Motor Neurone Disease Association responds to Universal Credit consultation

By agency reporter
August 23, 2018

The MND Association has responded to the Social Security Advisory Committee’s consultation on the Government’s plans to move benefits claimants onto the new Universal Credit system.

The Association’s response highlights a number of problems with the Government’s plans for the transition, including its intention to terminate legacy benefit payments and require claimants to submit a new application for Universal Credit. The Association says this unfairly places the burden of transition on claimants, and risks claimants missing out on the support that they require.

The Association recommends that legacy claimants should be passported to Universal Credit automatically, and that the migration of claimants should be paused while this issue and others are addressed. In its response to the consultation the Association says:

"We are very concerned that the burden of applying for Universal Credit falls entirely on claimants, who will cease to receive their legacy benefits and are required to submit a new application for Universal Credit ...This is particularly inappropriate given that Universal Credit replaces benefits designed for those living with disability or long-term health conditions, such as Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) should not place the burden of managing the transition to Universal Credit on claimants. For those living with a progressive, lifelong and highly disabling condition such as MND, the claim process is lengthy, difficult, and both physically and emotionally draining.

"MND is a progressive and terminal condition in all cases and consequently there is no possibility of improvement in the condition or reduction in the severity of symptoms over time. People living with MND can rapidly lose muscle function, leading to symptoms such as loss of limb movement and loss of the ability to speak. It is consequently extremely difficult or impossible for many people with MND to complete their benefits applications either by phone or online, particularly in the context of a one-month deadline. Although the DWP offers home visits in theory, in practice these are frequently denied on the basis that the person’s carer or support staff should make the application on their behalf instead. Apart from the data protection issues involved with this approach, it ignores that care and support workers or unpaid carers have a hugely demanding job to do to manage the complex needs arising from MND, and simply do not have the time to fill out lengthy forms.

"There is a strong possibility that people living with MND and other disabling conditions will be unable to complete their applications in time due to the impact of their disability, leading to the loss of essential support on which they rely.

"Furthermore, it is likely that claimants of legacy benefits will undergo significant stress and anxiety when notified that their legacy benefits will stop and that a new claim for Universal Credit is required. Many claimants have previous experience of the DWP’s poor record of assessing claims for disability benefits. DWP assessment decisions are frequently overturned when challenged; figures for the first quarter of 2018 show that 70 per cent of claimants were successful in appealing a decision relating to their ESA claim, while 71 per cent were successful in appealing a decision relating to their PIP claim. A notice of termination of legacy benefits is likely to have a destabilising and stress-inducing effect, particularly for claimants who are already coping with the impact of illness and/or disability.

"As well as the initial application, it is a cause for major concern that people living with MND may be required to take inappropriate actions as part of their Universal Credit claim, such as attending a work-focused interview with a work coach. For a person who has had to give up their career aspirations due to the onset of a highly disabling terminal condition, such an interview is not only an enormous physical burden; it is also utterly insensitive and inappropriate. Although Universal Credit guidance makes provision for exemptions to be made for people who are terminally ill, this refers to the definition of terminal illness used for the Special Rules for Terminal Illness procedure for benefits applications ('a reasonable expectation of death within six months').

"Because MND is a highly variable and unpredictable condition where a precise prognosis is often impossible, the majority ( around 60 per cent) of MND claimants of legacy disability benefits did not apply through this route, despite living with a terminal illness. The Association is deeply concerned that the application process for Universal Credit will force people with MND to satisfy completely inappropriate requirements, such as a work coaching interview, even though there is no realistic possibility of them returning to work due to the impact of their condition."

* Read the full response here

* Motor Neurone DIsease Association https://www.mndassociation.org/

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