It is now clear that the DWP does not accept that use of the ‘Help to Claim’ service (operated by Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland) permits a claimant to rely on rules allowing the date of a claim for universal credit (UC) to be fixed at the date help is first requested. Simon Osborne explains.
Date of claim – the rule
Usually, the date of a UC claim is the date on which the online claim is received by the DWP. An exception is where the claimant receives help at home or ‘at an appropriate office’ from the Secretary of State (ie, the DWP), or someone ‘providing services’ to the Secretary of State in making the claim, in which case the date of claim is the date of first notification of a need for such assistance. This exception is set out at regulation 10(1)(b) of the Universal Credit (Claims and Payments) Regulations 2013.1
Help to Claim
Since 1 April, Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland have been providing a ‘Help to Claim’ service, which provides support to those making their first claim for UC. The DWP has invested £39 million in this service, via a grant. It may have been thought that those using it could rely on regulation 10(1)(b) to establish their date of claim as that of first contact with the service. But it has now been confirmed that this is not the official (DWP) intent, and that instead the default position will apply – ie, so that the date of claim in such cases is the date the online claim is received by the DWP. Depending in the facts, that could mean a gap between the date of first contact and the eventual submission of the online claim.
The official view
Recent correspondence confirms the official view. The basis for it is that it is not considered that the ‘Help to Claim’ service constitutes Citizens Advice ‘providing services to the Secretary of State’. Responding on 13 June to a letter from the National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers (NAWRA), Robert Watling, Head of the Ministerial Correspondence Team at the DWP, said: ‘It has always been the case that claims begin when a completed claim is submitted. Regulation 10(1)(b) applies to assistance with claims from people providing services to the Secretary of State. The provision of services generally requires a contractual relationship, therefore any grant arrangements, whether provided by Citizens Advice or any other such organisation, do not fall within the definition of regulation 10(1)(b).’
Referring to the ‘additional and alternative’ Help to Claim service, he said: ‘This personalised support helps to ensure that there is no need for a claimant to have their claim back-dated to the point of contact, because instead they are able to access immediate support to make their claim in a timely manner.’2
Responding on the same day to Bob Doris MSP to a letter regarding an alleged ‘protected date of claim guarantee’ in Scotland, Secretary of State Amber Rudd also said: ‘Unfortunately, the[re] has never been a legal basis for the process you describe whereby a thirdparty can “protect the date of claim” for Universal Credit claimants.’3
In summary The DWP does not accept that the fixing of the date of claim using regulation 10(1)(b) applies to the Help to Claim service. The official position is that the date of claim is not until the date of receipt of the online claim. Claimants who cannot start their claim immediately under Help to Claim could alternatively be referred to the job centre to request and then receive help in making the claim, if that would in practice be better, as that would trigger regulation 10(1)(b). However, the capacity of the job centre to help with making the claim must be considered here – local arrangements may be vital. CPAG welcome reports from advisers about these issues, via our Early Warning System.
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- 1. Universal Credit, Personal Independence Payment, Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance (Claims and Payments) Regulations 2013, No.380
- 2. Letter to Daphne Hall, NAWRA, 13 June 2019, available at www.nawra.org.uk
- 3. Letter to Bob Doris MSP, Scottish Parliament, 13 June 2019, available at www.parliament.scot/S5_Social_Security/ General%20Documents/20190613_Letter_from_SoS_to_Con vener_ProtectedDateOfClaim.pdf