Universal credit

Universal Credit Update – October 2017

This is the first of many reports we will be putting up on our website to let our members, service users and carers understand what is happening in Reading about the roll-out of Universal Credit (UC) and how it will affect them.
This report is therefore the story as we understand it so far as it affects people with a learning disability and their carers. There are also some useful resources at the end, which, whilst they are for children and young people, are also helpful. There is no doubt UC will cause people with a learning disability some problems. We can expect letters to start arriving for them from February 2018 onwards.

In trying to unravel the story we have worked with Andrew Donachie, the RBC Senior Welfare Reform Officer, sitting within RBC Housing — his specialities are the benefit cap and Universal Credit, and also with Jamie Webb, head of the team of five from the Debt Management Team in RBC who are situated at the Job Centre Plus to staff their "bank of computers" and to help people who cannot otherwise access the IT to manage Universal Credit; they also provide budgeting advice.

The Reading Mencap lead in this work is Kate Stonehouse, Family Support Team Leader, and Kate will be the main contact for all service users who need help when the benefit starts to roll-out.

1. When?

• Reading Borough becomes a “full service area” in December 2017
• There are 2 tranches for claimants – one in December 2017, (this is for new benefits claimants) and one in January 2018, when current claimants start to switch over in the following three months to Feb – April 2018.

2. Which benefits does UC replace?

• Jobseeker's Allowance (income-based)
• Employment and Support Allowance (income-related)
• Income Support.
• Child Tax Credits
• Working Tax Credits
• Housing Benefit (rental)

It should be noted that neither Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) are affected by Universal Credit.

3. Possible positive aspects of UC

• Payments can be made to third parties – e.g. landlords
• Simpler rates for limited capability (ESA), usually two elements only. This should mean fewer mistakes by benefits staff.
• Each claimant has an online account, and they can see at all times what and when they will be paid, and ALL information held about their claim.
• Job Centre has employed disability advisors and mental health workers to support people to manage their claims.
• Payments are monthly. BUT payments can be made more frequently where there is a need.
• Huge cultural change for Job Centre staff. They are all now job coaches.
• There is a team of five people to support people with their claims, and to support use of the bank of computers installed for the purpose at the Job Centre. This is called “Assisted Digital Support”.
• Claims can be managed by an appointee.
• Home visits can still be accessed as an exception. We are trying to find out what the criteria are for home visits.
• There is still a telephone number that can be called, but this is not being widely published.
• Job Centre will be hosting “stakeholder meetings” where Reading Mencap can raise concerns.
• Job Centres can call on translators for appointments.
• Discretionary Council Tax support is available.
• There is a “work commitment” that cannot be changed without the agreement of the claimant.

4. Challenges

• Claims normally have to be made online, although there are some exceptions when a claim over the phone will be allowed, for instance because you have problems with reading or writing or are unable to use a computer.
• There is a need to upload a photo.
• Claimant must have an e-mail address and mobile phone number. Also a bank account.
• Requirement for ID, which should be a passport or driving licence. There is a process for those without, where a “trusted person” e.g. a GP, can vouch for them.
• Need to manage an online ‘to do list’ and journal for those who need to seek work. Communication is via messaging system on the online account.
• Disability advisors in Job Centre Plus can only be accessed by appointment.
• The five-man team based in the job centre who are providing digital support and personal budgeting support are not trained in learning disabilities or autism. We can offer training but we don’t know if they will take us up on this offer.
• Currently security guards are on the doors of the Job Centre and restricting access. The Job Centre is working to implement change to an open, accessible place.
• There are tiered processes and criteria for accessing split payments, more frequent payments or payments to third parties. All online. Social landlords can request a third party payment on line without the consent of the claimant. Private landlords can only do so with the claimant’s permission.
• New claims will take up to 6 weeks to process. An advance payment of up to 50% of the entitlement will be available to help bridge the gap. This must be paid back over the following 6 months. Same day payment can be made. We do not yet know if there will be a gap between the new claim for Universal Credit and the old payments, and how this can be managed.
• We have been told “the work commitment and its relationship to sanctioning is key”. We are waiting to find out what that means.

There is such a lot here that is very challenging to all our service users. It is very clear that details have yet to be worked out. The Government has taken an approach of go-live, and learn lessons and make changes as you go along. This means financial hardship, high anxiety, general distress and many other difficulties for our clients.
These are the questions to which we have asked for urgent responses:

1. How to access home visits
2. How to access Universal Credit via telephone
3. How does the process work that is involved in switching to Universal Credit. Will there be a gap between payment of current benefits and a Universal Credit claim?
4. How to access direct payments to landlords.
5. What deputies will do to facilitate the change to Universal Credit for those they support.
6. How to confirm people’s ID.
7. How to access the Disability Advisors at the Job Centre, and what is their role.

We will also raise with Social Services that everyone with a personal budget and support plan needs to have ‘support to access Universal credit’ included within their plan, bearing in mind the problems and challenges above.
Here are some resources for those claimants/potential claimants who are carers for a disabled child – they also include a lot of useful information for carers of adults with LD.