Hello and welcome to the first edition of CPAG's Early Warning System e-bulletin.
The Early Warning System (EWS) gathers information and case studies about the impact of welfare reform on children and families in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Are you an adviser in Scotland? Sign up for the Scottish Early Warning System e-bulletin.
WHAT IS THE EARLY WARNING SYSTEM?
The Early Warning System (EWS) gathers information and case studies about families and individuals affected by changes to the benefit system since 2013. We analyse enquiries made to our advice service, submissions from advisers and the cases we see at our food bank advice service to identify emerging problems.
By gathering data direct from advisers and claimants we can better:
- Explain the impact of welfare reform to politicians and the media
- Suggest improvements to the benefit system which would reduce child poverty and make the system fairer
- Promote solutions advisers can use to support their clients when things go wrong
HOW YOU CAN GET INVOLVED
CPAG has recently published evidence showing how changes to the benefit system have pushed increasing numbers of children into poverty. The EWS is an opportunity for front line advisers to join our campaigning to mitigate the impact on child poverty and improve the benefits system.
If you are working on an intractable problem, a case which exemplifies the difficulties a community you work with are having with their benefits or an issue which you would like the wider world to know about, we want to hear from you
You can contact us via our case reporting form, by email, or by calling 020 7812 5226. We need basic details and it only takes a couple of minutes to submit a case study. We treat all our case studies with complete anonymity.
In return we will keep you informed about EWS activities and successes. You’ll be first to receive our reports and newsletters.
WE WANT TO SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT THE EARLY WARNING SYSTEM
If you run a team meeting, conference or event, we would be pleased to talk about the problems the EWS is highlighting and the solutions you can use to resolve them.
We are seeing a lot of universal credit cases currently so, if you work in an area that will go full service soon or have a lot of clients on UC, the talk will be particularly useful for you.
The talk is free, we’ll travel to you and can adapt the talk to the time you have available.
If you have a case which you think we and the wider world should know about please get in touch.
What the EWS is telling us: PROBLEMS WITH UNIVERSAL CREDIT AFTER A CLAIM FOR ESA HAS ENDED
In each edition of the newsletter we look at an issue highlighted by the EWS and suggest ways advisers can overcome the problem.
As UC full service is rolled out, increasing numbers of claimants who lose their entitlement to employment and support allowance (ESA) because they are awarded insufficient points during the work capability assessment (WCA) or because they fail to attend the assessment, are forced to claim UC.
As there is no severe disability premium or enhanced disability premium in UC, people who claim UC when their ESA is disallowed can lose up to £78.35 per week. Such claimants may also be given all work requirements and are at higher risk of sanction as a result.
We have seen several cases on the EWS of people who have been advised to claim UC while waiting for the outcome of a mandatory reconsideration (MR) or an appeal or even as an alternative to challenging the ESA disallowance.
We have heard from advisers in the Swansea region who are working with people who claimed jobseekers allowance while living in a live service area and waiting for an MR of the decision to stop their ESA who, when their area went full service, have been told that they must stop their claim for JSA and claim UC.
It is important to note that for some claimants in this position, there are advantageous alternatives to claiming UC.
Another problem for clients who make a UC claim while waiting for an MR or appeal decision is that even if the MR/appeal is successful, the claimant cannot return to ESA and any arrears can only be paid until the date of the UC claim. This is because a claim for UC in a full service area effectively abolishes the benefits UC replaces (including ESA), even if the claim is made following wrong or incomplete advice.
ESA pending an appeal – still available
Claimants who submit an appeal against an award of insufficient points at WCA (and supply medical certificate) should be treated as having a limited capability for work (regulation 30 of the ESA Regulations (2008) and regulation 26 of the ESA Regulations (2013)), As long as this is the first time they have failed the WCA, or they satisfied the WCA last time they were assessed or they have a new or significantly worsened condition, (and meet all the other conditions of entitlement), continue to be entitled to ESA.
The EWS has seen examples of clients who are wrongly refused ESA pending an appeal on the spurious basis that no new claims for ESA are possible in full service areas.
