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A new report by the charity, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), has warned that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) “inadequate” communications and frequent administrative errors, are resulting in Universal Credit claimants receiving the wrong amount. It also says that 1 in 5 cases they deal with are as a result of DWP errors.
Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), have released a new report titled; Computer says ‘no!’ It focuses on two areas;
- The information given to claimants about payments and how the decisions was made.
- The information provided to claimants about their right to challenge decisions if they do not agree with them.
The foreword, written by former Lord Justice of Appeal Sir Stephen Sedley, sets the tone for the report. Yet again, the DWP faces harsh criticisms.
In his remarks Sir Stephen says;
“This report documents the systemic failure of universal credit to meet these basic standards. People in need are left to guess at and grope for things which should be clear and tangible. The consequences are not limited to over or under-payment. They feed into the stress and worry that so many people managing on low incomes experience, which in turn can affect family life for children growing up in these environments. There is something Orwellian about a system which is intended to alleviate hardship yet is administered in ways which generate and aggravate human misery.”
“Orwellian”. That’s pretty damning from someone who was one of the highest judges in the land at one point. I applaud him for noting the mental health effects that payment errors bring. This is something often overlooked in other reports.
Hard to Understand
One of the first areas targeted is how easy, or not in this case, it is to understand how decisions have been made.
It is noted that a major difficulty in knowing if they’ve been paid correctly is the lack of a clear breakdown in claimant’s “payment statements”. When it comes to childcare costs, there is no information on how the amount was calculated leaving parents and carers in the dark about whether they’ve been paid correctly.
You declare that your monthly rent is £400. In your Universal Credit payment statement, it shows you’ve been paid £350 for housing costs. Nowhere does it explain why.
A damning statement that stands out is their assertion that;
“The information that is currently provided to claimants about their UC payment and how to challenge a decision if they think a mistake has been made is inadequate and, in some instances, unlawful.”
So not only is the information poor, it’s “unlawful”. Not a good day for the DWP, again.
Getting Help is Difficult
CPAG said DWP staff were often unable to explain to claimants how their monthly award had been worked. This was due to the fact they didn’t have access to payment calculations, primarily as most cases are processed automatically by an automated system.
The charity go on to say that it ios not made clear that the benefit is a decision based system which therefore gives claimants an opportunity to appeal. Nearly a quarter of claimants don’t know they can appeal nearly anything on Universal Credit according to the DWP’s last claimant study.
CPAG recommend claimants’ payment statements include a full breakdown of how awards have been calculated. This includes a “nil entry” for allowances claimants are considered ineligible for. This would make it much easier for mistakes to be identified.
A major recommendation that should be taken heed of is their call for claimants online universal credit account, which claimants manage their claim and communicate with advisers with, to be redesigned so that all decisions about a their awards are stored in one place and accessible.
From experience, I can advise that is is poorly laid out and sometimes you can miss messages as it’s an attachment and not in a message.
All in all, this is more proof the the current Universal Credit system is unfot for purpose. Claimants shouldn’t have to worry every month about whether the DWP’s computer has gotten it right.
They have had nearly 6 years to sort this now. It is unacceptable that this far into the roll-out such mistakes are being made.
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