As NAWRA members are aware, we have been working hard with other organisations to try and resolve the issue of UC50s not being reliably issued following the submission of fitnotes leading to claimants not being put through the WCA and therefore being left for months, or sometimes years, without the LCWRA element being added to their claim. Following our letter to the Minister last year, we had a meeting with officials in January 2023. At this we were told that –
- DWP are in the process of developing a digital UC50 – they believe this will solve the problem but we have sought clarification of the point at which it becomes digital – it needs to be triggered by the fitnote being submitted in order to ensure the WCA is started
- DWP do not currently do any data analysis to assess the scale of the problem themselves – however, they agreed that one of their user researchers would speak to advisers to find out more – some of you have been involved in this – thank you
- A digital solution is still some way away – we therefore asked for a manual solution in the meantime where work coaches put a standard message in a claimant’s journal at the point the first fitnote is issued (this should be a trigger point for reviewing the claim anyway) – this could explain the WCA process and that the claimant should receive a UC50 after 4 weeks at the latest and advise to let their work coach know if the form did not arrive. While not infallible, this would put claimants in a better position than currently.
Separately to our negotiations with the DWP, NAWRA gave both written and oral evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee’s inquiry into health assessments for benefits. The Committee’s report was published on 14 April 2023 and, as a result of our evidence, it put forward a specific recommendation (paragraph 51) –
‘The process of issuing a UC50 form should be automatic, and claimants should not have to remind the Department to send it to them. DWP should investigate the process for issuing UC50 forms urgently and confirm in its response to this Report what steps it is taking to fix any points of failure identified to improve the process while the Work Capability Assessment and UC50 forms remain in use.’
Since then we have had a follow up meeting with officials (on 18 April 2023) and there have been some developments –
- They have undertaken research with five advisers recruited through NAWRA, and two or their clients
- They acknowledge that there are problems reporting deteriorating conditions and that it is not clear how to report changes of circumstances effectively and they are looking at ways to improve this
- They are looking to tighten up the day 1 referral process – this should be initiated if the fit note lasts more than 29 days apparently!
However, they did not yet seem to have addressed the issue of the UC50 just not being issued either when a first fit note is submitted or one highlighting a worsening condition. Nor had they addressed our request that standard wording be put in the journal setting out the WCA process as soon as a fit note is submitted on a manual basis pending a digital solution.
A follow up meeting to look at progress is due to happen in three months.
Thanks to Daphne Hall for all her work on this.
Greater Manchester Law Centre (GMLC) and NAWRA are investigating delays to Pension Credit applications. Thanks to everyone who responded to the survey we sent out last month asking for information on your recent experiences with the Pension Credit service.
The findings of the survey along with recommendations are available in the full report and this summary.
The survey results show that Pension Credit claimants are often waiting months for claims to be paid which is causing financial hardship. The delays are widespread and are having a knock on effect on other entitlements.
The report makes five recommendations to resolve the problems.
Update 23 Jan 2023: the report was cited in a debate about Pension Credit in the Commons. NAWRA has written to Laura Trott MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the DWP, to follow up on her promise that processing times would return to normal in February.
Update 8 Mar 2023: Thangam Debbonaire MP tabled a written question on current average Pension Credit processing times to which Laura Trott MP has declined to find an answer.
Update 28 Mar 2023: Between 2 March 2023 and 15 March 2023, GMLC and NAWRA ran a follow–up survey with advisers to put Laura Trott’s claims to the test and ask whether they had seen an improvement in Pension Credit processing times. The results of the survey and Laura Trott’s response are in our updated report.
Independent Age is asking supporters to sign an open letter to Mel Stride.
Update 10 May 2023: Members are reporting much improved processing times. Thanks very much to Dan Manville at Manchester Law Centre for taking this up.
NAWRA is concerned that bereavement support payment has not been uprated in line with all the other benefits and tax credits, and in fact has not been uprated since it was introduced in 2017.
This is because it was introduced under the Pensions Act 2014 which does not require uprating.
On 24 Nov 2022, NAWRA wrote to Stephen Timms in his capacity as chair of the Work and Pensions Committee to bring it to his attention and to ask him if he could raise it as an issue either through a parliamentary question or from the Committee.
Stephen Timms tabled the parliamentary question below.
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what plans he has to uprate the value of the Bereavement Support payment, introduced at its current level in 2017; and if he will make a statement?
The question was answered on 1 Dec 2022. The government has decided not to uprate bereavement support payment. Read the reply.
Update 23 Nov 2022
We have re-sent our letter to Guy Opperman, the newly appointed Minister of State at the Department for Work and Pensions.
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28 Sep 2022
As highlighted in previous conferences, NAWRA has been working with the Strategic Public Law Centre and others to try and resolve the problem of the DWP’s failure to reliably initiate the WCA and issue the UC50, resulting in disabled claimants missing out on the LCWRA element – worth more than £350/month – for months or even years.
We met with officials towards the end of last year and put forward a simple proposal – to put an automated message into the claimant’s journal when they first submit a fitnote to advise them of WCA process and, if they don’t receive a UC50 within 4 weeks, to raise it with their work coach.
However, DWP decided not to implement this and instead said they would ‘explore what might be added to published information’.
NAWRA has now written, with Disability Benefits Consortium and Disability Rights UK, to the new DWP Minister of State Victoria Prentis calling on her to put the solution in place as a matter of urgency.
We have also asked for a meeting with officials.
Read our letter to the minister
NAWRA has received a letter from David Rutley, Minister for Welfare Delivery responding to our concerns about the Help to Claim service – in particular, the lack of face-to-face support in the service and the general lack of support for people needing advice given the ramping up of ‘Voluntary move to UC’.
The Minister says –
‘I thought it may be helpful to make clear Help to Claim is designed to be accessed after someone has decided to apply for Universal Credit (UC). It is not intended to help someone decide whether UC is right for them.’
He also reiterates the DWP’s assertion that jobcentre/DWP staff do not advise people to claim UC – apparently ‘independent welfare advice is available’ but the Minister has not responded to the point that funding is needed for this.
NAWRA has responded asking –
- Does the government plan to provide funding to increase advice provision, particularly face to face?
- What safeguards does the DWP have in place, or will be putting in place, to ensure that no person is directed to claim universal credit without having an opportunity to receive a full benefit check and be advised of their options and the implications of those options?
- Can you please clarify what the Department is doing to achieve its objective ‘to ensure the right information is available to claimants in order to support them in making an informed decision about whether a voluntary move to universal credit is right for them’?
Read our letter in full