60.We also took evidence on a range of concerns outside, or not limited to, UC or the legacy benefits it will replace. Those issues are considered in this chapter.
61.Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is an extra-costs disability benefit for working-age people. It is currently replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA), and will remain outside UC.
62.The Department has made major improvements to PIP waiting times. The median time for end-to-end processing of a PIP claim from registration to DWP decision fell from 42 weeks in July 2014 to 11 weeks in July 2015, a very considerable improvement
(Figure 5). Evidence to our inquiry suggests that average waiting times for a PIP assessment are now down to five to six weeks.
Figure 5: Median clearance times for new PIP claims, in weeks
63.Nevertheless, a number of MPs have contacted the Committee with examples where claimants are still experiencing long delays for either an appeal date or their first PIP payment. In the cases below, the delay occurred when a decision was appealed.
Box 5: Casework—Rt Hon Frank Field, MP for Birkenhead, Personal Independence Payment
Box 6: Casework—Barry Sheerman, MP for Huddersfield, Personal Independence Payment
64.Delays to PIPs have a knock-on effect to “passported” benefits such as Carer’s Allowance. Without PIP in place, an individual does not have access to this additional support, including during the often long wait for an appeal to be heard.
65.We commend the Department on the impressive reduction in waiting times for Personal Independence Payments. However, there is much work still to be done to ensure that those claimants awaiting an appeal, or their first payment following a successful appeal, receive the correct decision and award in good time.
66.Those granted refugee status have “fled persecution, trauma, violence and war”. The claimant journey for such people presents additional challenges to ensuring the timely and accurate payment of benefits. In their 2014 report, The Move-On Period, the British Red Cross identified 23 factors which make the claimant journey for refugees “more complicated than for the normal average claimant”.
67.Whilst awaiting refugee status, a claimant is not permitted to work but can apply for Home Office administered support under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Asylum support is then terminated 28 days after an individual has received their Biometric Residence Permit (BRP)., The person then becomes eligible to work in the UK, and to claim welfare benefits on the same basis as British citizens. These 28 days are referred to as the “move-on” period.
68.Research suggests that 28 days is insufficient time for refugees to make the transition from Home Office support in many cases. In 2013 DWP research showed it takes on average 32 days from receipt of claim to first payment for a claimant with a National Insurance number and 35 days for a claimant without. The British Red Cross found 42 days on average, including several cases taking longer than 75 days to process.
69.We question why the “move-on” period for new refugees is only 28 days, when it is clear from research conducted by charities and the Government that it is in many cases insufficient. We recommend the DWP conduct an immediate investigation into the “move-on” period and work with the Home Office to amend the length of time if necessary.
70.We heard that limited guidance available to refugees can compound the problem of an inadequate “move-on” period. The DWP has released new guidance for refugees. While welcoming it, the British Red Cross also cautioned that there remains confusion around which documents will be accepted by DWP staff as proof of status. It is also national in outlook. Belfast City Council commissioned Law Centre (NI) to produce a local transition guide for refugees at the cost of just over £5,000. It was described by witnesses as a self-help guide which would be “quite easy to replicate nationally”.
71.We welcome the recent guidance for refugees issued by the DWP. We also recognise the advantage of local transition guides, which can be used as self-help handbooks for new refugees and their advisors. Such guides can be a low-cost means of assisting refugees with unfamiliar concepts and surroundings. We recommend the Department review the Belfast City Council transition guide and consider supplementing existing national guidance and/or issuing similar guides to other local authorities. These can then by supplemented by local authorities with information tailored to their area.
72.Individuals may be given a short term benefit advance (STBA) on a first benefit payment if they are in urgent financial need and have either:
73.STBAs are then recovered from subsequent benefit payments. Andrew Rhodes, Benefits Services Director at DWP, told us that the number of STBA payments rose by around 25% to approximately 100,000 between 2013–14 and 2014–15. He partly attributed this to increased public awareness of the scheme.
74.Advice organisations, however, told us that claimants are “routinely not told about” and “never offered” STBAs. Church Action on Poverty emphasised that applications for STBAs went down from “261,000 in the first 9 months of 2013–14 to 184,000 in the first 9 months of 2014–15 […] demonstrating that fewer people are aware” of STBAs. There are no regular official statistics.
76.At our request, the DWP provided the scripts used by Jobcentre staff to structure conversations with claimants. These set out the mandatory questions which must be asked of claimants. The first contact script includes a section on STBAs but says the staff member should raise them with the claimant “If a claimant indicates that they have an immediate financial need” (our emphasis). If claimants are unaware of the availability of STBAs then they may not volunteer information about their immediate financial situation.
77.We recommend that the Department include information about Short-Term Benefit Advances as part of the mandatory text in Jobcentre scripts. Jobcentre staff should ask every claimant whether they have an urgent financial need rather than wait or the claimant to volunteer that information.
78.If a claimant disagrees with a decision about their benefit claim they can challenge it. Before appealing to the Social Security and Child Support Tribunal, a claimant must first formally ask the DWP to review the decision through a Mandatory Reconsideration (MR). MRs are described by the Department as an “opportunity to request a ‘second opinion’”.
