Universal credit (UC) claimants who suspect the DWP has made a mistake in their award and ask for a review are too often blocked by DWP error and failures in the system, a new report from Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) shows.
Research for the report – Computer Says No: challenging decisions – draws on the charity’s Early Warning System (EWS) which to date has gathered and analysed 1,600 benefit cases from welfare rights advisers across the UK (see case studies below and in full report). When they disagree with a DWP decision, UC claimants must ask the DWP to conduct an internal review – called a ‘mandatory reconsideration’ (MR) – of a decision on their award before they can appeal to an independent tribunal. Decisions might, for example, relate to how much UC they should get or whether they are entitled to UC in the first place.
But the research finds claimants are sometimes wrongly advised that decisions can’t be appealed, that they must take a different route to try to resolve the issue, or that they need to provide evidence to challenge a decision when they do not – delaying or blocking their efforts to have mistakes corrected. When people have their claim refused when they first try to claim, their online account is often closed. This makes it even harder to get a decision reviewed because letters explaining why it was refused cannot be accessed any more.
The obstacles to getting a decision reconsidered are all the more worrying for the fact that in almost two thirds (63%) of UC cases that reach a tribunal, a DWP decision is overturned.
CPAG’s report finds:
- The CPAG Early Warning System has received numerous case studies of UC claims being refused part-way through the claim process. Once this has happened claimants can view the history of their online account, but cannot submit a request for the refusal to be reconsidered online, as the account is inactive. As soon as they start a new claim, however, they can no longer access their previous account at all so are unable to see letters explaining why their first claim was refused and setting out how to challenge this decision. This makes it harder to challenge the refusal, so claimants may miss out on entitlement to UC for the period between their first and second claims.
- Inappropriate requirements for phone calls or additional evidence: some claimants who have submitted MR requests online have been told that their request cannot be processed unless they submit it over the phone or unless they provide further evidence. This is contrary to DWP’s own guidance, which is clear that any communication with the DWP (via phone, journal, letter etc.) that indicates a claimant would like a decision to be looked at again is an MR request. While further evidence may be submitted as part of an MR, there is no requirement for the claimant to provide it and the DWP has no power to refuse to process an MR request if no further information is provided.
- Dissuading people from making MR requests: some claimants trying to challenge decisions through online journal messages, where the appropriate route is an MR, are being dissuaded by DWP officials from requesting an MR for various reasons. Examples include being told the request won’t be successful, being wrongly told that a decision cannot be appealed, or being encouraged to have an online chat with their work coach instead of trying to resolve the issue via formal channels. Again, this is contrary to DWP guidance stating that any indication that a claimant wants a decision to be looked at again is an MR request.
CPAG’s report makes recommendations for improving both administration of the MR process and the overall accountability of universal credit.