Benefit delivery Contents

5Other delivery issues

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.

Personal Independence Payments

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 improvement111
(Figure 5). Evidence to our inquiry suggests that average waiting times for a PIP assessment are now down to five to six weeks.112

Figure 5: Median clearance times for new PIP claims, in weeks

Source: DWP PIP official statistics to July 2015, p. 4.

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

A constituent had put in claim for PIP. He had gone to a medical which had failed him so the constituent, with assistance of an advice agency, took his case to a Tribunal in which he was successful.

His case was heard on 16 July 2015 and by the 14 September the claimant had still not received any payment. It took the DWP till the 17 September for my constituent to receive his first payment. The DWP states this was down to a systems error and blame the court taking a long time to get back to them.

This type of case has been repeated with the same reason given by the DWP, all relating to cases where it is either a fresh claim for PIP or a DLA PIP transfer. They all relate to cases that have been to tribunals.

I personally think that there need to be clearly better communication between the Courts and the DWP to ensure that payments are not taking so long. But on a wider scale there needs to be better testing of the claimants to ensure not so many have to go to tribunals.

Box 6: Casework—Barry Sheerman, MP for Huddersfield, Personal Independence Payment

Mr A was previously receiving DLA for severe and ongoing depression. Unfortunately last year he developed cancer. As the letter confirming his entitlement to DLA advised that he should contact them if anything changes, his mother (his appointed proxy) did contact the DWP to let them know that in addition to his depression he was now receiving treatment for cancer. The DWP said he needed to fill in a form for PIP due to this change in his case. He did so, and ultimately received a visit from a medical assessor. This included handing Mr A a carrot to peel. Mr A has had multiple surgeries for his cancer, resulting in him being more or less immobile and relying more heavily than ever on his mother. Understandably, these aggressive surgeries have only worsened Mr A’s depression.

However, unbelievably the DWP have refused him PIP meaning he no longer receives any disability benefit. This is despite him suffering from the same mental health issue he previously received DLA for, but with the addition of cancer. He is now facing a wait until what apparently may be March 2016 for an appeal. Given his severe and worsening depression and his ongoing and serious cancer this timescale seems unacceptable, and the decisions made by the DWP seem deeply wrong.

64.Delays to PIPs have a knock-on effect to “passported” benefits such as Carer’s Allowance.113 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.

Refugees

66.Those granted refugee status have “fled persecution, trauma, violence and war”.114 The claimant journey for such people presents additional challenges to ensuring the timely and accurate payment of benefits.115 In their 2014 report, The Move-On Period,116 the British Red Cross identified 23 factors which make the claimant journey for refugees “more complicated than for the normal average claimant”.117

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 1999.118 Asylum support is then terminated 28 days after an individual has received their Biometric Residence Permit (BRP).119,120 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.121

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.122 The British Red Cross found 42 days on average, including several cases taking longer than 75 days to process.123

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.124 The DWP has released new guidance for refugees.125 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.126 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 £5,000.127 It was described by witnesses as a self-help guide which would be “quite easy to replicate nationally”.128

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.

Short-term benefit advances

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.129

74.Advice organisations, however, told us that claimants are “routinely not told about” and “never offered” STBAs.130 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.131 There are no regular official statistics.

75.Trends in short-term benefit advance applications and awards are unclear. We recommend the Government set out its plans for the publication of regular statistics in response to this Report.

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).132 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.

Mandatory Reconsiderations

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).133 MRs are described by the Department as an “opportunity to request a ‘second opinion’”.134

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%135 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.136

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.137 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.138 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.139 These are the most recent available figures.

82.Advice organisations reported that MRs were taking “an extremely long time”,140 and that they had even seen cases where it had been over a year.141 Such delays were an “upsetting and confusing process”,142 which was “pushing claimants into destitution, hardship, poverty and often homelessness”.143 The DWP has assured us that it plans to introduce a target clearance time for MRs, starting with one for ESA from April 2016.144

Box 7: Casework—Roger Mullin MP, MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Mandatory Reconsideration delay

Mr X had problems appealing a Tax Credits decision. He sought to appeal the decision which was taken against him, but he required a Mandatory Reconsideration Notice in order to do so.

He had made attempts to obtain this, but he had been sent the wrong paperwork, and as such, he approached you to obtain this on his behalf in order to pursue his Tax Credits appeal. Over the course of eight weeks, we contacted HMRC a number of different times to request that this Mandatory Reconsideration Notice was sent, stressing that it was this form which was needed and that it was needed to pursue Mr X’s appeal.

We encountered a number of delays, including advisors informing us that this form would be sent out and this later transpiring not to be the case, and advisors failing to contact us to update us on the case when they had confirmed that they would do so.

Resultantly, Mr X found that his appeal had been entirely rejected based upon the failure to produce the requested Mandatory Reconsideration Notice, and the delays experienced meant that he was obligated to lodge an entirely new appeal, with a letter of support from Roger detailing the difficulties his constituency team had experienced in obtaining this document.

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.

Joint working

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.145 Fabio Apollonio described how liaison meetings can result in better understanding, as “practice prevails over policy”.146 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”.147

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.

112 Oral evidence HC 507, Q77

113 Motor Neuron Disease Association (BFD0169)

114 Q126 (Lorna Gledhill)

115 British Red Cross (BFD0169),West Yorkshire Destitute Asylum Network (WYDAN) (BDF0115)

117 Q127 (Fabio Apollonio) Factors include: change of address, lack of documentation, full interpretation of the guidance and others

119 Biometric Residence Permits are issued by the Home Office and are standalone documents as evidence of leave to remain

121 British Red Cross (BFD0169)

122 DWP, Asylum Seekers Transition to Mainstream Benefits: Deep Dive Investigation Results and Recommendations, July 2013, p.7

123 Q128 (Fabio Apollonio)

124 British Red Cross (BFD0169)

126 Ibid

127 Belfast City Council, Refugee transition: A guide for people who have just received refugee status and for their advisors, 2014

128 Q140 (Lorna Gledhill)

129 Q198 (Andrew Rhodes)

130 Q92 (Carmel Keddy); Q18 (Rhiannon Sims)

131 Ibid

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 (BFD0191)

135 Q207 (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 Q30&31 (Sarah Seeger and Rhiannon Sims)

138 Oral evidence HC 507, Q74; Q204 (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 (BFD0171)

141 Q7 (Carmel Keddy)

142 Q56 (Carmel Keddy)

143 Islington Law Centre (BFD0183)

144 Q205 (Lord Freud)

145 Lambeth Council (BFD0184), British Red Cross (BFD0169)

146 Q160 (Fabio Apollonio)

147 Oral evidence HC 507, Q77




© Parliamentary copyright 2015

Prepared 18 December 2015