Good morning

I was contacted by one of our Housing Association clients and asked to assist with a case concerning one of their tenants, who had been misled by her local council into claiming Universal Credit when, in fact, she was “ineligible”, due to the fact she qualified for the Severe Disability Premium (SDP).

DWP surprisingly accepted the claim and compounded the Council’s error by making an award of Universal Credit, even though the date of award was February 2019, weeks after the 16th of January Gateway (or barrier to entry) was introduced. Doing so left the tenant substantially worse off, as she was previously in receipt of income related ESA (IR), including the Enhanced Disability Premium and Severe Disability Premium, due to her entitlement to PIP Daily Living.

The Association’s Financial Inclusion team immediately recognised and acted to remedy the error, by writing to DWP, pointing to the fact, the Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) (SDP Gateway) Amendment Regulations 2019 clearly made her ineligible for UC. Understandably, they fully expected DWP would readily recognise its mistake and do their utmost to remedy the situation by fully restoring the tenant’s legacy awards.

However, DWP responded, having consulted its “benefit experts”, stating, the tenant could have her ESA (IR) reinstated back to the point it was wrongly stopped, but warned, any Housing Benefit or Child Tax Credit, subsequently awarded, would be limited to only 1 months’ backdating, leaving a large gap in entitlement and further financial loss. DWP also pointed out, the reinstatement of ESA would, in turn, create a big overpayment of UC, which would need to be repaid AND explained “we have no mechanism in place to offset the arrears of ESA against the UC overpayment.” Well there’s a surprise!

DWP also stated – “If Ms X chooses to remain on UC, none of these problems would occur and she would be eligible for transitional protection, and continued ……… “We would strongly advise that Ms X remains on UC, as the information above has shown that this would be the correct decision to make. If Ms X chooses to continue with her UC claim, we will take action to refer her case to the Transitional Protection Team.”

You’ll not be surprised to hear DWP’s “benefit experts” are completely wrong. Firstly, the tenant is “ineligible” for Universal Credit, due to the Gateway exclusion. Secondly, Housing Benefit and CTC can be fully reinstated. Thirdly, the problem of the overpayment is something DWP and Council should be able to resolve by simply engaging with each other. Fourthly, there is currently no provision to pay Transitional Payments to someone who is wrongly awarded UC after the 16th of January Gateway. Other than those claimants involved in the ongoing Harrogate Pilot and those migrated to UC in 2020, under Managed Migration, TPs do not apply!

The solution to the problem, created by both council and DWP is in their own hands, and is explained in the last few paragraphs of this Housing Benefit Circular

DWP should revise and cancel the UC award, back to the date of the original date of entitlement. Having done so, this would allow reinstatement of ESA (IR). DWP needs to also remove the Stop Notices, issued to both the Council and HMRC as this should permit “late revisions” and awards of Housing Benefit and CTC, again, back to the effective date of UC’s cancellation.

Finally, DWP should send its Decision Makers and “benefit experts” on a package of CPAG, welfare benefit courses, to ensure they’re properly trained and just as capable, as Housing Association, Financial Inclusion teams, to identify and implement measures to remedy such howlers.

Bill Irvine

UC Advice & advocacy Ltd

www.ucadvice.co.uk.