The Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) has launched an important public consultation on the government’s proposals for moving all existing claimants of a working age income-related benefit to Universal Credit.
From next year the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will begin the process of moving claimants in receipt of one or more of the following benefits to Universal Credit:
- Working Tax Credit
- Child Tax Credit
- income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- income-related Employment and Support Allowance
- Income Support
- Housing Benefit
The wide-ranging draft legislation, which was presented to the Committee for scrutiny at its meeting on 20 June 2018, sets out the government’s proposals on:
- requirements for claimants on existing benefits to make a claim for Universal Credit (including the deadlines for doing so) and arrangements for ending their existing benefit
- the calculation, award and ongoing treatment of transitional protection
The task of safely moving around 3 million claimants (in around 2 million households) from legacy benefits to Universal Credit raises important questions about the delivery challenge facing the department and the potential impact on claimants.
SSAC has therefore decided to examine this draft legislation, and the impacts that flow from it, in more detail. To help inform this work, the committee would welcome evidence from a broad range of organisations and individuals who have good insight into and/or experience of the following aspects of these proposals:
- the overall migration timetable
- arrangements for contacting claimants and inviting claims from them
- issues associated with making a claim, and ending legacy benefit claims
- the calculation of transitional protection (including the treatment of earnings and capital)
- the impact of proposed transitional protection (including how easily it will be delivered and the degree to which it will be understood by claimants)
- the impact on workers, including the self-employed
- equality impact (whether there will be particular effects for different groups and how these can best be addressed), for example are there any groups that will not be covered by transitional protection?
- monitoring and evaluation
The Committee would welcome responses to ensure that its advice to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is informed by a range of perspectives. The committee would welcome real or hypothetical case studies or specific examples as part of that evidence.
Paul Gray, the Committee’s Chair, said:
“The planned rollout of Universal Credit is now reaching its most critical and challenging stage. The government’s draft proposals involve major issues on both detailed entitlement rules and delivery logistics, and are due to be debated in Parliament later this year. SSAC is keen to ensure that the scrutiny report it submits to ministers and Parliament is as well-informed as possible, and we therefore strongly encourage all organisations and individuals with relevant evidence to take part in this consultation process.”
The government has said that migration onto Universal Credit will take place between 2019 and 2023. Under the recent government proposals, people currently receiving Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) will receive a letter informing them that their benefits will be stopped and asking them to make a new claim to Universal Credit. The proposals suggest people will be given between one and three months to do this, with some circumstances in which that would be extended.
Some thoughts on the government’s proposals
The ‘managed migration’ entails claimants making a new claim for Universal Credit, which could mean that people with health problems may see their benefits stopped entirely while they struggle with the difficult and lengthy process of applying for Universal Credit. These are people who have already been through a rigorous and stressful assessment process and declared eligible for benefits because they are disabled or unwell. A gap in support for ill or disabled or people would leave them very vulnerable, and may have distressing and potentially harmful consequences.
It’s not as if the government have a particularly good track record on managing migrations. It’s difficult to find any good faith regarding the ‘managed’ transition to Universal Credit for so many people from a complex variety of legacy benefits, when the Conservatives’ welfare ‘reforms’ have had such a profoundly damaging effect on so many people already. This is because the word ‘reforms’ has been used to euphemise cruel austerity cuts that have fallen disproportionately on the poorest citizens.
Nor have the government demontrated that they are particularly observant of human rights frameworks and equality legislation. In fact their track record indicates they hold such safeguards and mechanisms of accountability in contempt.
This is a good reason why the 50 page poorly worded government document requires very careful scrutiny via a consultation. It’s not appropriate or adequate for the government to adopt a ‘test and learn’ approach that lacks safeguarding measures for those at risk of vulnerability through a cut or delay in their lifeline income, while the government attempts to get this right through trial and error at their expense.
The ‘safeguards’ that government has proposed simply do not address the concern that people will be left without a source of income during the migration. It’s completely unfair to place all the responsibility on severely unwell people to have to reapply for a new benefit and risk losing their income in the process.
The government should take full responsibility for migrating ill and disabled people onto Universal Credit smoothly and safely while protecting their income, health and wellbeing.
If people have to make a claim for Universal Credit due to a change in circumstances, such as moving house, or living with a new partner, rather than simply being migrated from the legacy benefit, that may also potentially place at risk any transitional protections they would have been entitled to, such as the severe disability premiums that some people are entitled to on ESA, since those are not included in Universal Credit. It’s also not clear if such a group would have to go through reassessment. That would also cause hardship and distress, because of the long waiting period between assessments, mandatory review and appeal.
Originally, the government had implied that migration from ESA to Universal Credit would not entail having to make a claim, and that provided the claimant’s circumstances have not changed, they would receive a transitional protection to compensate for the loss of the severe disability allowance and other amounts under legacy benefits which are not covered by Universal Credit.
A regulation [2(6)] has been ‘inserted’ which will introduce a ‘Gateway Condition’ into previous social security regulations from 2014, so that claimants who are receiving:
- income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA(IR);
- income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA(IB));
- Income Support (IS); or
and have the Severe Disability Premium (SDP) included in their award will not be
able to claim UC. Instead, rather than naturally migrate to UC, they will remain on
their existing benefit if they have a change of circumstance that would require a new claim for a benefit that UC is replacing to be made.
