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Universal Credit Claimants Being Wrongly Told They Can’t Appeal Decisions

July 22, 2019

Some people on Universal Credit are being wrongly advised that they cannot appeal decisions about their benefits claim, a campaign group has warned.

Claimants’ efforts to appeal perceived mistakes with their application are being blocked or delayed in some instances, according to the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).

The group accused staff at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of not understanding the rules about how Universal Credit award decisions could be challenged, and of attempting to discourage individuals from pursuing appeals.

The warning comes after CPAG analysed 1,600 benefits cases as part of its Computer says ‘No!’ – Stage two: challenging decision report. It found there were issues with people who wanted to submit a request for a decision to be reviewed, a mandatory reconsideration, and those who wanted to appeal after receiving a mandatory reconsideration notice.

The report claimed was understandable that the multiple obstacles claimants faced meant they lost confidence and abandoned their efforts to challenge decisions..

‘UC staff do not always understand’

 “Universal Credit staff dealing with claimants do not always seem to understand the rules as to how decisions can be challenged, and efforts to make the system more user-friendly by encouraging informal online chats can mean claimants are prevented from exercising their rights and ultimately cannot make sure their awards are corrected,” said CPAG’s chief executive Alison Garnham.

 “The system throws up so many obstacles to getting a decision reviewed that some claimants – often the most vulnerable – are likely to give up and lose out.

“The failure to ensure Universal Credit operates in a way that upholds basic legal duties is cause for serious concern,” said Ms Garnham.

She added that 130,000 individuals and families were moving on to Universal Credit each month. “If it isn’t accountable, and if appeal routes are not crystal clear and readily available to claimants, then Universal Credit isn’t fit for purpose.”

Universal Credit is a controversial benefit which rolls six legacy benefits into one monthly payment. It has faced widespread criticism for being a complicated system that leaves claimants facing long waits for their awards and struggling to get by.

Claimants lose confidence

Dame Laura Cox, justice of the High Court, reiterated that the complexity of the appeals process associated with Universal Credit meant claimants “understandably” lost confidence and gave up.

“Erroneous decisions therefore stand, to the detriment of individual families and to society as a whole.

“If, due to complexity, inflexibility or incoherence, the appeals process in Universal Credit cases is almost impossible to understand and to pursue effectively, incorrect decisions go unchallenged and suffering is prolonged. Children fall through that safety net and our system of justice is undermined,” said Ms Cox, who wrote the foreword to the CPAreport.

She called for more to be done to ensure individuals were empowered to appeal decisions. “The right to appeal against an adverse decision is an important part of respect for individual dignity, for the accuracy, predictability and consistency of decision-making and, ultimately, for the rule of law,” she said.

Obstacles

The CPAG reports highlighted the various obstacles vulnerable people faced in challenging Universal Credit decisions.

 “When claims are refused by DWP officials before the first payment is made, it is very difficult for claimants to challenge these decisions because previous online accounts often cannot be accessed and claimants are required to start a new claim before they can send an online message querying the refusal, delaying the resolution of the issue even further,” it read.

The report also claimed individuals were “dissuaded” by DWP officials from requesting a mandatory reconsideration for various reasons. “Examples include being told that the request is unlikely to be successful, or that the decision is not appealable (in circumstances where it is), or being encouraged to have a journal chat with their work coach instead of trying to resolve the issue via formal channels.”

In some cases, claimants faced waiting up to 26 weeks from submitting their challenge to receiving the mandatory reconsideration notice.

The group also said it was “not lawful” for the DWP to demand evidence to process requests for mandatory reconsiderations as in some cases, it was not possible to provide evidence.

Advice for DWP staff

CPAG advised the DWP to educate its staff on the various options for making a mandatory reconsideration request and to publicise them.

A DWP spokesman said: “We continue to work closely with CPAG and welcome the opportunity to do so. We have already improved guidance online and advice to staff about mandatory reconsiderations.

“Anyone who disagrees with a benefits decision is able to request a mandatory reconsideration either online, by phone, in person or in writing.”

 

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