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Tens of thousands of claimants with mental health problems at “real risk” of losing their benefits due to “managed migration” to universal credit

26 September 2022

By the end of 2024, the remaining 2.6 million claimants currently receiving ‘legacy benefits’, such as Employment and Support Allowance, are expected to have moved onto universal credit (UC).

Under this "managed migration", all remaining legacy benefit claimants  will be given a deadline to submit a claim for UC. They will then have three months to make the claim or have their benefit stopped with no UC to replace it.

More than 850,000 of these claimants are known to have a mental health problem. Many thousands more are struggling with their mental health but potentially undiagnosed - all of whom will be required to move to UC under this compulsory ‘self-managed migration’.

In a new report, the Money and Mental Health Institute (MMHI) warns that there is a real risk that tens of thousands of these people with mental health problems will find themselves cut off from their benefits at a time when living costs are spiralling.

The MMHI is an independent charity, founded by Martin Lewis, committed to breaking the link between financial difficulty and mental health problems.

Common symptoms of such conditions, such as reduced concentration and increased impulsivity, will present significant barriers for those trying to take the steps required as part of managed migration raising the risk that vulnerable people will face serious financial and psychological harm.

A MMHI survey found that, among respondents who had already made the move, four in five felt their mental health problems had negatively impacted their ability to apply for UC, and two-thirds found it difficult to complete at least one task involved in making a claim.

Nearly all respondents who are still receiving legacy benefits said they are worried about migrating to UC, with particular concerns about reduced entitlements and difficulties coping with the five-week wait.

More than eight out of ten reported they will need support to move to UC, yet a little over two in ten have someone to do so, and only two in ten know where to access support.

The MMHI says that as a priority, to prevent the sudden and
avoidable loss of claimants' incomes, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should publicly guarantee that it will not stop
the benefits of anyone who is migrating, until they have made a successful claim.

The MMHI also recommends that to  maximise the number of people who successfully migrate, the DWP should:

  • communicate with claimants in advance of migration notices to provide reassurance and alleviate fears, and ensure notices are designed and delivered in a way that makes it more likely that recipients are able to engage and respond.
  • provide advance notifications of the five-week wait for payment and information about the option of an advance payment and what this means for claimants
  • make people aware of transitional protection under managed migration, by providing reassurance that the move will not result in lost income and advance notification to those who would be eligible for a two-week run on payment
  • proactively offer budgeting support to all claimants subject to managed migration
  • actively promote alternative payment arrangements in relation to housing costs and the frequency of payments to vulnerable claimants
  • routinely record claimants' communication preferences and, in addition to formal written notices and reminders, communicate with claimants via their preferred channel
  • ensure the tone of communications is reassuring
  • reinstate face-to-face delivery of the Help to Claim service
  • commit to transparency with the welfare benefit sector around the precise steps they are taking to engage and protect vulnerable claimants.

MMHI concludes by highlighting recent regulations that removed the requirement for the DWP to return to Parliament with evidence about the pilot stage of manged migration after 10,000 migration notices had been issued.

This bypassing of robust parliamentary scrutiny it says “serves to
exacerbate stakeholders' existing fears and perpetuate the fear and anxiety that we have identified is a significant barrier to many on legacy benefits moving over to UC”.

A fit-for-purpose managed migration process: safeguarding claimants with mental health problems in the move to Universal Credit is available from moneyandmentalhealth.org.

See also Managed migration to universal credit – an irresponsible gamble available from cpag.org.uk.