David, Will and Liam discuss: Autumn Statement changes including the Back to Work plan, changes to the Work Capability Assessment and benefits uprating; increases to transitional SDP; Carer Support Payment in Scotland; and changes to residence & presence rules.

Benefits Newscast Transcript

December 2023 / January 2024

David Stickland: [00:00:06] Hello and welcome. It’s been a busy month, so I’m very happy to be joined by Liam Casey and Will Hadwen to go through some of the important things that have been coming up for us in the world of benefits. Will, I wonder if I can turn to you first and you can perhaps share with us item number one on your list.

Will Hadwen: [00:00:27] Well, last Wednesday was a big news day with the Autumn Statement, and the week before that we’d had the “back to work” plan, as it’s called. So that’s what I’m going to focus on to begin with. And there’s lots in it. But very broadly, the support for sick and disabled people should be voluntary. It’s quite a lot in there. It was a sort of essentially a type of social prescribing, things like the “Well to Work” scheme and more help with talking therapies for some people with mental health problems. But I think what’s really scary about some of the changes that they’re suggesting is what would happen to people who have to look for work on UC, people who have what we call all work related requirements. And what it’s saying for those people is that there are two situations in which their claims could be closed completely, not just sanctioned. Those two situations are if they’ve been on Restart, which is a program you would do after six months of being unemployed. After 12 months on that program, you’d be offered new conditions, and those new conditions could include mandatory work trials, for example. If you refuse to accept without good reason, your UC claim would actually be closed. That’s the plan. And then the other situation in which that could happen is if you’ve got an open ended sanction for over six months and you’re only getting the standard allowance, your claim would end. So an open ended sanction is something like you haven’t attended an appointment at the job centre and you’ve not rearranged that and then attended. Okay, so there aren’t actually that many people in that situation who are only getting a standard allowance, etc. But there isn’t nobody. And they’ve specifically said those people wouldn’t get legal aid, they wouldn’t get free prescriptions or any of the things that normally come with having UC entitlement. This is in the context of sanction rate on the most recent set of statistics. For 6.5% of those people who can be sanctioned. So that’s a lot higher than it’s been in the past.

David Stickland: [00:02:36] Okay, and listening to you describe it there, I guess it’s possible that some of those people who are available for work and like you say, required to do all types of work related activity might even be in a situation where they shouldn’t be as well, you know. It could be that they there are other things for us to explore or that haven’t been considered by the DWP. They might have a health condition or a disability. For example.

Will Hadwen: [00:03:04] Yeah. And I think Liam’s going to talk about some of the changes they’re proposing to the Work Capability Assessment. But if they go ahead with those, the result appears to be that you would have fewer people assessed as having limited capability for work and far fewer people with limited capability for work related activity. So the changes taken together are a worry. Definitely.

David Stickland: [00:03:26] And more complexity, I guess as well, for people to consider. Like you say, there’s two specific groups that you just want to remind us all of, of those two groups you mentioned.

Will Hadwen: [00:03:36] Yeah. So the first group is people who’ve had 12 months on the Restart Program. The Restart Program will be brought forward. It used to be, I think after nine months of unemployment now would be after six. It’s worth bearing in mind that your work related requirements should be tailored to you. So if you’re a disabled person but you haven’t been found to have limited capability for work, that should still be known to your work coach, and you might not be sent on Restart. But anyway, if you are, then after those 12 months, if you still haven’t found work, you’ll be offered options that could include being having a job pointed out to you or having to do, essentially mandatory work experience. And if you didn’t accept those conditions without a good reason, then they’re saying your claim will be closed.

Liam Casey: [00:04:24] Can I ask Will, have you got any sense of what that mandatory work experience would look like? Like how long would it last? Have they said anything about that.

Will Hadwen: [00:04:32] No, no details on that. No details on that at all. And then the other group is the group who just get the standard allowance and have had an open ended sanction for at least six months. So what that would mean is they’ve, for example, failed to attend an appointment they haven’t both rearranged and attended, so they’re kind of not engaging with the job centre and their claims would end.

David Stickland: [00:05:02] Thank you. And from an advice point of view, thinking about the second group, I guess the advice is to ensure that people sort of do engage, to bring that sanction to an end and maybe to take some other action around the sanction, possibly. But with the first group, it’s the advice is to engage, but you can’t bring an end to that. That requirement to attend the mandatory work trial, let’s say, apart from doing it and then complying with all of that as well.

