One item which should be top of the election agenda is the failure of Universal Credit.
Campaigning for Unemployed Rights.
One item which should be top of the election agenda is the failure of Universal Credit.
People contributing to this Blog have noted this (thanks Enigma) – we hope many more electors will take it seriously…not to mention politicians.
Food banks report record demand amid universal credit chaos
The Guardian reports.
Charity calls for immediate reduction in six-week wait for first benefit payment after handing out 1,182,954 emergency parcels.
Food banks handed out a record number of meals last year after the chaotic introduction of universal credit, the government’s flagship welfare overhaul, left claimants unable to afford meals when their benefits were delayed.
The Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest food bank network, announced that it provided 1,182,954 three-day emergency food parcels to people in crisis in 2016-17, up 6.4% on the previous year’s total of 1,109,000.
The trust said the standard six-week-plus waiting time for a first benefit payment faced by new universal credit claimants was behind the rise in demand for charity food. As well as reliance on food banks, benefit delays had also led to common adverse effects such as debt, mental illness, rent arrears and eviction, the trust said.
The trust called for an immediate reduction in the minimum six-week wait for a first payment, saying debt and uncertainty caused by being without income was a source of stress and anxiety for many clients, and had led some to lose their homes.
The problems were exacerbated by the lack of official support for both clients and charities encountering universal credit for the first time, the trust said. The move to a full digital approach to benefits administration made it difficult for claimants without internet access to easily make, adjust or follow up claims.
This is the Report:
25 Apr 17
UK foodbank use continues to rise
UK foodbank use continues to rise as new report highlights growing impact of Universal Credit rollout on foodbanks.
- Over 1,182,000 three day emergency food supplies given to people in crisis in past year – 436,000 to children
- New report on Universal Credit reveals adverse side effects on people claiming and foodbanks providing help
- The Trussell Trust welcomes Damian Green’s willingness to work with frontline charities and calls for more flexibility and support to help people moving to Universal Credit
UK foodbank use continues to rise according to new data from anti-poverty charity, The Trussell Trust. Between 1st April 2016 and 31st March 2017, The Trussell Trust’s Foodbank Network provided 1,182,954 three day emergency food supplies to people in crisis compared to 1,109,309 in 2015-16. Of this number, 436,938went to children. This is a measure of volume rather than unique users, and on average, people needed two foodbank referrals in the last year.* [see notes to editor]
The charity’s new report, Early Warnings: Universal Credit and Foodbanks, highlights that although the rollout of the new Universal Credit system for administering benefits has been piecemeal so far, foodbanks in areas of partial or full rollout are reporting significant problems with its impact.
Key findings from the report reveal:
- Foodbanks in areas of full Universal Credit rollout to single people, couples and families, have seen a 16.85% average increase in referrals for emergency food, more than double the national average of 6.64%.
- The effect of a 6+ week waiting period for a first Universal Credit payment can be serious, leading to foodbank referrals, debt, mental health issues, rent arrears and eviction. These effects can last even after people receive their Universal Credit payments, as bills and debts pile up.
- People in insecure or seasonal work are particularly affected, suggesting the work incentives in Universal Credit are not yet helping everyone.
- Navigating the online system can be difficult for people struggling with computers or unable to afford telephone helplines. In some cases, the system does not register people’s claims correctly, invalidating it.
- Foodbanks are working hard to stop people going hungry in areas of rollout, by providing food and support for more than two visits to the foodbank and working closely with other charities to provide holistic support. However, foodbanks have concerns about the extra pressure this puts on food donation stocks and volunteers’ time and emotional welfare.
Trussell Trust data also reveals that benefit delays and changes remain the biggest cause of referral to a foodbank, accounting for 43 percent of all referrals (26 percent benefit delay; 17 percent benefit change), a slight rise on last year’s 42 percent. Low income has also risen as a referral cause from 23 percent to 26 percent.
The Full Report can be accessed here: Early Warnings: Universal Credit and Foodbanks.
Key recommendations from the report:
Always Looking for New Targets to Reach.
