Early Warning System e-bulletin: March 2023

10 March 2023
March 2023

The Early Warning System collects case examples from welfare rights advisers. We use this evidence for campaigns, in discussions with government, and in advice resources. 

This month, we have heard about the problems with the UC child element for multiple children. Read more about what advisers are saying and what CPAG is doing below. 

Call for evidence in March: we want to hear about anyone who:

  • has had a letter telling them that their legacy benefit is stopping and that they need to claim UC
  • has not received a UC child element for multiple children due to an issue with one child
  • parents subject to conditionality in UC

Tell us about your cases by completing an online form or emailing the Early Warning System​. 

Multiple children not counted

You've been telling us about families with multiple children receving no child element at all, because verification is pending for one or more of them. The lack of children on the universal credit claim results in multiple losses:

  • Loss of child element and disabled child element
  • Reduced bedroom allowance in the housing costs element
  • Removal of work allowance
  • Potentially no childcare costs element as well

Example cases show that awaiting evidence of a qualifying young person's (QYP) continuing education is the most common reason for the DWP to withhold the whole child element (and related entitlement).

A couple with two children aged 14 and 17 duly notified the DWP in June that their 17-year-old would be attending a college course in September. They were unable to provide the requested evidence of the course during the school holidays so their claim didn't include any children at all. The family became £1,300 worse off each month due to loss of both child elements, a reduced housing costs element and removal of the work allowance.

A single mother of three children, aged 19, 15 and 11 years old, added them to her UC claim when they joined her in the UK. She had problems confirming that her 19-year-old is in education because the college would not accept him onto the course until the start of the next academic year. The family received no child element and housing costs limited to the one-bedroom rate for over five months, even though there were no problems verifying the younger two children.

The same problem arises where there is some other discrepancy or minor error in the claim, even where the inconsistency has no impact on entitlement. 

A couple with six children rent privately and started a new UC claim in December. The family received no child element and a housing costs element calculated based on a one-bedroom entitlement only. Their tenancy was immediately put at risk and they struggled to meet their basic needs. A benefits advisor identified a mistake on the claim - one child's DOB was entered with the wrong month.

A single working parent of four children mistakenly reported that her daughter's DLA award included a low-rate care component rather than the middle-rate that was received. The error made no difference to UC entitlement but the child elements for all four children and the disabled child element were nonetheless suspended. The housing costs element was reduced by the bedroom tax and the work allowance removed. It was impossible for the family to meet their basic needs until many months later when an advisor identified and resolved the discrepancy.

Get children included

Identify reason for no child element 

The DWP does not volunteer explanations for the failure to include children in UC claims. Claimants must ask for an explanation or identify any discrepancy themselves. 

Check the outstanding To Do items and see what your client has told the DWP about their children in the UC journal in entries entitled:

  • New claim details submitted
  • Children and other people who live with you - updated details
  • Verify people who live with you completed
  • Feedback on verify people who live with you

Delayed QYP evidence

Where possible, advise parents to obtain documents confirming their child's upcoming college course before the summer holidays.

When the DWP is satisfied that all but one of the children should be included in the claim, but they fail to include them, you can challenge the entitlement decision in the usual way: request mandatory reconsideration and revision.

Judicial review may be appropriate to challenge the DWP's failure to make a determination about the children or delay in providing a mandatory reconsideration notice. Please contact CPAG's judicial review project for support with this. 

In this situation, the DWP advise claimants to resubmit their children's details, but not to include the "problematic" child. This enables the digital system to include the remaining children in the claim immediately. DWP staff advise that the excluded child can be re-added to the claim separately or once evidence is available but do not promise backdated entitlement. If a claimant feels obliged to do this, they must safeguard their position with a journal entry (message for work coach) explaining the report/s.

Error in claim

The DWP's preferred way to correct an error is to ask the claimant to submit a change of circumstances declaration reporting the correct information. As above, always protect the claimant's position with a journal entry (message for work coach) to explain that a change of circumstances has been reported to correct an error rather than record a change. 

If your client has any problems accessing backdated entitlement, please contact CPAG's advice services for support. 

Get the DWP to fix it

CPAG asked the DWP to clarify why they withhold the child element and associated entitlement for all children when verification for one is incomplete and what they are doing about it.

The DWP told us that they are aware there is an issue when multiple children are added to the UC claim at the same time - as the digital system follows an all-or-nothing approach. However, if children are added individually and subsequent children added only after the previous one has been verified, the child element (and linked entitlement) should remain in payment for the verified children.

The DWP confirms that this system glitch is on their list as an issue to fix, but could not confirm timescales or priority for the fix. More example cases demonstrating the impact of the problem on families may get the fix prioritised.

Your case studies can help us to:

  • Provide template resources
  • Consider legal arguments and challenges
  • Produce policy briefings and press releases pushing for change

If you have a case like this, please tell the Early Warning System using our online form or email [email protected]

Do you have something to tell us?

Hearing about your cases has a profound impact on our work.

Some of the topics we are looking out for include:

  1. Managed Migration – Have any of your clients received a notice that their legacy benefits will end?
  2. Multiple children excluded – We need real case studies showing the impact of the digital flaw described above on families. 
  3. Parents subject to conditionality – We need to know what works and what doesn't so we can make evidenced recommendations to government. 

Submit a case online or email the Early Warning System​ to tell us more. We can also be reached by phone on 0207 812 5226.

If you know an individual who would like to contact us directly about their own case, please let them know about our contact form for non-advisers.

Do you need CPAG's advice?

Advice by telephone

020 7812 5231 Monday to Friday, 10am-12 and 2pm-4pm

Universal credit advice by email outside London

[email protected]

Universal credit advice by email in London

020 7812 5221 Wednesday, 10am-12pm and 2pm-4pm

[email protected]


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