Will Hadwen: [00:05:28] That’s right. And I think again, it’s interesting to look at the statistics about how many claimants really are, unemployed, I mean, literally unemployed, are not earning enough to take them into even the light touch group. And, are still looking for work after 12 months on a Restart program. And we don’t really know because the Restart hasn’t operated in that way before. But I think it’s going to be very, very few people. And a lot of the commentators seem to think, and we know that this is an extremely scary, but it’s not going to affect that many people. Okay.

David Stickland: [00:06:05] All right. Thank you. And I guess something for us to look out for as well, in terms of developments and more detail in terms of what it might look like. Thanks Will. Liam, let’s turn to you. Wonder what’s on your list?

Liam Casey: [00:06:17] Well, I guess maybe following on from what Will’s just said there, mine’s also about the Autumn Statement as well and the announcements about changes to the Work Capability Assessment. So they’ve proposed some changes to this assessment following a consultation that they launched in September this year and they want to bring these proposed changes in by about 2025. So I’m just going to quickly tell people what the Work Capability Assessment is and then tell you what the changes are. So Work Capability Assessment a test used by the government to decide if somebody is fit for work or unfit for work, for employment and support allowance and universal credit. Three possible outcomes. Fit for work, limited capability for work, or limited capability for work related activity. Many people will know that, but some people won’t. The outcome of the test affects the work related requirements that you have in ESA and universal credit. And if you don’t do what’s required of you, you could be sanctioned if you don’t have a good reason. So getting one of these outcomes (LCWRA) or protection from sanctions, and in some cases you also get more money. For example, if you have LCWRA, you might get a support component or LCWRA element in your benefit.

Liam Casey: [00:07:33] So what are the changes? Well, they’ve proposed some changes to the qualifying criteria for the work capability assessment. And broadly these changes make it more difficult to get LCW or LCWRA as a part of this assessment. So there’s three changes, three areas that are going to make changes. One is around the mobilising activity for LCWRA, one’s around the substantial risk criteria for LCWRA and one’s about an activity for LCW, the getting about activity. So these changes relate really to people’s ability to get around and also whether they’re at risk from work related activities around their mental health. So why have they made these changes. Well they’ve said that they think that in the modern workplace that people with mental health conditions or difficulties with moving around will have less difficulties working due to what they see as an increased availability hybrid working and working from home. But it’s also projected by the Office for Budget Responsibility to take about 370,000 people off LCWRA between 2025 and 2029, and that will cut about £1 billion from the benefits bill. Oh, there’s one more change that I didn’t mention as well. Sorry. They are also proposing this thing called the Chance to Work Guarantee. So what they’re saying is that when they bring these changes in, everyone who’s already on LCWRA won’t be reassessed under the new criteria apart from a few specific situations. And they can also try working without that triggering a reassessment, which it doesn’t necessarily do at the moment. But it could do.

David Stickland: [00:09:31] Sure.

David Stickland: [00:09:33] Gosh. Yeah. So there’s a lot going on there. Where to start? Guess it’s the three areas that I want to sort of focus on most. Let me just summarize those and you can tell me if I’ve got it right. You said the mobility activity in the limited capability for work related activity test, the substantial risk criteria in the limited capability for work related activity test right. And then the limited capability for work getting around activity. I mean, all of these are significant aren’t they. They’re all really like you say, the net result as far as the government is concerned, is to remove a load of people from this part of the sort of from this part of the test.

Liam Casey: [00:10:17] To fill out UC50 forms or doing appeals, for example, you’ll know how important the mobilizing activity is for LCWRA and substantial risk, especially when you’re challenging decisions. I think 1 in 7 WCA outcomes at the moment based on substantial risk.

David Stickland: [00:10:34] Yeah, that’s a massive one, isn’t it? Am I right in thinking that I saw something about being more specific about conditions that people might have?

Liam Casey: [00:10:43] Yeah. That’s right. So for the substantial risk criteria, what they’re saying is at the moment you can qualify if work related activities could be a risk to you or somebody else’s health based on a mental or physical condition, so they’re going to keep it that way, I think for physical conditions, but for the mental conditions, they’re going to specify, I think, specific conditions and specific situations like crisis situations that you have to be in to qualify for LCWRA substantial risk. So that will I think that will kind of have a pretty big impact and reduce the amount of people qualifying.

David Stickland: [00:11:18] Thanks, Liam. Great. And let me just check a couple of other things. You said this would be 2025. That’s the date that we’ve got in mind. So no changes before then. Are we thinking April 2025 ? Do we know? Not sure.

Liam Casey: [00:11:32] I don’t know.

