Universal Credit: support for disabled people Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Universal credit entitlements

1.The Department has made welcome progress on paying Universal Credit on time in recent months. But one in eight claimants still do not receive their benefit on time and in full. One in ten receive nothing at all on time. Disabled people fare even worse. Just a third of new claimants whose award includes an additional amount for disability receive payment on time and in full. (Paragraph 9)

2.The Department says that the delays in paying disabled claimants are down to long waits for Work Capability Assessments. But assessments are carried out by the Department’s own contractors. They are within the Department’s gift to fix. It has a choice: it can either take steps to reduce the wait for an assessment, or find a different way for claimants to provide evidence of their disability while they wait for an assessment. (Paragraph 10)

3.We recommend that as part of its preparatory work for the expiry of the Work Capability Assessment contract the Department investigate the cost of bringing target times for Work Capability Assessment turnarounds down: for example, to no longer than a month from referral. We also recommend it devise an interim solution to ensure that disabled claimants are not left without vital income while awaiting an assessment. For example, it could allow disability amounts of UC to be paid on production of a valid Fit Note stating that they are unable to work. (Paragraph 11)

4.The Department is committed to carrying out a “pilot” of “managed migration”, involving 10,000 claimants, from mid-2019 to mid-2020. The Regulations currently before the House require Parliament to agree not just to this pilot, but to the subsequent acceleration of “managed migration”. We recommend, in line with the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Committee, that the Department seek Parliamentary approval only for the 10,000 person “managed migration” pilot and the Severe Disability Premium transitional protections. It should lay further Regulations for the acceleration of “managed migration” only when it has clearly and publicly set out its findings from the pilot and how these will be incorporated into the process. (Paragraph 16)

5.So-called “managed” migration will see over a million ESA claimants move onto Universal Credit. Amongst them will be some of the most vulnerable claimants the Department supports: people who have been on benefits for long time, have little in the way of a safety net, and have severe disabilities and health conditions. The Department says that it will safeguard claimants moving from ESA to Universal Credit. But it has provided next to no detail on how it will deliver those safeguards and ensure no one’s benefits are stopped before they have made a successful claim for Universal Credit. (Paragraph 20)

6.The Department intends, throughout the process of moving claimants from legacy benefits to Universal Credit, to identify people who are “vulnerable” and provide extra flexibilities and support to them if necessary. But it does not collect data that would enable it to do this consistently, and its engagement with front-line organisations that could help it do so has so far been limited. (Paragraph 21)

7.We recommend that throughout the pilot stage for managed migration the Department trial different ways of systematically collecting data on claimant vulnerability. Given the lack of data it holds currently, this should begin from the principle that all former ESA claimants who do not manage to claim by the deadline that the Department sets them are vulnerable. We also recommend that the Department immediately begin its engagement with local authorities and support organisations such as Citizens Advice over the design of “managed” migration and their role in it. This should include planning for how support services—such as Universal Support—will be promoted to claimants and funded through managed migration. (Paragraph 22)

8.We recommend the Department build its capacity to identify existing Universal Credit claimants who have potentially complex needs. This might include, for example, introducing a marker for disability and health conditions under Universal Credit. It should not be limited, as the Department’s current “text mining” approach is, to analysing the information that claimants choose to divulge to their Work Coach and that the Work Coach decides to record. We also recommend the Department shares, in response to this report, any internal assessment carried out of its “text mining” exercise. (Paragraph 23)

9.We further recommend that the Department share with the Committee, and with Citizens Advice, the existing data that it holds on claimant vulnerabilities and its plans for developing and further sharing this as managed migration rolls out. (Paragraph 24)

10.The Department is currently in the process of reviewing cases where it has underpaid ESA claimants and correcting them. It plans to complete this process by the end of 2019: six months after it will start to pilot “managed migration”. To avoid creating further complication and confusion amongst claimants, we recommend the Department does not start to migrate ESA claimants until the process of reviewing and correcting ESA underpayments is complete. To avoid creating further complication and confusion amongst claimants, we recommend the Department does not start to migrate ESA claimants until the process of reviewing and correcting ESA underpayments is complete (Paragraph 26)

11.Changes to disability benefit top ups—the “disability premia”—under Universal Credit are amongst the most complex differences between Universal Credit and the system it replaces. And they are also one of the areas where disabled people could find themselves with lower levels of benefit under Universal Credit than under legacy. But there is currently a lack of clarity and accessible information on how benefit entitlements differ between the two systems. This makes it very difficult for disabled people, and the organisations that support them, to understand what they will or will not receive under Universal Credit. (Paragraph 37)