79.The MR stage of the appeals process applies to almost all benefits, including appeals against sanctions for Job Seekers Allowance. The statistics available show that the number of JSA sanctions overturned at MR stage has been consistently high. On average 30% of sanctions are overturned at MR stage. We were assured that the normal rate for overturned decisions is now at 15% but this still means that one in seven JSA original sanctioning decisions are incorrect. Far fewer ESA sanctions are applied but 61% are overturned at MR stage.
80.The statistics available expose flaws in the sanctioning process. DWP must address the quality of original decisions in order to maintain a downward trend in the number that are overturned at MR stage.
81.A major criticism of MRs has been the length of time taken to process them and the lack of any target clearance time. Official data on these waits are, however, sporadic and incomplete. Pointing to a “very dramatic improvement” in waiting times, Ministers told us that 95% of working age benefits are now cleared in 10 days. The DWP were unable, however, to supply us with a breakdown of MR clearance times in excess of that level. The latest summary statistics on MRs cover the period to October 2014 and show that 25% of ESA MR decisions took over 30 days. These are the most recent available figures.
82.Advice organisations reported that MRs were taking “an extremely long time”, and that they had even seen cases where it had been over a year. Such delays were an “upsetting and confusing process”, which was “pushing claimants into destitution, hardship, poverty and often homelessness”. The DWP has assured us that it plans to introduce a target clearance time for MRs, starting with one for ESA from April 2016.
Box 7: Casework—Roger Mullin MP, MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Mandatory Reconsideration delay
83.We welcome the news that Mandatory Reconsideration clearance times for some benefits are coming down. We also welcome the proposed and long overdue introduction of a Mandatory Reconsideration clearance time target. A remaining concern is the monitoring of long decisionmaking times for individuals in excess of those targets and averages. These people are not just outliers on a clearance time chart.
84.We recommend the DWP publish Mandatory Reconsideration clearance time statistics by April 2016. These should include the proportion of MRs which were cleared in 1 to 7; 8 to 14; 15 to 30; and more than 30 days. We further recommend the DWP introduce a seven day clearance time target for all Mandatory Reconsiderations.
85.Throughout this inquiry, witnesses told us that many of the problems with the delivery of legacy benefits could be solved by better co-operation and communication between advice agencies and the DWP. Fabio Apollonio described how liaison meetings can result in better understanding, as “practice prevails over policy”. Lorna Gledhill described how co-ordination was beneficial in her field:
We have local multi-agency meetings for organisations that work with refugees and asylum seekers. In some parts of the region there are representatives from local Jobcentres, whereas up in Halifax there is a rep that comes. With that, the communication between the refugee sector, for example, and the Jobcentre is much better. There is a much better understanding on either side. As a recommendation, I recognise that Jobcentres are stretched and people have a lot on their plates, but having a rep at those meetings does get some issues solved out quickly because at least there is an understanding of the refugee condition more generally among people from the Jobcentre.
86.We also heard of the advantages of joint-working with MPs. As the casework in this report demonstrates, MPs frequently step in to help constituents with problems of benefit delivery. MPs can use their hotline access to Government Departments to try to identify the source of delays or concerns and resolve them. When asked whether MPs should raise delays in PIP directly with the DWP, the Secretary of State replied “I would not just say you should, I would encourage anybody to do that”.
87.Many problems with benefit delivery can be solved by better joint working. The DWP, welfare advice agencies, MPs and claimants themselves all have a part to play. We encourage local liaison meetings between advice agencies and the DWP, as this can tackle issues before they escalate. Advice agencies should also agree arrangements with their local MP to refer problem cases when appropriate.
111 DWP, ; (Andrew Rhodes)
112 Oral evidence HC 507,
113 Motor Neuron Disease Association ()
114 (Lorna Gledhill)
115 British Red Cross (),West Yorkshire Destitute Asylum Network (WYDAN) ()
116 British Red Cross, , 2014
117 (Fabio Apollonio) Factors include: change of address, lack of documentation, full interpretation of the guidance and others
118 For further information see,
119 Biometric Residence Permits are issued by the Home Office and are standalone documents as evidence of leave to remain
121 British Red Cross ()
122 DWP, Asylum Seekers Transition to Mainstream Benefits: Deep Dive Investigation Results and Recommendations, July 2013, p.7
123 (Fabio Apollonio)
124 British Red Cross ()
127 Belfast City Council, Refugee transition: A guide for people who have just received refugee status and for their advisors, 2014
128 (Lorna Gledhill)
129 (Andrew Rhodes)
130 (Carmel Keddy); (Rhiannon Sims)
132 Jobcentre scripts, First contact script (emphasis added)
133 The Department itself may also change a decision, which is referred to as a “decision review”
134 Department for Work and Pensions ()
135 (Andrew Rhodes)
136 These percentages in this paragraph are proportions of sanctions that have been referred to Mandatory Reconsideration only. Between November 2013 and March 2015, 31% of JSA sanction decisions referred to Mandatory Reconsideration were overturned.
137 (Sarah Seeger and Rhiannon Sims)
138 Oral evidence HC 507, ; (Lord Freud) Lord Freud said that 95% of ESA MRs were cleared in 10 days—we are counting these under “working age benefits”
140 St Mungo’s Broadway ()
141 (Carmel Keddy)
142 (Carmel Keddy)
143 Islington Law Centre ()
144 (Lord Freud)
145 Lambeth Council (), British Red Cross ()
146 (Fabio Apollonio)
147 Oral evidence HC 507,
Prepared 18 December 2015