Welfare Weekly. 20th of April
Conservatives accused of “targeting the most vulnerable in society” with “callous” cuts to Employment and Support Allowance.
Labour MP John Cruddas has accused the Tory government of “targeting the most vulnerable in society” with draconian welfare cuts, which he claims will have a big impact on his poorest Dagenham and Rainham constituents.
The “callous” Conservatives are cutting £30 a week in Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) payments for up to 500,000 sick and disabled people, reducing the amount they receive from £102.15 to just £73.10 – the same amount as Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) – despite those affected having been declared “unfit for work” following an assessment.
Westminster demonstration takes place after change in rules dramatically reduces amount paid out after a death.
Widowed parents have attended a protest outside parliament after ministers pressed ahead with cuts that will leave some bereaved families more than £50,000 worse off.
One of the attendees said the decision, which came into place earlier this month, was equivalent to “punishing those who are living out most families’ worst nightmares”.
Scotland: Scottish Housing News.
Women are being unfairly impacted by recent UK government cuts to benefits and welfare eligibility, according to equalities secretary Angela Constance.
An estimated 20% of women’s income comes from benefits and child tax credits, compared to 10% of men’s. Meanwhile, of all in-work families receiving child tax credits, 87% of recipients were women. For in-work single parents, 94% of recipients were female.
By 2020-21 it is estimated around 50,000 Scottish households will be affected by the changes to child tax credits, which will be capped at two children. This means anyone with two children or more will no longer receive tax credits at the birth of their next child or subsequent children, unless an exception applies. The policy also affects those making a new Universal Credit claim.
In addition, new families will lose £545 a year from the removal of the ‘family element’ – an additional payment that applies to the birth of a first child.
Ms Constance said: “The latest welfare cuts are having a hugely damaging and disproportionate impact on women. It is, frankly, an appalling assault on the incomes of ordinary people already struggling to make ends meet.
“It is all the more concerning because in many households women are the primary, or even sole, carers of children – a massive step backwards for equality in our society.
“As usual we are seeing an alarming lack of understanding from the UK government about the impact of their ideologically-driven policies. This is most evident in the extremely ill-thought through ‘rape clause’, where – shockingly – women have to provide evidence they’ve been raped to access benefits.
“The UK government’s callous policies make our own efforts to eradicate child poverty even harder. We are spending some £100 million a year on welfare mitigation to protect the vulnerable and those on low incomes, which we would rather be investing in anti-poverty measures. The reality is we are tackling deep seated issues of inequality with one hand tied behind our back.
“These welfare cuts were also introduced at the same time the UK government reduced taxes for the most well off south of the border. In contrast, our approach to social security will be based on dignity and respect and listening to people’s views – that’s why we are recruiting 2,000 people to shape the new system through our Experience Panels.”
And just to cheer everybody up: from the Belfast Telegraph about our old friend, Universal Credit.
Without a deal to bring back devolution, the Assembly will be unable to bring in mitigation schemes to cushion the impact of the upheaval for vulnerable families and individuals.
Universal Credit, which replaces a number of major benefits, is to be rolled out across the province in just over four months.
If the Assembly is not restored in that time, Secretary of State James Brokenshire will be required to take unilateral action, that could bring the Government in for criticism from other parts of the UK if the mitigation measures are included.
Just over 18 months ago the DUP and Sinn Fein handed back responsibility for welfare to Westminster, after more than three years of deadlock over benefit reforms.
The result was the Northern Ireland Welfare Reform Act, which means the power to trigger Universal Credit changes is in place.
Around 300,000 households will be impacted, with official estimates that 126,000 will be worse off by an average of almost £40 a week.
A further 114,000 are expected to be an average of £29 better off a week, with 72,000 remaining unchanged.
The changes are to be phased in gradually across Northern Ireland staring with Limavady in September – if the current timetable can be adhered to – followed by Ballymoney, Magherafelt and Coleraine.
The full roll-out of the programme will take a year, finishing off with Cookstown, Ballynahinch and Newcastle by September of next year.
Universal Credit replaces a series of existing benefits including Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Income Support, Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit.