This is because of a recent landmark High Court ruling, earlier this month, in which the Court ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) unlawfully discriminated against two severely disabled men, who both saw their benefits dramatically reduced when they claimed Universal Credit, as they lost their SDP under Universal Credit rules.
However, there is no clear mention in the document of what will happen to those who receive Enhanced Disability Premium (EDP) on ESA, which is also not payable under Universal Credit. Also, there needs to be more discussion and debate around clarifying the details of how the tapering of transitional protections is going to happen, and indeed, if this should happen at all.
It’s difficult to forget that disabled people who were ‘migrated’ from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independent Payment (PIP) were also ‘invited’ to apply for PIP following notification of their claim for DLA being closed, which meant facing reassessment. Many people lost their eligibility for this lifeline support, and others were assessed as eligible for only part of an award, leaving them with rather less money than they had before they claimed PIP. Many have lost their motability vehicles as a consequence of losing the mobility component at reassessment for PIP.
These are just some of the worrying issues that the government’s latest proposals raise, which need to be addressed. We need to respond collectively to this consultation as a matter of urgency.
The overall effect and impacts of the proposed amendments placed before the Committee, outlined in the 50 page government document, are to be subject to a government ‘test and learn’ approach to implementation. It is unacceptable that those migrated first onto Universal Credit are regarded by the government as a sort of group of experimental test cases, when a rigorous impact assessment would have been much more appropriate to safeguard these citizens from hardships and distress created by government policy and administration.
People who need social security, paid for by the public, among whom are people needing social security support, and those who may in the future, are not lab rats for the government to experiment on without their consent. Most unemployed, underemployed, disabled or ill people have contributed to the Treasury and deserve better management of their money, adequate provision and rather more competent policy administration by the government.
Having read through the government proposal document, it does say that there are certain protections for claimants who have a disability or a health problem when they ‘transition’ to UC from ESA or incapacity benefits. Such protections include:
- ensuring that a capability for work determination for ESA can automatically be applied to the UC award; and
- paying the Limited Capability for Work addition in UC if they have been continuously entitled to ESA and entitled to the Work-Related Activity Component in ESA prior to 3rd April 2017.
Glancing through this document, it not very clearly outlined what will happen to those people with a more recent award of the Work-Related Activity Component, or to those where there has been a break in their previous entitlement since April 2017.
Regulation 19 states that in cases where ESA claimants had the Support Component (SC) or Work-Related Activity Component (WRAC) applied to their award immediately before they make a claim for UC, if ESA claimants have the SC applied to their ESA award, the Limited Capability for Work and Work-Related Activity (LCWRA) element in UC would be applied to their UC award, without the need for a Work Capability Assessment (WCA), from the start of their first (UC) assessment period.
An assessment period is one month. Entitlement to Universal Credit depends on your circumstances and your income in each complete assessment period. This potentially introduces a degree of uncertainty for people on long-term disability support, who rely on a degree of financial security to manage day-to-day living with additional needs.
UC is ordinarily paid monthly in arrears, and there is very little discussion in the government proposal document about how the gap will be bridged when legacy benefit claims are closed. There is mention that in some circumstances, where a claim for full housing benefit is in place, people migrated onto Universal Credit may claim a kind of ‘run on’, for a two-week period. However, housing benefit is always paid in arrears, and the two week run-on would simply cover the period of arrears from legacy benefits.
Regulation 20 states that with cases where the ESA assessment phase has not ended at the point the claimant claims UC, any unspent portion of the 13-week ESA assessment phase is carried forward and, if awarded, the appropriate UC element will apply.
The proposed regulations will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure and, as such, will need to be debated in both Houses of Parliament. Affirmative procedure is a type of parliamentary procedure relating to statutory instruments (SIs), which are traditionally reserved for non-controversial policies.
An SI laid under the affirmative procedure must be actively approved by both Houses of Parliament. Certain SIs on financial matters are only considered by the Commons. However affirmative resolution SIs require the approval of Parliament.
SSAC is an independent advisory body of the Department for Work and Pensions. The Committee’s role is to give advice on social security issues; scrutinise and report on social security regulations (including tax credits) and to consider and advise on any matters referred to it by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions or the Northern Ireland Department for Communities.
The Committee’s Chair is Paul Gray. Its membership comprises: Bruce Calderwood, David Chrimes, Carl Emmerson, Chris Goulden, Philip Jones, Jim McCormick, Grainne McKeever, Dominic Morris, Seyi Obakin, Judith Paterson, Charlotte Pickles, Liz Sayce and Victoria Todd.
Most social security regulations go before SSAC for scrutiny, the only significant exceptions being regulations which go to other advisory bodies or set benefit rates. When SSAC has considered regulations which it has asked to be formally referred, its response is made in the form of a report to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. That report must be presented to Parliament when the regulations are laid with a statement from the Secretary of State showing what has been done (or is intended to be done) about the SSAC’s recommendations (section 174(1) and (2) of the Social Security Administration Act 1992).
Please read the regulations and explanatory memorandum in full if you intend to send a response regarding the consultation.
Responses should be submitted to the Committee Secretary by no later than 10am on Monday 20 August:
The Committee Secretary
Social Security Advisory Committee
Alternatively responses can be emailed to – email@example.com
I will need to read through all of the government proposals carefully in order to make my own full response, which I’ll publish in due course.
And of course, Universal Credit, its impact, adequacy and performance as a form of social security, needs some more careful scrutiny, too.
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