This month David and Will are joined by Michael Chambers and they discuss: changes to the Universal Credit managed migration; deadlines and cost of living payments; announcements in the Autumn Statement; requesting an online claim for Universal Credit to be switched to a paper/telephone claim; challenging decisions when out of time; and overpayments due to saved up benefits.

Transcript – Newscast December 2022

David Stickland: [00:00:04] Hello and welcome to our Benefits Newscast. It’s December, and this month it’s myself and Will Hadwen, as usual, and Michael Chambers, who works for a local authority welfare rights unit. As usual, we’ve got our three things pre-prepared that we’re each going to talk about – news stories, new legislation, court decisions, or simply stuff which we think we should share with you (welfare benefits related, of course). And I’m going to kick off with you, Michael. I wonder if you could tell us what is your number one item for today?

Michael Chambers: [00:00:43] Okay. Thanks, David. My first news item is to do with managed migration for Universal Credit. So, I was just going to recap just briefly on what it is and what the original plan was, and then we can have a chat about the change announced in the statement, in the autumn statement budget, last week.

David Stickland: [00:01:09] Cool.

Michael Chambers: [00:01:10] So, Managed Migration for Universal Credit is a process where the DWP are going to contact existing legacy benefit claimants, and the two key differences to the Managed Migration process, compared to just claiming Universal Credit off your own back. The first is once you receive the letter that the clock is ticking and unless you claim Universal Credit, your legacy benefits are going to stop sort of roughly within the three months if you don’t claim Universal Credit. And the second key difference is if your Universal Credit is less than what you were receiving on legacy benefits, then you will receive a top up, a transitional top up. It doesn’t last forever. It is eroded by most other increases. So, and the DWP started this process prior to lockdown. They did a little pilot up in Harrogate and it was paused and then restarted this earlier this year. They started writing to a couple of quite small scale benefit claimants in Cornwall and Bolton, Harrow and some tax credit claimants up in Northumberland. And the plan was to sort of roll this out to all existing legacy benefit claimants, of which there’s about two and a half million. So a quite big bit of work, sometime between now and the end of 2024. So that was the original plan. So in the statement last week, the Chancellor announced that there is going to be a pause for some of these legacy benefit claimants, specifically those receiving Employment and Support Allowance. So they are not going to migrate them until 2028.

Michael Chambers: [00:03:02] So something like a four year, four year delay. Now the reason for this delay is purely financial. It’s nothing to do with sort of client vulnerability or DWP not being ready. It’s purely a saving and they’re hoping to save sort of about a billion pounds, so it’s quite a big chunk of money. So I think we can conclude from this that that these ESA claimants are probably going to be better off on Universal Credit, at least some of them. So I think where we are now is that, you know, you don’t have to wait for Managed Migration. So the first thing always to do whenever you’re looking at Universal Credit is check your entitlement and use one of the benefit calculators online to see if you’re going to be better off. And if you are, you don’t have to wait until 2028, you can make a claim. Now, there are other issues with Universal Credit other than the purely financial and I think some of these are quite well known. You know, it’s a monthly payment in arrears. It’s going to be a five week wait before you get your first payment. There’s, you know, much higher work related requirements if you have Tax Credits overpayments or debts, that these are going to get reactivated and taken off your Universal Credit. So there are other things to consider with a Universal Credit claim. But if you are going to be better off, then you might want to make a claim now rather than wait for 2028.

David Stickland: [00:04:38] Sure. Okay.

Michael Chambers: [00:04:39] So, the other end of the spectrum, if you’re going to be worse off, I think remaining on legacy benefits for as long as possible, certainly until you get this Managed Migration letter and then you get the transitional protection top up, is going to be your best course of action.

David Stickland: [00:04:55] Okay, cool. There’s a lot going on there. And if we think about the statement last week and the announcements that were made around ESA, I think, if I can summarise, what you’re saying is for ESA claimants, it’s going to be delayed. And as I think we’ve we’ve said before on our newscast, it’s really important that people get a better off calculation on which they can use the government website as a starting point. But I think we always say that we’re happy to check people’s calculations, and we’ll certainly be happy to help with cases where people may be better or worse off on Universal Credit. And so then, I guess we ought to also say then that for other people, perhaps people that are not getting ESA for income support claimants, I guess it’s mostly going to be Child Tax Credit claimants, then it’s still something that’s happening.

Michael Chambers: [00:05:51] Yes, absolutely. So everybody who isn’t just (other than the ESA claimants) that get income support, income based JSA, tax credits, housing benefit, yeah, you’re going to be part of this original rollout of Managed Migration between now and 2024. The only combo of ESA claimants who are getting Child Tax Credits that they’re not delayed, they’re also going to be included in this rollout. So it’s just ESA or ESA and housing benefit that are being pushed back till 2028.

