People experiencing mental ill health face specific problems claiming support from our social security system. This is particularly the case with universal credit (UC) because it is fully digital, and because it is the same benefit for all working-age people, whether or not you have a mental health problem. To ensure everyone can access the financial support they need, there should be a robust and prompt system within UC to identify those who need additional support to claim, or different treatment to access support. And a requirement that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) acts on that information.
We undertook research to find out whether the DWP is meeting the needs of people with mental health problems and making adjustments to their service as required by law. UC was promoted in its early stages as a personalised service, providing support to meet people’s needs. We wanted to find out whether it has lived up to this ambition.
The provisions in the Equality Act 2010 should mean that this is already happening: the DWP has to anticipate and plan how to meet the needs of disabled people, such as those with mental health problems. The DWP, like any service provider, is required by law to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled people. These adjustments need to fit the particular needs of each individual person, so the DWP must ask each person to find out what their needs are. Examples of a reasonable adjustment might be offering a telephone appointment rather than a face-to-face meeting, or offering a private interview room within a busy job centre so sensitive information is kept private.
In this project, we set out to explore the experiences of 27 UC claimants with mental health problems. We asked them if they were proactively asked whether they needed reasonable adjustments at the various stages on their claimant journey.
No claimant we spoke to reported being expressly asked whether they needed a reasonable adjustment. Claimants were not asked if they needed alternative methods of communication, nor how their mental health affected their ability to interact with the UC system.
What this meant in practice for these claimants was that they faced problems throughout the process of claiming UC and managing that claim.
In this report we document the experiences of these claimants, and make recommendations for very practical steps the DWP could take to ensure claimants with mental health problems can access UC fully.