The Department for Communities, which is working with the Department for Work and Pensions in London following the handover of responsibilities, confirmed yesterday the Assembly had been expected to deal with legislation to extend mitigation payments central to the reforms here.
“Mitigation schemes are already in place for legacy benefits for example JSA and ESA. Further legislation will be required to extend these mitigation payments to Universal Credit,” a statement said.
“This legislation will be dealt with by the NI Assembly. If there was no return to devolved government then such legislation would be considered in line with whatever arrangements were put in place to deal with this and all other pending NI legislation.”
Writing in the Belfast Telegraph this month, benefits expert Professor Eileen Evason said more can be achieved through parties working together.
“What we have, limited as it is, is far in advance of what has been secured by other devolved governments and demonstrates what can be achieved through devolution when people work together,” she said.
Prof Evason, who chaired a Stormont working group charged with mitigating the impact of the reforms within the financial framework, added: “I am also very aware of the high level of social need that continues to scar so many households and communities and is most evident in the growing reliance on food banks.
“I have no doubt those working with the most vulnerable in our society are anxious to move forward, but here, as is the case on so many issues, it is difficult to see how progress can be made without resolution of the current political impasse.”
The PCS Union announces.
Ahead of PCS’ lobby of parliament on Tuesday (28 March) opposing DWP office closures, MPs, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and others have been highlighting the negative impact that these closures will have on staff, users and the local community. Find out how you can join the lobby.
PCS has arranged the speaker meeting and lobby as part of our campaign to oppose office closures to over 100 DWP offices, including 74 jobcentres, representing more than 10% of the total. This will lead to at least 750 job losses. DWP plans to replace staff they make redundant with new staff, at further cost to the taxpayer.
The lobby will start with a speaker meeting in parliament at 1pm followed by a lobby from 2-4 pm in committee room 10, Houses of Parliament (St Stephen’s Gate Entrance) Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka has said of the plans: “Jobcentres provide a lifeline for unemployed people and forcing them to travel further is not only unfair, it undermines support to get them back to work.”
Staff will face job losses, and in some cases, unreasonable travel journeys to and from work. Those with caring responsibilities, childcare commitments and access requirements will be particularly disadvantaged. Staff losses are coming at a time when Universal Credit is being rolled out, hampered by delays, IT failures and backlogs. DWP could redeploy staff to Universal Credit where resources are needed.
In Glasgow 50% of DWP offices are targeted for closure in an area where unemployment is higher than the national average.
Staff in Bishop Auckland, one of the offices targeted for closure, also contribute more than £100,000 a year to local businesses.
In Llanelli, £500,000 could be lost annually to local traders if the closure of the benefits office goes ahead.
We share many of the concerns raised by Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who is “extremely concerned” by the plans and manner of consultation. The mayor has raised concerns with the minister for employment, Damian Hinds, including the impact of the closures, the lack of adequate time for consultation, the increased travel time and costs for users, the impact on disabled people, BAME communities and young people from low income families. The mayor states that “plans to close job centres…will hit the disadvantaged hardest”.
“Now, more than ever, the government should be focusing its efforts on creating new jobs and helping those most in need of support to access employment,” he said.
The government has not consulted claimants who use these job centres on the closure plans. Many are in areas of high unemployment and social deprivation. Disability claimants, staff/users with caring responsibilities and vulnerable users must be given due regard in terms of the equality impact assessment and the disadvantage that they will face if offices close or are relocated. Having to travel further as a result of these proposals also means some users are unfairly out of pocket and run the risk of being sanctioned for lateness. Equality impact assessments have not been carried out to assess the disadvantaged groups that will be hit by this campaign.
What you can do
Concerns have been raised by MPs in parliament and your local MP can also play a powerful role in this campaign; they need to hear from you to raise awareness and about the impact that this will have in the local community. If you have never been to a lobby of parliament before, PCS will be on hand to support you on the day.
Make your voice heard – contact your MP now and arrange a meeting for 28 March.
Background Mirror:, 26th of January.
Reckless” plans to slash millions from the welfare department’s bill by shutting Jobcentres across the country have been revealed.