12.The Department made a serious error in removing disability premiums from Universal Credit and in failing initially to provide existing recipients of those benefits with transitional support. The steps it has since taken to correct this are both necessary and very welcome. But transitional protection can still be lost, and protection erodes over time. And the core problem of lower benefit entitlements for new Universal Credit claimants remains. DWP claims that it is recycling savings to offer more support to the “most severely disabled” claimants—those in the Universal Credit equivalent of the ESA Support Group. This still falls short of what they would have been entitled to under the legacy system. And it does nothing to help disabled people in the equivalent of the Work-Related Activity Group. These disabled people have been assessed by the Department as not well enough to work—but they are not covered by the protections that the Department has committed to providing to “severely disabled” people. (Paragraph 38)

13.Disabled people use the Severe and Enhanced Disability Premiums—along with other benefits—for essential living and care costs, in the absence of a paid for carer. Even with this additional money, meeting costs can be a struggle. Removing vital additional support offered by the disability premia from Universal Credit risks disabled people living more isolated lives, relying on unpaid care (including from their own, dependent children), or simply being unable to complete certain basic daily tasks. The Department has carried out no analysis of its own to assess the effects of this change. It nonetheless confidently asserts that costs and consequences will not emerge elsewhere: for example, in the social care system. (Paragraph 39)

14.We recommend the Department carry out and publish by March 2019 an assessment of the impact of removing the disability premia from Universal Credit for new claimants. It should include in this an assessment of the costs and benefits of introducing a “self-care” amount in Universal Credit, paid at the same rate as the Care component to claimants who would have been eligible for disability premia. It should also include clear worked examples of the financial support that disabled people claiming different benefits (including disability premia and tax credit disability additions) under the legacy system will receive under Universal Credit. (Paragraph 40)

15.Changes to support for disabled children under Universal Credit mean that some families with severely disabled children will receive more than they would have under tax credits. But this increase in support comes at a substantial price for other families. Once Universal Credit is fully rolled out, 100,000 families with a disabled child will receive less money than they would have under the legacy benefit system. The consequences—for claimants unable to make up the shortfall, and for local services that need to step in and support them—could be disastrous. (Paragraph 45)

16.The Department provides transitional protection to households moving to Universal Credit via “managed migration”. This includes households receiving support for disabled children. But households who migrate “naturally” due to a change of circumstances, or who make a new claim, will receive no such protection. (Paragraph 46)

17.We recommend the Department provide in response to this report any assessment it has carried out of the impact of the reduction in support for disabled children under Universal Credit. We also recommend the Department adjust eligibility conditions for disability support for children under Universal Credit to include families with children claiming the middle rate care component of Disability Living Allowance. These households are likely to find it particularly difficult to make up the shortfall through work owing to both their care responsibilities, and the high costs of specialist childcare for disabled children. It should also arrange to provide backdated transitional protected to claimants who have already lost money by moving onto Universal Credit through “natural migration”. (Paragraph 47)

Claiming Universal Credit

18.The Government is committed to a digital by default process for Universal Credit, but digital cannot work for everyone. Some disabled claimants will never be able to use the online system. They will require flexible, intensive support to manage the transition to Universal Credit. The Department’s current approach to providing this relies on claimants disclosing that they need alternative support, and approaching the Universal Credit service centre to request it. Mirroring the Department’s approach to “managed” migration, the onus and the risk of failing to make or maintain a claim altogether is placed largely on the claimant. (Paragraph 52)

19.We recommend that the Department permits Universal Support providers to offer proactively on-going support to claimants who cannot use the online system, and provides them with the funding necessary to deliver this. This must take into account the differing needs of disabled people, with home visits and freephone telephone support made available where necessary. The Department should proactively ensure that claimants who struggle with the digital service do not miss out on vital communications. It could, for example, ask for a second email address (for a support worker or family member) for UC-related notifications to make sure they do not go unnoticed or unanswered. The Department must also help providers to proactively identify and contact Universal Credit claimants who might require such help: for example, through early sharing on data on vulnerable claimants. (Paragraph 53)

20.Assistive technology could help disabled people use Universal Credit’s systems independently. This is good for disabled claimants, who will be able to manage their claim and work with Universal Credit on the same basis as non-disabled claimants. It is also good for the Department, since Universal Credit’s efficiency savings rely on claimants using the digital system wherever possible. But we heard that the availability and quality of assistive technology in Jobcentre Plus is too often patchy and poor. We recommend the Department set minimum standards for the availability of assistive technology across the JCP network, in consultation with disabled people and the organisations who support them. (Paragraph 57)

21.Disabled people are one of the largest claimant groups that Universal Credit will support. It is entirely unacceptable that, in building the Universal Credit online service, the Department has failed to ensure it is compatible with some of the most basic assistive technologies that those claimants might use. We recommend the Department reviews and reforms the Universal Credit online system to ensure it is compatible with different forms of assistive technology, consulting with disabled people and the organisations that support them to ensure an appropriate standard. It should not begin moving disabled people to Universal Credit via managed migration until it has completed this work. (Paragraph 58)

22.Being diagnosed with terminal illness is already difficult and distressing. The Department should do all in its power not to exacerbate this distress. This includes making it as simple and quick as possible for people with a terminal diagnosis to claim benefits that often provide a vital backstop once work is no longer an option. The process for claiming Universal Credit under the Special Rules for Terminal Illness (SRTI) is failing some claimants when they need support most. The strict requirement for claimants to have under six months to live is unnecessarily restrictive. And the process for giving consent to another individual or organisation to act on their behalf is unworkable for people with some conditions. The Department must introduce a more humane approach. (Paragraph 63)

23.We recommend the Department adopt the approach taken in the Social Security Act (Scotland) 2018 in determining who can use the SRTI. This would permit claimants to use the SRTI if:

“It is the clinical judgement of a registered medical practitioner that the individual has a progressive disease that can reasonably be expected to cause the individual’s death”.