Advisers should insist that such a client's ESA is reinstated pending their appeal and that such a request to do so is not a new claim (triggering a UC claim) but a new award, made until a judge has the opportunity to consider the decision (citing regulation 3(1)(j) of the Social Security (Claims and Payments) Regulations (1987)).
Clients who are subsequently awarded sufficient points after a challenge should be able continue payments of ESA - and potentially receive arrears - as they have avoided making a claim for UC.
If your client has claimed UC after their ESA is disallowed, it is still worth pursuing a challenge by MR / appeal: If the challenge is successful and the claimant is placed in the support group, the limited capability for work related activity element will be payable in their UC award from the start of their claim (and potentially arrears paid). If the outcome of the challenge is that they continue to be entitled to the ESA work related activity component (abolished for new claimants from 3 April 2017), the limited capability for work related activity element will be payable in their UC from day one.
Additionally, as any client who is deemed to have a limited capability for work or work related activity at MR or appeal, will be given reduced work related requirements as a condition of entitlement to UC, their UC is less likely to be sanctioned.
Claimants waiting for the outcome of a challenge against a decision to disallow ESA made because they failed to attend a medical assessment (or return the ESA50 form) cannot claim ESA pending an appeal. Claimants not entitled to ESA pending an appeal may be forced to make a UC claim however if they are able to avoid doing so (by for example, relying on other benefits such a PIP or tax credits) can return to ESA after a successful challenge.
What to advise your client:
- Prepare for and turn up to medical assessment. Contact the DWP for more time to complete ESA50
- Request a mandatory reconsideration and if necessary appeal, against ESA disallowance.
- Consider carefully whether claiming UC is the best course of action, particularly if other benefits (including ESA pending an appeal) are available
- If your ESA stops after a medical assessment, contact housing benefit at the town hall immediately and ask them to continue paying HB on the basis that you have no income or, if you are entitled, ESA pending appeal.
- Claiming UC during the MR or appeal wait will limit arrears payable and prevent the client returning to ESA, even if the challenge is successful.
- Once an appeal against a decision to award insufficient points is made, request the DWP reinstate the disallowed ESA claim. If possible avoid claiming UC by getting ESA reinstated, relying on other benefits such as tax credits or PIP or resources such as food banks and local welfare assistance schemes.
- As long as the claimant avoids claiming UC, housing benefit can be paid while the MR and appeal are considered, on the basis that the claimant has a very low or no income.
- If ESA pending an appeal is refused, escalate via the DWP incident management team or UC service centre. In the short term, try to speak to another, more informed member of DWP staff.
WHAT WE HAVE BEEN DOING WITH YOUR CASE STUDIES
- CPAG was asked by Ruth George MP to support the new All Party Parliamentary Group on UC. At the group's first meeting in the House of Commons we raised problems clients face when they lose entitlement to ESA and are forced to claim UC. The group plan to write a report on UC in early this year.
- We used several case studies in our submissions to the Work and Pensions Committee in inquiry into the rollout of UC.
- We cited case studies from the EWS is formal submissions to the National Audit Office (NAO) and in meetings with NAO officers.
- We raised examples from the EWS in formal meetings with senior DWP officers. For instance we shared examples of people paid twice in an assessment period (because they are paid early when their normal pay day falls on a bank holiday or a weekend). We have been given assurances that the DWP will look into the question of people who not only lose their entitlement to universal credit in that assessment period but are also benefit-capped in the subsequent assessment period when they are not paid at all. Look out for further developments in the next EWS newsletter.
THE NEXT STEPS
The EWS continues to expand and we are adding new cases every day. We are planning to build on the information we get from case studies by bringing together a group of claimants and interviewing them in depth about the impact welfare reform is having on their lives.
We will be raising problems that we hear about at the next meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on UC.
CPAG has written a UC information pack which we are sending to MPs and councillors representing areas moving to full service. The pack includes a briefing for constituency office workers on UC problems we have seen on the EWS, and our proposed solutions. We will be publishing this briefing on our webpages. See the forthcoming March edition of the e-bulletin for further details.
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