Benefit delivery Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

In this list, conclusions are set out in plain type and recommendations, to which the Government is required to respond, are set out in italic text.

Error in Housing Benefit

1.Fraud and error in housing benefit have increased in the past five years, despite DWP’s use of real-time information on claimant incomes. We recommend the Government set out in detail how it will exploit other sources of data to gain a better picture of claimant circumstances, including living arrangements, and what reductions in fraud and error it expects these to achieve. We expect the DWP’s 2015–16 annual report and accounts to show progress in this area. (Paragraph 16)

More focus on underpayments

2.The DWP has a target for reducing benefit overpayments but not for reducing benefit underpayments. This indicates their relative priorities as the Department seeks to reduce costs. Underpayments, however, can have an enormous effect on individuals and can be a false economy as they transfer the burden to other services. Real time earnings information in Universal Credit is expected to improve the accuracy of benefit payments and should result in a reduction in underpayments over the next few years. We welcome the Department’s invitation to hold them to that expected ‘dividend’ from Universal Credit. (Paragraph 23)

3.Underpayments totalled £1.5 billion, or 0.9% of benefit expenditure, in 2014–15. We recommend the DWP introduce a target to reduce underpayments to less than 0.5% of expenditure by the end of this Parliament. The Cabinet Office’s Fraud, Error and Debt Steering Group should monitor the Department’s progress towards achieving the target. (Paragraph 24)

Opportunities for Universal Credit

4.The DWP is already exploring options for online resources in the digital service and Universal Credit is still in the ‘test and learn’ stage. Now is therefore an opportune time for the Department to develop other online tools, such as a landlord portal for the housing element. (Paragraph 29)

5.We recommend the Department trial a landlord portal in an area where the digital service is operating. (Paragraph 29)

6.Alternative Payment Arrangements (APAs) are an important backstop to protect claimants who will struggle to manage a single monthly benefit payment. We recommend the DWP review its guidance, and application of that guidance, to ensure that (a) there is no requirement for a claimant to have built up rent arrears before an APA can be put in place; and (b) no APA can be cancelled without ensuring the claimant is aware of the change. (Paragraph 35)

7.The introduction of Personal Budgeting Support (PBS) money advice is a good step towards helping claimants manage their monthly Universal Credit payment. We are concerned, however, that in these early days it is not being delivered as effectively as it should be and uptake is low. (Paragraph 38)

8.We recommend the DWP review the processes for assessing and delivering PBS to ensure claimants are receiving the support they need to manage a single monthly payment. We further recommend that DWP conduct a study of the best way to encourage claimants to use the financial products available in order to manage their budget. (Paragraph 38)

9.It is too early fully to assess the impact of the five to six week wait claimants have for their first Universal Credit (UC) payment. We are concerned the DWP has not properly considered households who have no savings or a final paycheque to fall back on. We will continue to monitor the effects of this built-in delay and return to it when we examine UC in more depth. (Paragraph 41)

The limitations for Universal Credit for improving benefit delivery

10.The six “legacy benefits” scheduled to be replaced by Universal Credit will be with us for many years yet. Ensuring they are delivered in an accurate and timely fashion should not be neglected in the meantime. (Paragraph 47)

Employment Support Allowance

11.The lack of available data on ESA and WCA clearance times is unacceptable. The DWP cannot properly monitor Maximus’ performance, make clear policy decisions or effectively support claimants without it. (Paragraph 55)

12.We recommend, where applicable, the Department publish quarterly official statistics on ESA clearance times, including data on time from claim to completion of WCA; time from WCA to decision; and time from decision to payment of benefit, showing not only averages but a breakdown of the ranges of clearance times. We further recommend that in addition to the current average claim processing time target, the Department set a target time within which ALL claims should be processed. (Paragraph 55)

Interaction between ESA and JSA

13.We welcome both the Secretary of State’s intention to review the nature of the Work Capability Assessment and his commitment to engage with us in this work. However, people with significant health conditions who have been found “fit for work” and who are currently struggling to meet JSA conditionality cannot wait for a more nuanced assessment to be designed and implemented. They require immediate action to prevent them falling in the gap between JSA and ESA. (Paragraph 59)

14.We agree with our predecessor Committee that it is inappropriate for those challenging ESA decisions to claim JSA as some claimants are refused JSA due to being “unfit for work”. We recommend that assessment rate ESA be paid to claimants throughout reassessment of their claim, not only once an appeal is lodged. (Paragraph 59)

Personal Independence Payments

15.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. (Paragraph 65)

Refugees

16.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. (Paragraph 69)

17.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. (Paragraph 71)

18.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. (Paragraph 71)

Short-term benefit advances

19.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. (Paragraph 75)

20.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. (Paragraph 77)

Mandatory Reconsiderations

21.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. (Paragraph 80)

22.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. (Paragraph 83)

23.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. (Paragraph 84)

Joint working

24.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. (Paragraph 87)

25.Many parts of the welfare system work well for many people and we wish to record our thanks to those frontline staff whose efforts ensure a proper service to claimants. In the course of this inquiry, however, we have encountered evidence of too many errors and too many delays. While we are concerned at the lack of monitoring in many cases, these should not be seen as mere statistical and administrative concerns; errors and delays can leave vulnerable people in desperate situations. (Paragraph 90)

26.Universal Credit is an ambitious scheme with laudable objectives of simplifying and streamlining much of the working-age welfare system. Its dissemination, and therefore those potential benefits, has repeatedly been delayed. This is a concern. So too, at a time of administrative cuts, is the potential for valuable resources to be consumed by the programme. It is imperative that the business-as-usual delivery of benefits is not sacrificed in pursuit of reform. (Paragraph 91)




© Parliamentary copyright 2015

Prepared 18 December 2015