We also recommend that the Department allow evidence for SRTI to be submitted by third parties, without the need for explicit consent. (Paragraph 64)

24.The Government wants to improve the employment rates of disabled people. It should be doing all it can to support disabled people to reach their potential: including accessing higher and further education. Disabled students who try to claim Universal Credit for the first time find themselves in a catch-22 situation. Their claims are refused because they cannot demonstrate limited capability for work via a Work Capability Assessment (WCA). But they cannot be referred for an assessment unless their claim is accepted. Meanwhile disabled students who have a current WCA decision are able to claim Universal Credit as they would have claimed ESA. The result is an incoherent two-tier system which leaves some disabled students unable to access support that is vital for them to continue their studies and to which they are entitled. We recommend that DWP replicate under UC arrangements under the legacy system for disabled students. This would mean taking receipt of PIP or DLA as evidence of Limited Capability to Work, allowing them to open a UC claim. Students who wanted to claim the higher, Limited Capability for Work-Related Activity amount, would then have to undergo a WCA. (Paragraph 70)

25.There are bigger questions to ask about which department should fund additional support for disabled students and how eligibility should be determined. We have heard repeatedly, however, that existing benefits and entitlements for disabled people only go part of the way to meeting the increased costs resulting from their conditions. The introduction of Universal Credit may provide a useful opportunity to consider those questions—but it is important that disabled people do not lose out on support in the meantime. We recommend the Department for Education and DWP convene a joint working group of organisations that support disabled students on financial support for those students, with a view to determining where funding should come from and how eligibility should be assessed. (Paragraph 71)

Support in Jobcentre Plus

Under the legacy system, claimants awaiting a Work Capability Assessment cannot have conditionality applied to them. This is a vital safeguard. It protects claimants from having to meet conditions that may be unmanageable and inappropriate. It also helps avoid souring the relationship between claimants and their Work Coaches from the outset. But no such safeguard exists under Universal Credit. We recommend that the Department immediately amend its guidance to Work Coaches to state that Universal Credit claimants who are awaiting a Work Capability Assessment and who can present a valid Fit Note stating that they are not able to work should not be subject to any conditionality. (Paragraph 77)

26.The Department launched the Work and Health Programme (WHP) at a time of considerable change in Jobcentre Plus. The roll-out of Universal Credit itself, and the decision to scale down externally delivered employment support, both place substantial new demands on Work Coaches. The success of the WHP and its contribution to closing the disability employment gap depends squarely on Work Coaches identifying and referring people who could benefit from the programme. But competing demands on Work Coach time bring the risk of this slipping down their agendas, and pressure on them will only increase at the UC rollout progresses. (Paragraph 83)

27.The Department launched the Work and Health Programme (WHP) at a time of considerable change in Jobcentre Plus. The roll-out of Universal Credit itself, and the decision to scale down externally delivered employment support, both place substantial new demands on Work Coaches. The success of the WHP and its contribution to closing the disability employment gap depends squarely on Work Coaches identifying and referring people who could benefit from the programme. But competing demands on Work Coach time bring the risk of this slipping down their agendas, and pressure on them will only increase at the UC rollout progresses.We recommend the Department ensure all Work Coaches undertake specific training on the WHP and its referral process. It should outline its plans for rolling out this training to Work Coaches in response to this Report. We also recommend the Department launch a publicity campaign for the programme in JCP. This should be aimed at both Work Coaches and claimants themselves. (Paragraph 83)

28.Work Coaches are generalists. They undergo basic training on disability, but they do not specialise in supporting particular groups of claimants. Many of the roles they have to perform, however, require specialist knowledge. The Department is confident, and has told us on multiple occasions, that its Disability Employment Advisers (DEAs) and Community Partners are the best way of delivering this. Yet funding for all Community Partners, and 300 of JCP’s 500 DEAs, is due to expire in 2019. This will coincide with the Department’s plans to begin migrating legacy benefit claimants onto UC. The lack of a concrete plan or funding beyond that point is deeply worrying, and threatens to undermine the Government’s laudable goal of getting more disabled people into work. We recommend that the Department commit to funding Community Partners and the additional Disability Employment Advisers throughout the process of migrating legacy benefit claimants to Universal Credit. (Paragraph 89)

Published: 19 December 2018