The Department for Work and Pensions today announced it wants to merge staff and facilities from 78 smaller Jobcentre Plus offices into larger ones.
It wants to move another 50 into council or other similar offices to create “one-stop shops”, and shut 27 back offices.
The DWP insisted the move – carried out to slash its bills by £180m a year – would employ “under-used” buildings more efficiently.
Above: Mid-Suffolk and Babergh South Suffolk (Tory) Council Video……
Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work Damian Green sometimes spends time away from his taxing life in the bijou town of Ashford answering questions about ‘reforms’ to Personal Independence Payments.
Sample, 15th of March, Parliament, “I am happy to confirm that to my hon. Friend. I think that he and I would agree that that was a significant step forward when it was introduced, and I am determined that we maintain progress in that direction so that people who have a disability—whether a physical or mental impairment—can lead as full a life as possible.”
We note that in reply to one question he said, “In his long and distinguished career, the hon. Gentleman has been shadow Leader of the House, so he knows perfectly well that such things are a matter for the usual channels. It is therefore somewhat above my pay grade.”
You wonder if the turmoil in his department’s botched scheme Universal Credit is ‘above’ both his ‘pay grade’ and ability to deal with…
These are some of the latest difficulties.
Finance chief warns people are being forced into new debts
DESPERATE tenants faced with long delays in accessing new Universal Credit benefits are beginning to steal food to survive, the Town Hall has warned a parliamentary committee.
Camden Council told the Work and Pensions Select Committee that the new system – a single monthly, means-tested benefit – was backfiring due to delays in the system. This meant people were racking up debts and rent arrears before they had received any help. In some cases, people are waiting up to six weeks before claims are processed.
The Town Hall’s official submission to MPs said: “One tenant has confessed to a rent officer that they were stealing food to eat. It is common to hear that Universal Credit claimants are borrowing heavily from family and friends. The Department for Work and Pensions’ Universal Credit helpline set up to advise claimants on the progress of their claim is providing an unacceptable service. Telephone calls can cost up to 55p a minute from pay-as-you-go mobile phones, which are commonly used by people with lower incomes. Wait times to speak with an adviser can be very long – one claimant in Camden has reported that their phone bill for a month was over £140, used almost entirely on calls to the DWP.”
The council is one of a number of local authorities, volunteer groups and charities giving evidence to the committee investigating the effectiveness of the new benefit system, first devised by former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith.
The reforms were meant to make the process of claiming benefits simpler through a single account, but the monthly cycle has left many struggling as they wait for a first payment. The council, meanwhile, fears that landlords will stop letting to those affected, particularly as many do not have savings to fall back on.
Around 230 people currently claim Universal Credit in Camden, but this figure could jump to 10,000 when the system is rolled out across the country this year.
Camden’s submission to the committee added: “While we recognise there is much to support in a benefit system that encourages claimants to take responsibility for a personal budget and outgoings, we feel strongly that a system should not be set up in a way that potentially adds to the risk of vulnerable people losing their home.”
The ‘very long’ wait on the phone struck home.
This is more and more people’s experience of anything to do with the DWP, and all the rest, particularly the infamous ‘outsourced’ bits of the state, run by private racketeers.
In sum the next story comes as no surprise:
Pressure mounts on UK government to halt universal credit. Third Force News.
Pressure is mounting on the UK government to ditch universal credit until its catalogue of problems are resolved.
Scotland’s social security secretary Angela Constance warned the Westminster-imposed system was no longer feasible in Scotland and is demanding UK ministers halt its introduction.
The minister’s demand comes after a Westminster committee launched an inquiry into universal credit amid concerns over delays in payments.
The new system – where people use an online account to manage their claim or apply for a benefit – is fully operational only in certain parts of the country.
Three Scottish councils, East Lothian, Highland and East Dunbartonshire, have it in place, with other areas piloting aspects of the full system.
Constance has written to Damian Green, UK work and pensions secretary, to ask for a “complete halt to full service roll-out of universal credit in Scotland with immediate effect”, stating it is “no longer feasible”.