David Stickland: [00:06:22] All right, good. Thank you. Will, anything to add to that? Anything you’re thinking?

Will Hadwen: [00:06:26] No, really, I just just think that when you look at the savings in the budget document, you can see exactly what Michael means by pushing it back in this way, they’re actually saving money. And I think experience suggests, I don’t know what the stats are, but a lot of income related ESA claimants aren’t responsible for children, so won’t necessarily be getting Child Tax Credit. But those who are, I think, are probably in the minority, they could still be moved over under Managed Migration before 2028. So it’s just, as Michael says, take a cautious approach, check your entitlement. You might be better off on UC. It doesn’t mean you have to claim it. You can take everything into consideration. If you are on ESA, you should keep whatever Limited Capability for Work status you already have. So if you don’t currently have to look for work, you shouldn’t have to on UC, okay.

David Stickland: [00:07:14] Good. Lovely. Thanks. Was that on your list, Will? Is that one of your three? It was.

Michael Chambers: [00:07:21] I’m glad I went first then.

Will Hadwen: [00:07:22] It meant I was very well prepared!

David Stickland: [00:07:25] As ever. What was your number two then, Will?

Will Hadwen: [00:07:28] So my number two was the Cost of Living payments. And it also relates to the Autumn Statement. And it was, what I suppose is the good news is there will be Cost of Living payments again next year. They’ll be the same £150 for disability benefit claimants, extra £300 for pensioners on top of the usual winter fuel payments. And for those on means tested benefits, there’s going to be £900 of Cost of Living payments, which is really huge, but still I think a drop in the ocean compared to the rise in fuel bills that we are expecting. So probably that won’t be made all in one go. I suspect that will be in at least two, maybe more payments. We don’t have the specific relevant periods for entitlement yet. We don’t know what those are going to be. But my big message about this is income maximisation. Making sure that people claim means tested benefits where they’re entitled to them. So in respect of this year’s Cost of Living payments, we’ve got a deadline for Pension Credit claims of the 18th of December.

David Stickland: [00:08:30] Okay.

Will Hadwen: [00:08:31] If you claim by then and you ask for full backdated three months, you will get the later Cost of Living payment for means tested benefit for this year, which would be £325. But the same applies going forward just to make sure that we have absolutely double-checked clients’ entitlement to means tested benefits, emphasised that that could change over time. I get asked all the time, why am I not entitled to Pension Credit? Why am I not entitled to UC? And it’s often because of little things that could change in the future, like getting a disability benefit or being found to have limited capability for work related activity. So just because you check once doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check again.

David Stickland: [00:09:13] Okay. Yeah. Agreed. All right. Yes, that was, I saw that DWP press release with the the deadline of 18th of December. I thought the same. So we should be encouraging people as of now to check particularly with older people that might be able to get Pension Credit, because it’s a backdate isn’t it. You can get a backdate which which covers the relevant date for that Cost of Living payment. And I think probably one of my issues, which I think I’ll suggest now, I’ll cover now, because it kind of dovetails nicely with some of the other stuff, is the sort of, the budget statement generally right? Because there’s there’s loads going on in that. And as well as the Cost of Living payments and the ESA issue, which Michael has already covered, I wanted to mention uprating of course, and we’ve got benefit rates now, so we can look ahead to April to see what people are actually going to get in their benefits. And of course we’re all really glad that the inflationary increase has been made.

David Stickland: [00:10:21] So that’s 10.1%. That’s based on the September CPI figure and that includes the Benefit Cap, right? Which I think we’re all really pleased to see as well. But it doesn’t include local housing allowance rates. So if you’re getting Housing Benefit or more likely perhaps Universal Credit housing element, then we’re not going to see any increases in line with prices or rents as we are going to see with benefit rates more more generally. So good news on the cap that’s going to go up by 10%, 10.1%. And you can see those rates on our website, we’ll put the figures there, but not local housing allowance rates. And the other things that I picked out from the budget were the changes to support for mortgage interest. Loans, of course, rather than payments, but a reduction in the waiting time from nine months to three months and making it available for people that are working, which is a new thing because previously you could only get that help with your mortgage if you weren’t working right. You couldn’t have any earnings based.

Will Hadwen: [00:11:29] On UC.

David Stickland: [00:11:29] Yeah, on Universal Credit. So that’s a positive change. And looking ahead further to 2028 changes to Pension Credit, which were due to be made, they’ve been put back to 28/29, which was to remove Housing Benefit for older people and put it into into Pension Credit in the form of Pension Credit housing element. So that’s not going to happen as of as of now or anytime particularly soon. That’s also been delayed. There were some other things, of course, but those were the things that I picked up from the budget.

