You reap what you code: universal credit, digitalisation and the rule of law

"The rule of law means many things to many people, but its common thread is, first, that everyone must know, or be able to find out, the rules and laws by which their lives are regulated; and secondly, that everyone is entitled to challenge, whether by internal review mechanisms, by appeal or by judicial review, the lawfulness of their treatment."

The Rt Hon Sir Stephen Sedley, former Lord Justice of Appeal

Since 2019, we have published three reports looking at access to justice, digitalisation and universal credit (UC):

Computer says 'no!' - stage one: information provision

Computer says 'no!' - stage two: challenging decisions

Universal credit and access to justice: applying the law automatically

UC is ‘digital by design’ – meaning that it is mainly an online system. We are concerned about the effect this has on access to justice. Using evidence from our Early Warning System, the reports highlight how claimants are frequently left in the dark about their UC claim or award. Claimants are not provided with enough information about how their benefit has been calculated, or how to challenge a decision if they believe a mistake has been made. Claimants who do try to dispute a decision encounter roadblocks along the way.

Since we published the reports, the Department for Work and Pensions has made a number of changes to the information they give UC claimants, which go some way towards addressing some of the concerns we raised. However, there is still a lot of work to do to ensure that the administration of UC, which involves both digital and manual processes, is upholding rule of law principles.

CPAG was delighted to be awarded funding from the Legal Education Foundation to carry on this work.You Reap What You Code: universal credit, digitalisation and the rule of law is an in-depth and systematic analysis of how the UC claims, decision making, communicating decisions and disputes processes align with the social security legislation that underpins them, and the wider rule of law principles of lawfulness, procedural fairness and transparency.

Read You reap what you code

We plan to work with policy makers in government, the legal community, welfare rights advisers, and civil society to ensure we have a UC system that upholds rule of law principles and protects the rights of claimants.

For more information about the project please contact Sophie Howes, head of policy at CPAG [email protected].


The Legal Education Foundation is delighted to be supporting this project.




This project is also supported in part by a grant from the Foundation Open Society Institute in cooperation with the Information Program of the Open Society Foundations.