She said people who are moved on to full service have to wait six weeks before receiving their first payment, resulting in tenants building up rent arrears.
As a result,
Delays in payments have seen landlords, including housing associations, reporting financial difficulties, with councils reporting record rent arrears, Constance said.
“It is clear that the system simply isn’t working and the UK government is not prepared to make the necessary changes,” she said.
“The six-week delay in receiving a payment – with longer delays for some being experienced – is a completely unacceptable situation and one which has the potential to push low-income households into further hardship and homelessness.
“I was also shocked to hear reports that, in some areas, landlords are advertising properties as ‘No UC’ due to their experience with the system.
“Despite the UK government having these issues highlighted in the pilots for universal credit and by councils, charities, housing associations and parliamentarians, absolutely no meaningful reassurance has been received.
“I therefore cannot be confident that these issues are even close to being fully resolved and it is my view that it is simply not credible for the UK government to continue with the further roll-out of full service universal credit until these problems are fully resolved.”
Leading charities have backed the call.
As should we all.
Meanwhile the Rt Hon Damian finds time for this jaunty event on the 17th of March.
Ashford MP, Damian Green, has shown his support WWF’s tenth Earth Hour by making a special pledge to help protect the planet. The world is changing fast, and it’s never been more important to show support for action on climate change.
Damian Green joined the WWF at the House of Commons this week to show they care about the future of our planet, ahead of the global lights out event, taking place on Saturday 25 March at 8:30pm.
Damian Green said: “I am delighted to support WWF’s Earth Hour this year to demonstrate how important it is that we take climate change seriously. I am proud to be a member of a parliament which has set ambitious targets to reduce our carbon emissions over the coming decades. The Government has outlined clear plans in order to live up to these ambitions.”
Each year, millions of people around the world come together to call to support Earth Hour. Last year a record 178 countries took part and iconic landmarks across the UK switched out their lights, from Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, to Brighton Pier, Edinburgh Castle and Caerphilly Castle. This year is set to be the biggest yet as it’s the 10 year anniversary of Earth Hour. With 2016 breaking temperature records for the third consecutive year, it’s never been more important to tackle climate change.
Stop benefit sanctions!
More and more people are facing benefit sanctions. Half a million people have had their benefits suddenly stopped by sanctions in the last 12 months.That’s half a million people, many of whom have been plunged into poverty, unable to heat their homes or even eat. How is this meant to help prepare people for work?
Benefit sanctions must be fought against
Please join an event near you on Thursday 30 March to stop benefit sanctions in your community.
We will continue to add new actions on a regular basis, so please check back.
For further information please email your Unite community coordinator (see here).
You often wish that politicians, that is Westminster politicians, took these issues as seriously as they do in Scotland.
Morning Star (today)
SCOTTISH Labour unveiled plans yesterday to “kick the private sector out of our social security system,” branding the treatment of disabled and long term-ill benefit claimants under the Tory welfare regime “inhumane.”
The party will table amendments to the forthcoming Social Security Bill to use the Scottish Parliament’s new powers to rule out the involvement of the private sector and has urged the SNP to support its proposals.
Labour says that thousands of disabled people have experienced punitive assessments for the Tories’ personal independence payments (PIP), adding that the SNP’s decision to delay the devolution of welfare powers will mean that 140,000 Scots will still be assessed under the current system.
Last month, a Scottish government consultation on social security revealed a “strong consensus that services should not be delivered through the private sector or profit-making agencies, with the majority of respondents in agreement that social security should be delivered through existing public-sector or thirdsector organisations.”
Labour social security spokesman Mark Griffin said his party will seek to “use the new social security powers of the Scottish Parliament to kick the private sector out of our social security system.”
He laid into “these cruel and inhumane [PIP] assessments that have piled misery on vulnerable Scots.”
“Nicola Sturgeon failed to mention poverty once in her speech to the SNP conference. That tells you everything you need to know about her priorities,” he said.
He urged the First Minister to “work with Labour to use the new powers of our parliament” and abandon her preoccupation with Scottish independence.
