The Early Warning System was set up by CPAG in Scotland to collect and analyse case evidence about how social security changes are affecting the wellbeing of children, their families and the communities that support them. We will be producing a regular summary of emerging issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. This summary predominantly includes case studies from June. The case studies are collated from cases dealt with through our second tier advice service and submissions from frontline workers, including welfare rights advisers, housing officers and support workers.
New this week
DWP suspended recovery of benefit overpayments from 3rd April until at least the beginning of July. However one case received by the Early Warning System provides an example of an overpayment being recovered during this time causing the family serious financial hardship.
A client was underpaid £300 UC after the benefit cap was miscalculated because DWP included child benefit for nine children instead of four in the calculation. DWP conceded that the client had been underpaid, but only paid a further £60 into her account withholding the rest to recover three separate overpayments. This forced her to cancel a food delivery and turn to a food bank instead. There was no decision, no overpayment letter, no appeal rights and the overpayments were recovered at a time when recovery of overpaid benefits has been stopped temporarily due to COVID. Adviser referred to DWP recovery overpayment guidance which states that proper notice should be given, only one overpayment should be recovered at a time and that it should not be recovered from the current assessment period, however DWP were adamant that recalculation of the underpayment simply incorporated adjustments that need to be made. It was ultimately resolved but had caused the family undue hardship in the meantime #1383 (22/6/20)
Increase in some benefits but not others
The standard rate of UC and tax credits have been increased by £20 a week for one year from 6th April 2020. Because other benefits were not increased at the same time, not everyone has benefited from the increase. Conversely it also means that some people are now entitled to UC, who would not have been prior to the increase.
A lone parent is not benefiting from the additional £20 a week in her tax credits, because it is treated as income and deducted from her income support. #1071 (3/7/20)
A client, with no housing costs, receiving contributory ESA pending a work capability assessment will be entitled to £20 a week just now because the UC standard allowance is greater than the basic rate of ESA. Many people may miss out if they do not know that they might also be entitled to UC. Increasing all the relevant benefits by the equivalent amount would have avoided people missing out for this reason. #1281 (15/6/20)
Accidental migration to universal credit
We continue to receive case studies about tax credit claimants who, following a drop in their hours or income, claim universal credit. Tax credits entitlement then stops but some people find they are worse off, but cannot re-claim tax credits.
A self-employed lone parent is not entitled to any COVID support. She was getting WTC and CTC but claimed UC when her income reduced. UC was refused because of her income from her deceased partner's occupational pension. #1448
It can be difficult for EU nationals to establish a right to reside that will entitle them to means-tested benefits if they are not working. This usually impacts on lone parents, carers and people who are ill or disabled themselves, but COVID 19 has led to some EU nationals losing or not being able to find work. We continue to receive case studies of EU nationals who are not receiving any benefits during the COVID 19 pandemic.
An EU national lone parent has been in the UK for 17 years. She was getting tax credits until recently. When she lost her job due to COVID 19 she applied for UC but was told over the phone that she does not qualify. It is not clear whether this was because of her immigration status or failure to verify her ID. She sent her passport to the Home Office 8 months ago when she applied for settled status and it is still with them. #1220 (10/6/20)
An EU national is awaiting an appeal on a right to reside decision. His work history is not being treated as genuine and effective. Adviser asked for the hearing to be brought forward as the client has exhausted the Scottish Welfare Fund and is struggling to keep his phone, gas, and electricity topped up. Prior to lockdown the client was getting employability help to look for delivery jobs but he is in the shielding category so has been unable to look for work during COVID. #1229 (16/6/20)
An EU national has split up with her partner and is now in temporary accommodation. It is hoped that she will have made sufficient NI contributions from previous work to entitle her to contributory JSA. She is looking for work but there are no jobs at the moment. She has been advised to apply for pre-settled status but would likely be refused UC and HB - and have to ask for any appeal to be stayed behind CPAG's test case #1440 (25/06/20)
Keeping our eye on
Temporary absence from home
CPAG in Scotland’s advice line has received a few enquiries about people who have temporarily moved in, or had people move in with them during COVID 19, usually in order to give or receive care. The queries have been about potential impact on benefits. For the most part, because the arrangements are intended to temporary there will be no impact on benefits (but should probably still be disclosed to DWP for transparency and to ensure receipt of mail etc). The exception may be in relation to housing benefit.
If you are temporarily absent from home you can continue to receive HB so long as you intend to return, for up to:
- 13 weeks – for any reason
- 52 weeks – in limited circumstances which includes to receive medically approved care, or a fear of violence in your home.
A client who receives HB, PIP and ESA normally lives in a council tenancy with a care package, moved in with her parents due to COVID 19. She is ready to return home, but her care package has to be re-assessed and put back in place first. HB have now been in touch to check when she is returning. She has reached the end of the 13 week permitted temporary absence and does not appear to fall into a category in which it can be extended. #1206 (10/6/20)
A joint tenant has moved in with her friend to receive care during COVID 19. She can be temporarily absent for up to 13 weeks for any reason and still receive HB. In this instance there is a threat of abuse from the daughter's boyfriend who had been staying over so the temporary absence rules may be extended to 52 weeks. #1233 (11/6/20)
We would be interested to hear if local authorities have been enforcing the 13 week absence rule or not. This is one area where UC in more generous as it allows for a temporary absence of 6 months for any reason.
You will find links to all of CPAG’s welfare rights and policy information on COVID-19 here:
If you have any queries about these findings, or the Early Warning System please contact:
You can submit anonymous case studies online