Michael Chambers: [00:12:08] It’s a shame about the Housing Benefit for pensioners because it’s such a clunky transition, isn’t it, from Universal Credit to Pension Credit and Housing Benefit, just having to claim. It’s a shame about that.

Will Hadwen: [00:12:21] Yeah. Yeah. But that that tells us that they’re not expecting to migrate everybody until 28/29 because they always said we’ll put a housing element in Pension Credit once we fully abolished housing benefit and once we’ve moved everybody over. Let’s see if they actually make it 28/29 without it being postponed again. The other thing that I noticed, just to slip in while talking about the Autumn Statement, is increases in conditionality for people who already work. I’m very concerned about this because I already see clients being called in by their work coach when they’re working, when they’ve got to pick their children up. I don’t think it works very well and increasing it is going to lead to a lot of complication and a lot of problems, I think. But it’s probably going to happen. So first of all, we’re going to see an increase in the light touch earnings threshold in January. So more people having to look for work, even though they’re in work. And then later that year, even people who do earn the Administrative Earning Threshold will still be asked to look for more work. So that’s to do with some regulations that are going to expire in February. So, yeah, not looking good in terms of what you have to do to get your UC. Broadly, you’re going to be expected to do more.

David Stickland: [00:13:39] Mmm. Yeah. And there’s obviously still an appetite for sanctions, isn’t there? Because looking at recent statistics, they’ve gone up again, I think even as of now. And, of course the statement last week was all about the coming months and years, not so much about now. So like you say, it’s something that’s, you know, they’re really ramping up, isn’t it? Something we’re going to see some more of. So being careful with those people who are subject to work related requirements, thinking about things such as the Administrative Earnings Threshold and a whole bunch of other things, I guess. It’s going to remain really, really important.

Will Hadwen: [00:14:20] I think encouraging people to challenge sanctions because for many, many reasons people don’t challenge sanction decisions and they are always appealable and there’s no time limit on asking for a mandatory reconsideration. So, yeah, just please emphasize you can always challenge them.

David Stickland: [00:14:37] Yeah. Yeah. I might come back to that in a minute, but I’m going to turn to you, Michael, for one of your other one of your other items.

Michael Chambers: [00:14:48] Okay. The second news item isn’t so much recent news, but it’s something I keep getting asked a lot and it seems to crop up. And it’s about claiming Universal Credit by phone. So I think, again, the preferred option we’re all aware is is the online claim. But the DWP have always offered a phone based claim as an alternative for people who struggle with the online process. They haven’t sort of advertised it perhaps as well in the past as they might have done. But there is clear DWP guidance now that not everybody will be able to make and maintain their claim online for a variety of good reasons, and it’s backed up on where it acknowledges the same thing. I mean, there are pros and cons obviously to the online claim versus a paper claim. And if if they do offer a paper claim, then your contact is going to be mainly via the helpline. And obviously getting through to that can be problematic at certain times, but you will get your monthly statements through the post. So I think what I wanted just to talk about is people who’ve claimed online and who are struggling with it and who want to change it to the paper based approach. Now, I know that people are told they can’t do that. I mean, I was told this myself by a relatively senior member of the DWP, at one of our local job centres. But again, you know, it is possible to ask the DWP to make an adjustment. What I think technically you’re doing is asking for a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act 2010, and there is a very helpful paper on the the Parliament website about specifically reasonable adjustments for people on Universal Credit, and this can be requested by the DWP. They give a sort of list of people who they should sort of look at in terms of these requests. And they talk about people who are blind or visually impaired, deaf, hard of hearing people with memory problems and learning disabilities and difficulties such as autism and dyslexia. And they say quite clearly this is not an exhaustive list, so it is possible to request this. If you have got an online claim, you’re struggling with it and what happens, you should get a note on the top of of the journal sort of alerting DWP staff that, you know, this person is is non-digital and you know that communication with one should be via the post and you know, converting it into a paper based claim.

David Stickland: [00:17:40] So it’s possible and you talk about paper based and by the post but it’s also over the phone, right. It would be managed over the phone.

Michael Chambers: [00:17:50] That’s right. Yes. And as I say, there are pros and cons to it. And I think you do need to consider it. It can be faster and more efficient. And obviously that you’ve got a history of your journal with the online claim, which you don’t have on the paper based system. But for people who are just struggling with the online process, there is an alternative either at the point of claim or even sort of, you know, down the line after an online claim has been made.