Welfare Weekly (March the 17th) reports,
SNP Conference: Calls to scrap ‘draconian’ benefit sanctions regime
“The SNP does not believe we should be attacking the most disadvantaged in our society and completely rejects this benefits sanctions regime.
“The Tories need to realise this is the devastating consequences that removing the only source of income available has on real people and their families.
“It is extremely concerning that the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in our society, including those at risk of homelessness, those with caring responsibilities and those with mental ill health issues, are the most likely to be punished by the draconian regime.
“The UK government must urgently scrap this punitive sanctions regime. The shocking findings of the National Audit Office illustrate the sheer unfairness and ineffectiveness of sanctions.
“The SNP has consistently done everything it can to mitigate the worst impacts of Tory welfare cuts spending £100m on protecting people – money we would rather invest in pulling people out of poverty.
“Our Government in Scotland continue to fight against the regime, for instance the Scottish Government have already secured agreement from the UK Government that the Scottish employment programme will not facilitate their benefits sanctions system.
“Scottish Ministers have been crystal clear that our services in Scotland must be seen as an opportunity, not a threat.”
The full text of the resolution reads:
“Conference rejects the punitive Tory benefit sanction regime; commends the creators of I, Daniel Blake for bringing the public’s attention to the cruel and callous reality facing tens of thousands of disadvantaged people across the UK; further notes with the concern the shocking findings of the National Audit Office of the scale and ineffectiveness of the sanctions regime; is concerned that the most vulnerable including those at risk of homelessness, those with caring responsibilities and those with mental ill health are the most likely to be punished by the draconian regime, welcomes the decision of the Scottish Government to make sure that the new Employment Programme, effective from April 2017, does not facilitate the UK Government’s sanctions system, and calls for the UKG to move urgently to scrap the unfair sanctions regime.”
This in an official press release from the Scottish National Party (SNP).
Rise in Homeless Numbers Threat from Universal Credit.
This morning the BBC news had a story about homeless people.
It covered the case, a happy case, of a man who’d been helped into accommodation.
The idea that getting somewhere to live is the first step to getting back on your feet is not, perhaps, original, but this may help many people in a desperate situation.
But as it is, and as the report noted, the number of rough sleepers has not stopped growing.
I only have to walk a few metres from the library in Ipswich to see those affected.
The broadcaster did not fail to mention that people blamed the tough conditions imposed on Jobseekers, the Claimant Commitment, proof of looking for work, and all the rest that we know all too well.
Not always easy to fulfil for many people, they become extremely hard for anybody with the kind of problems associated with those on the streets.
If they could get JSA under any conditions.
With the menace of sanctions to deal with as well.
Now the threat of living without a roof over your head hovers over a whole new set of people, as the Scottish paper, the Herald reports.
You can guess where this one comes from.
A LEADING Scots housing body has warned that increasing numbers of people on benefits are at greater risk of homelessness as rent arrears soar under a controversial new benefits pilot scheme being rolled out across Scotland.
The Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland (CIH Scotland) has warned that the new Universal Credit to date has led to tenants finding it increasingly difficult to pay their rent.
And the organisation has also raised fears of a return to the old ‘No DSS’ culture that restricted access to the private rented sector for many benefit claimants during the 1980’s.
Welfare Reform Impact, a recent report published by the HouseMark consultancy group showed the average rent arrear debt of a Universal Credit claimant was £618 compared to average non-UC arrears of £131.
MPs have already launched an official inquiry into Universal Credit amid growing concerns that design flaws in the new benefits system are leaving thousands of low-income claimants facing eviction and reliant on food banks.
Holyrood’s Social Security Committee has already met with administrative staff and claimants in the Musselburgh pilot area and heard about unacceptable delays of eight or nine weeks in being paid benefits, pushing people into rent arrears. Committee members also heard local jobcentres are ill-equipped to effectively support claimants.
The single payment replaces six benefits – income support, jobseeker’s allowance, employment support allowance, housing benefit, child tax credit and working tax credit – and is paid directly to claimants.
