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Minister says Universal Credit designed to encourage disabled people to take up education – but doesn’t explain how

23 August 2017

Regulations barring most disabled students from getting Universal Credit have been defended by the Government – on the grounds the new benefit “encourages and enables” disabled people to take up further education.

 Receipt of ESA and HB means that disabled students can top-up their student finance with ESA to pay for their extra disability related costs and attend colleges and universities away from their home.

However, unlike ESA, Universal credit does not automatically treat disabled students in receipt of DLA or PIP as them having a “limited capability for work”.

Universal Credit is replacing means tested benefits like ESA and housing benefit and is being increasingly 'rolled out’ to more UK areas in its ‘full service’ form.

DR UK is urging the Government to make the following simple addition to Schedule 8 (Circumstances in which a claimant is to be treated as having limited capability for work) of the Universal Credit Regulations 2013 so that this applies where:

“The claimant is undertaking a course of education and is entitled to a disability living allowance, armed forces independence payment or personal independence payment.”

Last month, DR UK and seven members of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Disability wrote to the DWP Minister Damian Hinds to urge that all full-time disabled students who receive DLA or PIP be eligible to receive Universal Credit.

In his reply, the Minister maintains that:

  • Universal Credit is designed to encourage disabled people to undertake education;
  • loans and grants financial support is available to disabled students;
  • the new benefit is available to disabled people who have been assessed as having a limited capability for work following a work capability assessment.

However:

  • while it is true that loans and grants financial support is available to disabled students there has been no increase in these to compensate for the loss of ESA-style income top -up and rental costs support (housing benefit);
  • no loans or grants exist that support rental costs; very few disabled people are now treated automatically as having a limited capability for work - it can take up to 12 months to receive a work capability assessment (and around two thirds negative decisions are then successfully appealed – so it will be several months before a disabled person will know if they can undertake higher education.

Ken Butler DR UK’s Welfare Rights Adviser said:

“How can disabled people be encouraged and enable to take up education if their benefit entitlement has been withdrawn and any loan or grant income not increased?

Only a very small minority of Universal Credit claimants would include disabled students if they were made eligible to claim it in the same way as ESA and Housing Benefit.

Yet the effects on individual disabled people of not being able to take up higher education may affect their whole futures.

The recent DWP reply to our Freedom of Information request shows that the Government has restricted disabled people’s ability to study and claim Universal Credit without investigating how many will be affected and if the limited savings it produces could be objectively justified.”

You can hear the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for disability Lisa Cameron MP and Andrew, an affected young disabled person, explaining the need for disabled students to be eligible for Universal Credit on Radio 4’s You and Yours Programme – starts 32:22 minutes in, ends 39:17 minutes in.