Good afternoon

In recent bulletins, I’ve alluded to the fact, numbers of UC claimants have doubled, in a matter of weeks, to around 5.6 million, UK wide. This, and the fact, more than 50% of DWP’s staff are still working remotely, has contributed to delays in processing claims, responses to queries, a much higher incidence of inaccurate benefit awards and associated to this, much longer waits before mistakes are eventually remedied by DWP, and only because of housing staff interventions.

Website members contact me daily, with accounts of gaffes and schoolboy howlers, on an ever-increasing scale, complaining as well about a DWP administration which seems remote and ambivalent to the isusues it’s creating.

Lindsey WakelingPA Housing’s Financial Inclusion Officer, emailed me with a couple which she has allowed me to share with you.

She said:

“I had logged into this lady’s UC journal on Tuesday, as she could not understand why an “other income” of £397 was being deducted from her monthly payment due today (20th) August 2020 leaving her nearly £400 shy of what she was counting on. 

I was as puzzled as she was. She was receiving Child Maintenance from her ex-partner, for the same amount, but, as you know, Child Maintenance has always been treated as “Disregarded Income” so should be ignored in the UC calculation (similar to Housing Benefit). Believing it was just a simple oversight, I advised my client to call her Work Coach or Case Manager to ensure the matter was corrected, thus avoiding any potential hardship.  

She followed my advice but was advised by the Customer Service officer (CSO), over the phone, that it was NOT disregarded income and was being correctly deducted.  My client, to her credit, stood her ground, and pressed the CSO to check with a manager. Her persistence paid off. DWP apologised, promised to correct things in time for her payment – job done, or so we thought! 

However, she called me a few days later to say, the £397 had been deducted, despite DWP’s commitment to correct. She’s since been advised that the missing £397 will be in her account by Monday (31st) a bank holiday, no less. Here’s hoping! 

In another case, I’ve just called UC to attempt a telephone-based claim for a vulnerable client who cannot read nor write.  I was advised that I would need to make a claim online in the normal way, then ask for it to be “changed” to a telephone-based claim. Eh, what utter tosh!  I told the Advisor he was wrong. He promised to take advice and phoned me a few minutes later, acknowledging he was wrong, and that he would ask the JCP staff to call both me and the client simultaneously to complete the claim. 

But for my involvement, experience and persistence, this very vulnerable client would’ve been left to grapple with an online claim, he had no way of managing.  I dread to think how many others have taken this “advice” in good faith and invariably lost out unnecessarily? 

Is this the “new norm” post COVID? I hope not, as we would prefer our valuable resource not to be taken up by these simple mistakes, to free up our time to help with more complex matters. Surely, it’s not too much to ask, that DWP’s frontline staff are sufficiently trained and supported, to deal correctly with the type of issues mentioned above?”  

All the current signs suggest, DWP’s staff are struggling to cope, so claimants and their landlord representatives, like Lindsey, can expect to encounter many more of these issues going forward. DWP’s stated position is – it’s not responsible for helping people make their claims nor for providing advice or support in this regard. Its job is, simply to administer and make payments.

In contrast, Councils, Housing Associations and PRS Landlords seemingly can’t afford NOT to support tenants through the benefits process, as this is likely to cause late or defective claims, tenants failing to report changes in circumstances, overpayments and associated rent arrears – something the Government, courts and landlords, UK wide, are trying to avoid, in the hope of minimising the need for repossession action.

Please tell us about your own experiences, good, as well as bad, and I will share with our other 1300 website members.

Bill Irvine

UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd