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Universal Credit claimants left in the dark

New analysis from the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) has found Universal Credit claimants are routinely left unaware of how much they should receive, how their awards are calculated, and if and how they can challenge DWP decisions.

CPAG claims this is because the DWP’s communications with claimants are opaque and inadequate. One in five of the 1,110 UC cases referred to the charity’s Early Warning System, which gathers and analyses cases from welfare rights advisers across the UK, involve a DWP administrative error likely to result in a claimant getting the wrong amount.

Because universal credit rolls six different ‘old’ benefits into one, often claimants cannot tell what its components are, and so cannot know if it is right. And since information provided by the DWP about how their award has been worked out is frequently inadequate, payments may be wrong, and go unchallenged. As a result, many claimants are at risk of sliding into debt.

Their report says universal credit helpline staff are often unable to explain how a claimant’s award has been worked out because they don’t have access to payment calculations which in the vast majority of cases are processed automatically on universal credit’s digital system. Claimants’ online monthly payment statements give only basic information on how their award has been calculated so spotting errors, such as the omission of allowances for children, can be difficult or impossible for claimants.

CPAG’s analysis also shows that the DWP’s written information on claimants’ appeal rights falls short of legal requirements because it suggests a first-stage reconsideration of a benefit decision (known as a Mandatory Reconsideration)  is only possible where there is new information relevant to a claim or where a claimant believes the Department has overlooked something. In fact, disagreeing with a benefit decision is sufficient grounds for requesting a Mandatory Reconsideration. The Department’s standard-issue information also fails to tell claimants that there are time limits for requesting a reconsideration.

Read: Child Poverty Action Group - Universal Credit claimants left in the dark about their entitlements