David Stickland: [00:18:18] Good. Okay. Thank you, Michael. Will, you mentioned before about sanctions and challenging decisions at any time. And it relates to one of the issues that I wanted to raise, because we’re often talking about deadlines. And certainly on our Introduction to Benefits course, we talk about the one month deadline, which can be extended by 12 months to an absolute deadline of 13 months, etc. But there are situations where you can do it out of time. And I wanted to briefly sort of remind people of that. It’s it’s a fairly complicated area and it’s not one that we can spend a lot of time on here. But there are some things that people should look out for, I think, and it’s something that we can pick up on our advice service, of course. So there was an Upper Tribunal case which basically said that it’s important for discretion to be used when looking at the 13 month deadline. And I have to admit, I don’t think this is something that I was aware of that that appeals could be made beyond the 13-month absolute deadline. So this was something that I sort of took some notice of and I wanted to share. So basically, there should be discretion used so that you can still appeal decisions in certain situations where you’ve missed the absolute deadline of 13 months. But I think we also really need to stress that this is only in very exceptional cases and in the judgment they talk about it’s only where the appellant had “personally done all they could to bring an appeal timeously”. And so that might be only in very rare cases. For example, if you’ve not actually received the decision notice and you literally don’t know about it. And then it made me think a bit more about other situations. And you mentioned one Will sanction decisions can be done at any time. And also…

Will Hadwen: [00:20:15] Yeah. So there’s a distinction which is really important to make that we’re dealing with more than one time limit. We’re dealing with the time limit to ask for a revision. Mm hmm. Which relates to the decision notice. And then we’re talking about the appeal time limit, which runs from the date of the mandatory reconsideration.

David Stickland: [00:20:32] Got it. Totally understand that. And I think it’s an important one, but it’s still where you can do it at the time, right? You can you can affectively get..

Will Hadwen: [00:20:39] Sanction decision can be revised at any time. Yeah.

David Stickland: [00:20:42] So the outcome is that we can get decisions changed, whether it be by revision or appeal. Yes. And I think I’m sort of lumping those things together in order to stress the importance of looking into it. Right. And it might be that the mechanism sometimes is revision and sometimes is appeal. And so some of the other scenarios that people might want to be aware of is where there’s been official error. So this would be revision. Again, I’m not sure it really matters whether it’s revision or appeal, but but it could be done at any time. So that is at any time, right? It could be a number of years ago. And we quite often see that with missing premiums in pension credit or perhaps under legacy benefits. But also and this came up in one of our cases recently where “no reasonable decision maker, having established the facts, could have made the decision that was made”. And we worked on a case together, didn’t we, where it was a DLA child claim. And you suggested that it might have been official error in in the decision making because it seemed fairly likely that the person that we were working with the child was likely to qualify for a higher rate and didn’t get it. And it might even be worth looking at that application form to consider whether no reasonable decision maker, having established the facts, could have made the decision that was made. So I wanted to just sort of remind people that sometimes it’s worth checking. This is fairly complicated. We talk about it on our appeals tribunal course, and it’s not something that we talk about on most of our other courses, but we’ve got our advice service. And if you’re not sure you can, you can send it to us and we’ll be happy to to check it out with you.

Will Hadwen: [00:22:29] I agree. Be fair to say that I quite I see quite a few decisions where I think, ah, there’s a possible official error there and the advisor wasn’t aware that that gives them indefinite time in which to ask for a revision. So always worth exploring.

David Stickland: [00:22:42] Absolutely. Exactly. Yeah. Okay. Was there anything else Will, on your list that you haven’t had a chance to mention.

Will Hadwen: [00:22:51] I just had my sort of frequently asked questions similar to Michael’s telephone claims one and my frequently asked question, which keeps coming up periodically is where people have got too much capital because they haven’t spent their benefit. Right. It’s a bit of a weird one to be talking about amidst a cost of living crisis. But there’s always been an element of that with some claimants who maybe don’t go out very much, maybe due to their disability and during the pandemic. Of course, for some people they were spending less money because they weren’t going out as much. So every now and then, probably every couple of weeks, I get a query about someone who’s exceeded their capital limits because of their own benefits. So it’s just to remind people that unless it’s a big chunk of arrears, that can be disregarded for a time. Your benefits as you save them up, do you count as capital and you can be overpaid if you don’t report going over those limits. So watch out for that. Tell your clients because otherwise they might not realise.

David Stickland: [00:23:50] Absolutely.

Will Hadwen: [00:23:51] Yeah.

David Stickland: [00:23:51] Okay. I think that’s it for this month. Thank you both. Quick reminder that you can access our advice service using the email that’s in the top of my screen. That’s if you’ve been on a course with us in the last 12 months. If you haven’t, then of course you can look at our available courses on our website. And it’s a reminder that our next Update Webinar is on Tuesday, 10th of January at 2 p.m.. So from 2pm till 3pm, and that’s an opportunity for you to put any questions to us. It will be a live event for 60 minutes. And again, if you’ve attended training with us in the last 12 months, you can attend that for free. Thank you, Michael. Thank you, Will. Thanks, everybody, for watching or listening. Take care. Goodbye.

Michael Chambers: [00:24:43] Bye bye.