3rd December, 2022
I’m delighted to say, our rejuvenated training events have been well supported, raising several interesting cases, which highlight, DWP staff and their support systems continue to be found deficient, causing unnecessary benefits loss and overpayments for already struggling tenants.
One such case, pursued after the event, by our friends at Cunninghame HA highlights how DWP’s IT system fails to comply with relevant legislation and its Advice to Decision Maker’s guidance. More importantly, its “Decision Makers” (DMs) are failing to correct, what should be recognised as obvious mistakes, made by their colleagues, particularly in the Service Centres. In this case, no less than 4 DMs failed to remedy glaring errors in the “decision making” process.
The facts are as follows:
- Ms R, the tenant of the Association’s 2 bed property, shared this with her Non-dependent mother, MRS S (aged 88) who was in receipt of Attendance Allowance before she died on 31st March 22.
- Her daughter reported the change via her online journal on 7th April 22, one week later.
- DWP responded to this but instead of acting on the journal notification, asked her to report the death again, using the dedicated “change in circumstances” link on her account.
- The tenant complied with this request on 10th June 22
- A DM acting on the later notification, retrospectively applied the change from 6th March, the start of the Benefit Assessment Period in which the change occurred, which is the “general rule”. This, in turn, created an overpayment of £182, caused by “under-occupation deduction of 14%. This was “deemed recoverable” from the tenant, on the basis she reported the change late, even though her initial journal report was completed on 7th April, one week after the death.
I responded, on behalf of the tenant, stating, there was no overpayment, as the DMs had overlooked the exception, commonly referred to as “bereavement run-on”. The regulation in question can be found in UC Regulations 2013, reg 37 (c) & (d) and creates the exception, by setting criteria, that permit the effect of the change to be deferred for 3 months. Ms R’s mother satisfied both legs of the criteria i.e., she was severely disabled, receiving care & was a non-dep in her daughter’s household.
Secondly, and more worrying, was the notion, spreading like wildfire within DWP ranks, claimants MUST report their change via the link on their account, and any other form of notification via phone, face2face with Work Coach, or journal, would be discounted. That’s simply nonsensical and flies in the face of DWP’s own guidance on the topic. It’s also, as Ms R suggested, in her reply to the DM, grossly unfair:
“I don’t think this overpayment is fair considering I am going through a bereavement, I added in a Journal note in April as I thought this was the right thing to do at the time, no one said that I need to report changes any other way, all I was told that any communication is done through the journal, so I thought that was me reporting the change.
Since Universal Credit was first conceived, the journal was presented by DWP Ministers and staff to claimants and wider public, as the key mode of communication. The guidance still reflects that position. The primary reason for using the link is, it should automatically alter the benefit award to reflect the new circumstances but, as explained, in this case, created the wrong outcome because the staff intructing the IT providers failed to make provision for the “exception”.
Notwithstanding that, Regulation 38 of the (Claims & Payment) Regulations deals with – “Evidence & information in connection with an award.” Sections (4) & (5) make perfectly clear that changes should be made, in writing or by phone. Ms R’s journal notification satisfied that criterion and, as she says, no one instructed her, at any point, prior to her mother’s death, that she had to do so in any other manner.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting claimants shouldn’t make use of the link. In fact, the opposite is the case, as I’ve explained in our training courses. The key point is, changes can still be notified by other means e.g., phone, face2face with DWP staff, despite DWP’s insistance of using the dedicated link.
I know from previous experiences, this is not an isolated case. In fact, this is now commonplace and may be causing unnecessary award losses or the creation of fictitious overpayments, disadvantaging claimants. So, be alert to such malpractice, and, wherever possible, help your tenants challenge the decision, using the ammunition mentioned above.
Please get in touch, if you need further information on this, by emailing email@example.com or phone 07733 080 389.
UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd