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. Case studies are collated from queries dealt with through our second tier advice line and submissions from frontline workers. The briefing summarises the emerging issues received between the beginning of July and mid-August 2020.
Summary of emerging issues
- Workers continue to be disadvantaged by the way UC calculates their income depending on when they are paid
- Many UC claimants are being over or underpaid, with DWP error and real time reporting of earnings being two of the contributing factors
- A number of tax credits claimants were misadvised by DWP to claim UC when their income dropped due to Covid, leaving them worse off in the long term
- Many ill and disabled people are not receiving additional amounts they should due to the lack of work capability assessments being carried out
- Some migrants are experiencing financial hardship because they have no or reduced entitlement to benefits
We have been closely monitoring the impacts of the Covid 19 pandemic on social security claimants. There are considerably fewer pandemic related cases in this briefing than in recent ones, as may be expected as lock down restrictions lift. However as discussed in this briefing, as a result of the pandemic we are still seeing:
- a number of tax credits claimants who have migrated to UC prematurely and finding themselves worse off as a result
- lack of work capability assessments leading to contributory ESA ending before an assessment has been carried out
- ill and disabled people not receiving additional amounts in their benefits because a work capability assessment has not been carried out.
UC calculations are based on circumstances and income in a monthly assessment period. People who are paid monthly, but not on the same date each month, may receive two wages in one assessment period and none in another. The effect of receiving two wages in one assessment period is that the UC award will be reduced, or stopped – forcing the claimant to make a new claim the following month.
CPAG successfully challenged the rigidity of the monthly assessment period regime under universal credit (UC) and the way that earned income is calculated for certain claimants. The Secretary of State for Work of Pensions has confirmed that she will not be appealing the decision and will seek to identify affected claimants. Affected claimants are advised to request a mandatory reconsideration and appeal citing the Johnson case. In the meantime we continue to receive case evidence about claimants in similar situations and of DWP not implementing the findings of the case.
A lone parent gets paid on the last day of the month so it often appears that she has been paid twice in one assessment period, which means she gets no UC some months. #1985 (7/8/20)
A client requested a mandatory reconsideration after receiving two wages in one assessment period. The mandatory reconsideration notice states that the Johnson decision only applies to the specific claimants whose cases were before the court but the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has acknowledged the need to identify a mechanism for identifying all claimants who are affected. #1795 (23/7/20)
The Early Warning System continues to receive examples of client’s being overpaid UC due to DWP error. This is particularly worrying as all UC overpayments are recoverable, including those caused by official error.
A client’s UC became a telephone claim after his wife died as he has no IT skills. He did not receive any UC statements until requested by his adviser. It then transpired that the client was being overpaid because his occupation pension was not being included in the calculation and his late wife had not been removed from the claim - both of which had been reported. Adviser was told that the client would have to call the service centre and report his wife’s death for a second time. They would not accept the information from the adviser because wife’s death was not specified on the mandate allowing the adviser to speak to UC. #1882 (30/7/20)
Client notified UC that he was receiving carer’s allowance (CA) but his UC was not amended accordingly resulting in a large overpayment which DWP are now pursuing. #1994 (10/8/20)
Client gets widowed parent’s allowance (WPA) and UC. Initially WPA was deducted from her UC, but then the deduction stopped. Client rang and wrote to UC to query this but was assured that it should have been disregarded. She was then paid arrears of £3500 and received a letter confirming that she had been underpaid. However she then received notification that she had been overpaid and recovery commenced from her ongoing UC award. Letters about the overpayment keep appearing in her journal, but every time a new one appears the old one disappears. #1659 (10/7/20)
The Early Warning System frequently receives examples of UC claimants being underpaid, usually because there is an element missing or the work allowance has not been included in the calculation.
Client claimed UC when he was off work sick and was found to have limited capability for work. He has started a phased return to work but his UC award doesn’t appear to include a work allowance. #1610 (7/7/20)
Prior to moving into together and claiming UC, one partner was receiving income-related ESA. The limited capability for work element should have been included in the UC but it was not and the client has now been asked to provide a medical certificate. #1791 (22/7/0)
Six months ago, client's UC housing costs (which are paid direct to the landlord) halved, despite there being no change in the client's circumstances. Repeated attempts to raise this through the client's journal have been rebuffed and DWP has refused to contact the adviser, UC just keep re-iterating that the payment statement is correct. #1948 (5/8/20)
Client is awaiting an appeal about a decision stopping her CA and notifying her of an overpayment. She submitted a new claim but did not receive a response and neither did her adviser who sent letters requesting a decision. Client was told on the phone that a decision could not be made on the new claim until the overpayment had been dealt with. The client's husband (who was the person the client was caring for) then died and DWP was notified via the Tell Us Once service. Client is now receiving UC, but every month CA (that she is not receiving) is deducted from her award. Every month she notes in her journal that she is not receiving CA and that her husband has died. UC then pay the correct sum, only to deduct CA again the following month. #1523 (1/7/20)
Real time information
To calculate a claimant’s income, DWP relies on employers reporting how much employees have been paid through ‘real time information’ (RTI). A number of case studies highlight reporting RTI errors or delays causing claimants’ UC to be reduced or stopped, causing financial hardship. Regulations do allow DWP to correct RTI errors, but case evidence suggests they are reluctant to do so.
A part-time student was overpaid wages which are now being recovered from her ongoing earnings. This is not being reflected accurately on RTI which means that the client is being underpaid UC. #1584 (6/7/20)
A client started a job at the beginning of March and was then furloughed. She waited seven weeks for her first furlough payment and hasn't received another one since. However RTI indicates that she is getting furlough pay weekly. Employer won't answer calls. She has raised an RTI dispute but doesn't know how long it will take to resolve. #2017 (12/8/20)
A family's UC is being reduced in respect of wages that the husband is not receiving from an employer that he has never worked for. HMRC and the police are investigating, but UC continue to rely of the RTI. Husband has no earnings since he lost his job in February (different employer). The couple have had two crisis grants from the Scottish Welfare Fund but have been refused a third because it is for the same costs. #1896 (12/7/20)
Accidental migration to UC during Covid pandemic
A number of people who were receiving tax credits claimed UC following a drop in their hours or income. They were either advised to make the UC claim, or not advised that in doing so that their tax credits would stop. Many have subsequently found themselves worse off on UC or not entitled at all.
A client was working part time and receives the disabled workers element in her tax credits and disability premium in her HB. When she was furloughed the Jobcentre advised her to claim UC which she did, but is now worse off because there is no disabled worker's element and no disability premium in UC. #1543 (2/7/20)
Client and her husband’s incomes dropped due to Covid, so she phoned DWP looking for advice on what they could claim. She stated that she was on tax credits, received DLA for her daughter, and was worried about how these would be affected. She was advised that she could apply there and then for UC, that it wouldn’t affect what she was already getting too much and that she could come back off of it when resuming work. She was at no time informed that if she went ahead with the claim that she would lose her entitlement to tax credits.
The client feels that she was badly misinformed, and made decisions based on information she had no cause to doubt, believing that she was dealing with someone who was giving expert advice. This has caused serious repercussions for the family, leaving them in a dire financial situation. She felt insulted when being contacted a few weeks later by someone from UC, who was calling to check up on how she was finding being on UC. When she explained how she had been affected so negatively, and that she had felt duped into going on to UC and would be worse off in the long run, the caller said she had heard the same thing from many other people. #1903 (3/8/20)
Work capability assessments
In March DWP suspended all face to face assessments for disability benefits, including the work capability assessment for ESA and UC. However telephone and paper based assessments have still been possible. This does not appear to have been happening, meaning that ill and disabled people are not receiving additional amounts in their benefit that they may be entitled to.
Adviser reports several clients not receiving decisions about capability for work. One client with limited capability for work asked to be re-assessed because his condition has deteriorated but DWP refused to issue a UC50. Someone who claimed UC recently was told to save up his medical certificates until things get back to normal. #1477 (30/6/20)
Client claiming UC has a cancer diagnosis and is undergoing treatment. Adviser asked on her journal for a UC50 to be sent out so that the limited capability for work related activity can be added to her award– this would just need the doctor to complete the back page to confirm she is on treatment. UC have replied to say the form will not be issued until “everything is back up and running”. In this case this seems particularly unhelpful as she will not need any medical assessment. #1639 (9/7/20)
Entitlement to contributory ESA is limited to 365 days unless you are found to have limited capability for work related activity. Lack of assessments during Covid means that claimants are reaching the end of their 365 days entitlement without having their capability for work assessed and so their contributory ESA will stop.
A client claimed contributory ESA in August 2019 and returned her ESA50 the following month. She was told it was being processed when she called in January 2020, but when she called in response to the letter advising that contributory ESA is due to expire after 365 days she was told that DWP don't have her ESA50 and that she will have to complete a new one. #1614 (7/7/20)
Migrants’ entitlement to benefits
Benefits for people from abroad is a particularly complex area of social security and CPAG in Scotland’s second tier advice line deals with many enquiries relating to this area. These high numbers are reflected in the number of cases identified by Early Warning System which relate to migrants’ entitlement to benefits. The recurring themes are:
- Many EU nationals are unable to establish a right to reside that will entitle them to means-tested benefits
- Unemployed EU nationals who are receiving UC are at risk of losing their right to reside/entitlement to UC unless they can demonstrate that they have a genuine prospect of work – which is increasingly difficult in the current employment market
- People from abroad are often incorrectly refused benefits they should be entitled to
- Households with mixed immigration status experience hardship due to reduced levels of benefit entitlement
An EU national couple, their parents, their baby and three other children are living together in a two bedroom flat and would like to be rehoused somewhere that is less overcrowded. However at the moment it does not appear that anyone in the household can establish a right to reside that will entitle them to any benefits. #1766 (21/7/20)
An EU national lone parent was receiving UC and statutory maternity pay, but now that her baby is ten months old she has been told to attend a genuine prospect of work interview. If she cannot demonstrate a genuine prospect of work, she will lose entitle to UC and child benefit. #1707 (14/7/20)
An EU national worked for 17 years, then received ESA and PIP for nine years, thus establishing a permanent right to reside. When she left her husband she requested the severe disability premium be included in her ESA so she could claim HB. This process was beset by problems, leading her to accrue rent arrears, so she eventually claimed UC - which was incorrectly refused on the grounds that she does not have a right to reside. #2033 (12/8/20)
A client joined her husband in the UK on a spousal visa which states that she has no recourse to public funds. Husband is in receipt of UC for himself and their daughter but no additional amount for his wife. She has recently been diagnosed with a terminal illness but is not eligible to claim PIP because of her immigration status. #1622 (8/7/20)
If you have any queries about these findings, or the Early Warning System, please contact:
You can submit anonymous case studies online