entitlement of disabled people under Universal Credit and the level of the earnings disregards.

3.1 Help for people with more significant disabilities

The level of support for adults and children with more profound disabilities is apparently reduced under UC. The absence of the equivalent of the Enhanced Disability Premium/Element and Severe Disability Premium/Element appear likely to hit claimants who have more restrictive levels of disability.

It is suggested that the Limited Capability for Work Related Activity ("Support") Element (LCWRAE) would need to be much higher than under current legislation to make up for the loss of premiums. To simplify entitlement it is also suggested that either Enhanced rate of PIP (or its equivalent under DLA) should passport claimants on to the Support Element since this would reduce unnecessary duplication and provide more support to people who have significant difficulties but obtain full time work.

Many people who have complex and multiple problems are likely to have high levels of transitional protection, which would be prone to being lost if circumstances change.

Consideration should be given to a passporting arrangement between Enhanced PIP and entitlement to the support component.

Consideration needs to be given to premiums for LCW to be substantially higher than current provision to ensure that more severely disabled people are not disproportionately worse off.

It is recommended that claimants with disability should be exempt from loss of transitional protection on change in circumstances (in these cases it would be reasonable to reduce the TP only to the level which would have been paid if the circumstances had changed before the transfer to UC)

3.2 Implications for local services

It is of concern that the reduced income for disabled people on benefit would be likely to disadvantage local services.

In particular if income reduces this may mean that households will be able to contribute less to community care needs such as domestic assistance and the costs of managing the shortfall are likely to fall on hard pressed social services departments.

It is proposed that additional funding be provided to ensure that Community Care provision be maintained in the circumstances detailed above.


3.3 Disabled students taking time out of courses

Regulations miss out on an opportunity to resolve a significant discrimination in the existing rules. Within draft regulations the current position that a person is deemed to remain on a course until they abandon it or are dismissed from it is maintained. This is inherently discriminatory to individuals who are temporarily incapable of undertaking a course due to ill health.

Under current rules some (though far from all) in this situation can qualify if entitled to Disability Living Allowance. Given the longer duration of disability expected under PIP and the fact that claimants with less severe disabilities (though significant enough to prevent studying) would be less likely to qualify than current claimants.

3.4 Problems for disabled workers

Under current rules claimants can qualify for Disabled Workers Element through a number of routes if working 16+ hours per week.

To satisfy the criteria for help due to disability under Universal Credit, a claimant would only be entitled to any disability element if she would otherwise have qualified for the equivalent of the WRAC (i.e. ESA) … which is quite a high test for someone who is working.

The difficulties can be demonstrated in the case of one of our clients who works in a supportive workplace and commutes back and forth to the workplace in a taxi.  She is not able to mobilise on unfamiliar routes alone due to a high level of anxiety but is okay at work and in the taxi. She qualifies for DLA but it is not clear that she would qualify for PIP and would not satisfy the requirements for the Work Related Activity Component on ESA.

It is noted that, at the moment, the cost of taxis would not be prohibitive

It is suggested that there should be multiple routes to qualify for the health related addition for workers or that the disability disregard from earnings should have a wide basis for qualification

21 August 2012


[1] Lord Freud, Minister for Welfare Reform, “Welfare Reform Act 2012 – Implications and challenges for Local Authorities”. Local Government Association Conference, Local Government House, Smith Square, London

[2] P. 69 Work and the welfare system: a survey of benefits and tax credits recipients by Trinh Tu and Steven Ginnis, Department for Work and Pension Research Report No 800 (2012)

[3] P. 70 ibid

[4] Lord Freud, Minister for Welfare Reform, National Digital Conference, Old Billingsgate, London - 30 May 2012

[4]

Prepared 7th September 2012