I doubt if this has escaped our Newshounds either:
Analysis of some 11,000 online listings for spare rooms found all but a few hundred stated benefit claimants were not welcome.
Campaign groups say it is “naked discrimination” and are calling for a change in the law.
Landlords say more social housing needs to be built.
The BBC England data unit analysed listings on the website SpareRoom, looking at London and 18 other towns and cities across England.
- Out of 11,806 adverts for rooms to let, just 2% were open to people on benefits.
- The website’s listings showed not a single vacancy for a benefit claimant in Bournemouth, Exeter, Leicester, Liverpool, Norwich, Oxford or Reading.
- Plymouth had the highest rate of acceptance, but even that was just 10% of rooms, 15 out of 144.
- Across the 19 areas with the most available rooms, there were twice as many lets that accepted pets as accepted housing benefit claimants.
It is a similar pattern on a letting agent website.
On OpenRent.co.uk, just 580 out of 3,342 listings accepted people on benefits.
The websites specify “No to DSS” in flatmate preferences. DSS is the acronym for the Department of Social Security, which was replaced in 2001 by the Department for Work and Pensions.
Always makes “decisions in the best interests of the claimant.”
New rules restricting MPs from intervening with officials directly to resolve benefit payment problems on behalf of constituents are a major barrier to justice, ministers have been warned. (Patrick Butler Guardian).
(Without detracting from the details what this means is that you will have to mount a quasi-legal case to involve a MP *and* let the DWP, who always have our best interests at heart, know what you are doing…”The DWP has told MPs it will not discuss individual cases with them unless they have the explicit online consent of claimants..”)
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has told MPs it will not discuss individual universal credit cases with them unless the claimant has given formal “explicit consent” by issuing detailed instructions via their online DWP account.
MPs said the restrictions will create a fresh layer of bureaucracy and pile extra pressure on vulnerable people who have approached their MP as a last resort to resolve problems such as non-payment of benefits.
Up to now, MPs have been able to contact the Department for Work and Pensions directly to deal with benefit problems on the basis that they had the “implicit consent” of the claimant who raised the issue with them.
“It [the restriction] makes the job more tiresome, slows it down, and creates more work for constituents. It’s barmy and unnecessary, and it’s a major barrier to justice,” said Frank Field, the chairman of the work and pensions select committee.
Welfare rights advisers have also raised the issue, warning the DWP last year that restrictions around “explicit consent” made it near-impossible for them to resolve benefit issues on behalf of some vulnerable clients, including for example those with learning disabilities, or those gravely ill in hospital beds who are unable to access their online DWP accounts.
Field said he had raised the issue in person recently with the work and pensions secretary, Damian Green, who Field said was sympathetic. However, this week, a caseworker in Field’s constituency office trying to resolve a benefits issue on behalf of a constituent was refused by the DWP.
The DWP’s alternative News Factory replied,
A DWP spokesman said: “This issue has been raised with the department and we are actively looking into it. The DWP always takes steps to protect personal data and make decisions in the best interests of the claimant.”
Karen Buck MP said: “People come to me because we [MPs] are the only named people in the system they can find. If we have to turn people away, asking them to jump through hoops before we can help them, it is only going to make people feel disempowered.”
She added: “The more complex the demands we put on vulnerable people, the easier it should be for representatives to intervene on their behalf.”
The note to MPs, sent in February, says that before MPs become involved in a case constituents must provide the DWP “with the specific details of the issues they would like us to discuss with you” via their online journal, through which all their universal credit business is transacted.
The DWP’s director general of universal credit, Neil Couling wrote to welfare advisers in January arguing that explicit consent was necessary because of the risk of that disclosure of material to third parities would breach data protection rules.
He wrote: “I realise that as bona fide advisers this may seem unduly cautious, but we face regular attempts by unscrupulous organisations and individuals to access information from us and we need to take all reasonable steps to protect the position of claimants and their data which we hold.”
The explicit consent rule applies to claimants on the full service universal credit, of which there are around 450,000 in the UK. It does not apply to people claiming legacy benefits such as housing benefit.