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DWP information given to Universal Credit claimants is in some cases unlawful

02 May 2019

CPAG has published a new report that says information provided to claimants about their universal credit payment and how to challenge a decision is in some instances unlawful.

The report - Computer says No! - gives case studies and analysis from its Early Warning System to highlight problems with the information provided to people claiming Universal Credit.

It focuses on two key areas:

  • the information provided to claimants about payment decisions; and
  • the information provided to claimants about their right to challenge decisions if they do not agree with them.

CPAG says:

“The information that is currently provided to claimants about their universal credit payment and how to challenge a decision if they think a mistake has been made is inadequate and, in some instances, unlawful.

The government’s own survey of universal credit claimants found that nearly a quarter (23%) felt that the decision about their claim had either not been explained at all or had not been explained clearly.”

CPAG explains that the DWP is providing decision notices that are unlawful, due to lack of information concerning mandatory reconsideration, to hundreds of thousands of claimants each month:

“The regulations are silent about the ways in which a mandatory reconsideration request can be made. It is generally accepted (including by the DWP) that any statement made by a claimant to the DWP that s/he is unhappy with a decision (whether in writing or by phone) is a request for a mandatory reconsideration.

However, the notice limits the route to requesting a mandatory reconsideration to telephone or by post. That leaves out the simplest and quickest method by which a claimant can challenge a decision –by making an entry in the journal on her/his online account. Additionally, the notice is unhelpful in not setting out any details about how long a claimant should expect the DWP to take in conducting a mandatory reconsideration.”

CPAG adds:

“It is self-evident that fairness requires that where a legal deadline applies, those subject to the deadline are notified of it. A person who does not know that there is a time limit (or wrongly thinks that the time limit has expired when it could be extended) may either not bring a challenge because s/he thinks there is still time to do so in the future or because s/he does not realise s/he still can.”

One case study highlighted by CPAG is of disabled mother subject to deductions in her housing payments in error:

“A disabled mother and her adult child moved into a new property and claimed UC. The first payment was very low and the mother was so distressed about affordability that she contacted her social landlord about ending the tenancy.

The UC statement listed amounts for her standard allowance and her housing costs element. It was not clear to her that UC had not taken into account her eligibility for the limited capability for work element, nor that her housing costs element was being reduced by a non-dependant deduction.

This only became apparent when her welfare rights adviser investigated the matter. Without the adviser’s expertise, she would not have been able to challenge the missing element or the non-dependant deduction (from which she was exempt because she receives a qualifying disability benefit).”

CPAG's new report Computer says no - stage one: information provision is available @ www.cpag.org.uk.