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Government must halt ‘managed migration’ to universal credit, charities UK wide demand

06 May 2022

Charities from across the UK have warned the Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), Thérèse Coffey that plans to restart ‘managed migration’ to universal credit (UC), from 9 May, must immediately be halted.

In an open letter, the coalition of 22 charities, which includes Disability Rights UK, urges the DWP to stop the process due to the risk of cutting off people’s incomes.

‘Managed migration’ is the process the DWP are using to transfer ‘legacy benefit' claimants across to the UC system.

There are six working-age means-tested 'legacy benefits': income-related employment and support allowance (ESA); income-based jobseeker's allowance; income support; housing benefit; child tax credit; and working tax credit.

The DWP plans to notify claimants that they have a three-month deadline to apply for UC. If they don’t apply within this deadline, the DWP will be able to stop their current 'legacy benefit' claim, regardless of their circumstances.

This potentially affects 2.6 million claimants, including 700,000 people with mental health problems, learning disabilities and dementia receiving income-based ESA. Those unable to engage with the process, for example because they are in hospital, risk being left with no income at all.

The charities are calling on the DWP to take responsibility for supporting people through a system that its own research has shown to be difficult to navigate.

DWP research with people making a claim to UC for the first time showed that of people with long-term health conditions:

  • 24% could not register a claim online
  • Only 57% were confident in managing their payments
  • 53% said they needed more support setting up their claim and 38% said they needed more ongoing support

While the DWP will initially only migrate 500 people across to UC in a ‘discovery phase’, the charities highlight that using 500 people as guinea pigs for whether a system can potentially cause financial destitution is unacceptable. The consequences of being left without any support from benefits can be devastating and life-threatening.

The coalition of charities are demanding instead that the Government halt the process unless they can guarantee that no-one’s benefits are stopped until they have established a claim to UC.

They insist that the DWP must prioritise safety by providing proactive support that enables people who face challenges to get the support they need and avoid penalising people based on arbitrary deadlines.

Paul Farmer, CEO of Mind, said: “The DWP’s managed migration plans could leave people with mental health problems with no income. Those too unwell to engage with the DWP could be left unable to pay their rent, buy food, or pay their rising energy bills. During a cost-of-living crisis, this could put the entire incomes of over 700,000 people with mental health problems, learning disabilities and dementia at risk. This is completely unacceptable.

“The DWP should halt this process, until they can guarantee they will not stop anyone’s old benefits until they have successfully made a claim to UC. The DWP must also take responsibility for supporting people through a complicated system that its own research has shown to be difficult to navigate.”

DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser Ken Butler said: “This is not the time for the DWP to begin managed migration to UC.

“In March, Child Poverty Action Group research of UC claimants with mental health problems highlighted that none were proactively asked whether they needed reasonable adjustments at the various stages on their claimant journey. In addition, they were not asked if they needed alternative methods of communication, nor how their mental health affected their ability to interact with the UC system.

“Again in March, the Social Security Advisory Committee said that a process to move around 1.7 million households, many with complex lives, onto UC from legacy benefits “creates a significant risk for both those who are reliant on these benefits and also for the DWP in delivering it”.

“However, its call for “establishing appropriate independent oversight and scrutiny of the programme as it moves forward” to "ensure public confidence and minimise risk" has gone unanswered. 

“Last month, the Equality and Human Rights Commission announced it was requiring the DWP to make a legally binding commitment to improve its treatment of Disabled benefit claimants in response to serious concerns about its treatment of people with mental health impairments and learning disabilities. No agreement has yet been reached. 

“All these issues need fixing before any further UC roll-out.

“However, it can never be right to stop anyone’s subsistence benefit. If UC was a benefit that was committed to and fulfilled the needs of Disabled people and improved their lives, no threat would be needed for them to claim it.

“UC regulations allow not just for a notice requiring a UC claim to be extended but also for it to be withdrawn. This is a power that must be used whenever needed rather than the imposition of destitution.”

The charity coalition’s letter to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, with a full list of its signatories, is available from disabilityrightsuk.org. 

See also our related news story on voluntarily claiming UC: Should I stay or should I go?