NEW UNIVERSAL CREDIT RULES could force non-dependent disabled youngsters out of education because they will be left without enough money to live on if they need means-tested support, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) warns.

Worst hit will be disabled youngsters who reach the age of 19 before finishing non-advanced education.

The oncoming rules will force many in this group to choose between continuing education and not accessing the means-tested benefits they need, or dropping out of education to access universal credit (UC) and damaging their future employment opportunities.  As non-dependents, 19-year-olds must claim UC in their own right.

The rules, due to start on 15 December, contradict the Government’s policy of supporting disabled people “to live independently and achieve their potential” and should be scrapped, CPAG says.

Under the current rules, to start a claim for UC while in education, a disabled person must already have Limited Capability for Work (LCW) status.  But to get LCW status, a disabled person must have a work capability assessment (WCA), and the main way to access an assessment is by starting a claim for UC. In practice, disabled people in education are in a catch-22 situation – they need LCW status to start a claim for UC, but they need to start a claim for UC to get LCW status.

Currently, the only way a disabled learner can get an assessment (and therefore LCW status) while studying is by applying for contributory (new-style) Employment Support Allowance (ESA) instead of UC. Most will not be entitled to new-style ESA (as they will not have made sufficient NI contributions) but because claiming ESA involves an assessment, it can establish a young learner’s LCW so that they can go on to claim UC.

But the oncoming rules will close off the ESA ‘workaround’ route, because they require assessments to have taken place – and LCW to have been established – before a claimant starts studying. The new rules close off the only route disabled young learners have to UC.

Under the oncoming rules, disabled youngsters still completing their basic education at the age of 19  (often because of their disabilities), will not be able to transition to UC because they will have no way of getting LCW status before they start receiving education. These students are not eligible for student loans.  And 19 year- olds who have left school and want to take up a university place, could be forced to defer for a year purely to get LCW status because it takes on average four months to get an assessment decision after declaring a health condition to the DWP (3). Even though university students can access student loans, this does not put disabled students on the same footing as their non-disabled peers as they are likely to be less able to supplement their income through paid work alongside their studies.

CPAG’s Chief Executive Alison Garnham said: “Many disabled young learners will face Hobson’s choice under the new rules – pursue the studying they love without enough money to live on, or relinquish it to avoid penury.  On any measure that is egregious. These young learners are trying to expand their horizons.  The Government should be supporting them every step of the way, not making it harder.  The oncoming rules must be scrapped  – in line with the Government’s policy of supporting disabled people to reach their potential.”

Cases coming in to CPAG’s Early Warning System ahead of the new rules show how accessing UC is already a big struggle for non-dependent disabled young learners and how further restricting access will force some to stop studying.

CPAG wants the requirement that UC claimants in education have LCW status to be scrapped. The fact that young disabled people in education must be receiving a qualifying disability benefit to claim UC, provides sufficient evidence of their disability the charity says. There are further recommendations in its Policy Briefing.

* Read the CPAG policy briefing here.

* Source: Child Poverty Action Group