Concerns raised over government plan for moving disabled claimants on to Universal Credit

By agency reporter
August 1, 2018

Eight disability organisations and charities, including Mind, Scope, and the National Autistic Society, have written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Esther McVey, expressing their concern about the government's plan for moving disability benefit claimants on to Universal Credit. The letter, dated 27 July 2018, reads as follows:

Dear Secretary of State,

We are writing to raise our concerns regarding the Government’s current proposals for moving disabled people and people with long-term health conditions from legacy benefits onto Universal Credit. This includes disabled people currently receiving Employment and Support Allowance.

The Department has proposed issuing a notice that a person’s existing benefit claim will come to an end, directing them to make a claim to Universal Credit before this point. This approach leaves open the possibility that disabled people may see their benefits stopped before they have made a successful claim to Universal Credit, leaving them with no income. It also places the responsibility for navigating the process of claiming Universal Credit on the person who is being migrated. This will include people who are very unwell, many of whom will have had a stable situation with their benefits for several years.

"The pressure caused by this scenario will be very destabilising for a large number of people, especially those who may be very unwell and fearful about the future. Even with safeguards in place, the current approach will generate anxiety and fear around the process of moving to Universal Credit.

We acknowledge that the proposals provide an outline of circumstances in which someone may be granted an extension in making a claim under managed migration, which include being disabled or having a mental health condition, but we are concerned about how these claimants will be identified. There is currently no guarantee that your Department will be able to successfully identify these claimants before the process of managed migration to Universal Credit begins. We already know that disabled people are disproportionately likely to say they need more support to make their claim for Universal Credit, meaning there is a significant risk that these claimants (and other 'vulnerable' groups) will lose their income altogether if they are not identified by your Department or do not ask for an extension.

In the event that people are successfully identified as needing additional time to make a claim, many problems remain with the process of applying for Universal Credit. Frequently people are left without support or reasonable adjustments when making a claim. The current level of support on offer to claimants through job centres and Universal Support is not enough for us to have confidence in the process currently outlined.

Finally, we remain concerned about many issues within the design of Universal Credit. These include the impact of increased conditionality and sanctions; the impact on people's income of the waiting period; the problems with accessibility of the online system and the loss of financial support for many disabled people through the removal of the disability premiums.

During your statement on 22nd June you said “we want people to reach their potential, regardless of their circumstances or background, and we will make changes, when required, to achieve that ambition.” For this to happen, it is critical that the Government:

  • Addresses the existing issues with identifying 'vulnerable' claimants within the Universal Credit system before the process of managed migration begins.
  • Ensures that no legacy claim for disabled people or people with long-term health conditions is stopped before a full Universal Credit claim is established.
  • Moves disabled people and people with long-term health conditions on to Universal Credit directly, rather than requiring everyone to make a new claim.  

We hope that you will agree to meet with representatives from the disability sector to discuss these matters further to ensure disabled people can move over to Universal Credit smoothly.   

Yours sincerely,

Kamran Mallick
Chief Executive, Disability Rights UK

Neil Heslop
Chief Executive, Leonard Cheshire Disability

Paul Farmer
Chief Executive, Mind

Mark Lever
Chief Executive, The National Autistic Society

Jan Tregelles
Chief Executive, Royal Mencap Society

Catherine Dennison
Acting Head of Policy and Campaigns, Royal National Institute of Blind People

Mark Atkinson
Chief Executive, Scope

Peter Corbett
Chief Executive, Thomas Pocklington Trust

The letter was copied to Paul Gray, Chair of the Social Security Advisory Committee, Neil Couling Director General of the Universal Credit Programme, and Frank Field, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee.

* Disability Rights UK https://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/

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