David Stickland: [00:11:33] Not sure we do and then you also said that for people that have already got limited capability for work related activity status at that point, when the changes are brought in, people could move into work with the confidence of not being assessed under the new criteria, I think is what you said.

Liam Casey: [00:11:52] Yeah. And they’re saying kind of indefinitely, but then they’re also talking about kind of how long your status might last for. So I’m not quite sure. I think it’ll be interesting to see more about that and see kind of whether being out being in work and off universal credit for more than six months, seeing whether that whether you still have your LCWRA after that or not, it’ll be interesting. Okay. Yeah. They’re all proposals at the moment, I guess not legislation won’t come in until 2025, but I think something to keep an eye on for sure.

David Stickland: [00:12:20] Right. So that’s another important thing. So it will need to be legislated for. We don’t have the detail right now. So I guess it’s something that we’re likely to be coming back to in the coming months. Great. Thanks.

Will Hadwen: [00:12:33] I think it is April 2025, because that’s when you can see the savings in the in the annex to the budget document. It’s April 25th. You see them making money out of it.

David Stickland: [00:12:42] Right. Good investigative work there Will.

Will Hadwen: [00:12:45] Just to come back to you on your other point, it does say about the mandatory work trials that they’ll be time limited, but that’s the only detail I could find.

David Stickland: [00:12:52] All right. Good. Thank you both. Will, your next item, please.

Will Hadwen: [00:13:00] Yeah. So my next item is something, also quite complex unfortunately, which is transitional severe disability premium. A lot of our viewers will know that transitional severe disability premium is an extra amount of UC, it forms a specific element of UC that can be included where someone’s been on three of the legacy benefits income support, income based jobseeker’s allowance, or income related ESA, and they were entitled to the severe disability premium. And I don’t think we have time to summarize the conditions for that, but no. So for those people and those people only, there’s always been a large number who’ve, who’ve missed out in another way because a lot of them would also have been entitled to an enhanced disability premium or a disability premium. So what the changes do is to add some amounts to the transitional severe disability premium element to reflect those as well. Okay. But it’s only in respect of assessment periods which start on or after the 14th February next year, and it doesn’t seem to do anything for those people who’ve lost out before.

David Stickland: [00:14:14] Okay.

Will Hadwen: [00:14:14] Including people who may no longer be on UC who’s transitional element has stopped. So it doesn’t cover those, but it does cover people who were getting transitional STP, but it’s eroded to nothing. As long as they still have an award of UC. And then there’s also another group of people who might be getting, a discrepancy between the disabled child element they got on child tax credit and the disabled child element they get in UC. And again, if they are severe disability premium entitled claimants or they were when they moved to UC, they will get an extra to make up that difference as well. Okay. That would be mostly the difference between child tax credit and UC, there might be maybe a tiny, tiny number of people who are getting the extra in their other benefits. So it’s really complex and it doesn’t do anything that the case law didn’t require it to do. The change comes from case law, and it also doesn’t even do everything that the case law required it to do, arguably because it doesn’t deal with the loss over time for some other affected claimants.

David Stickland: [00:15:28] Okay. Thank you. Like you say, this is complex, and I don’t propose to get into the sort of qualifying rules around the severe disability premium. But I do want to think about sort of the key messages that we should be giving to people. And one of the things I’ve picked up on there, you know, was, was simply sort of recognising the complexities within some of those legacy benefits and the fact that there are a number of different premiums and at the same time picking up on what you said about the importance of the claimant having a severe disability premium in their previous legacy benefit entitlement. So it seems to me that that’s the thing that we want to encourage people to most check if you’re working with somebody. Have you had a severe disability premium previously? Because it may not be apparent now. I guess that’s the starting point for people. And picking up on on the other thing that you mentioned about children. It seems rather bizarre that you can only get the extra child amounts if you qualified for a severe disability premium, which will have been in respect of you, the adult.

Will Hadwen: [00:16:34] Yeah, but that’s specifically because the test case said, that the claimant who had a disabled child and so had lost out in that way as well. They were only, the judge was only going to go so far as to say this person should be compensated. This person has been unlawfully treated. And specifically doesn’t necessarily include other people who’ve lost out the difference but were not themselves disabled. So you’re right, it only helps those people who are a disabled parent nobody getting carer’s allowance or carer element, not living with another adult who isn’t on disability benefits and also has a disabled child who’s not getting the highest rates of disability benefit. So it’s quite niche. And yeah, you’re right, there are all these other parents of disabled children who’ve lost out who are not covered.

David Stickland: [00:17:29] Exactly. Okay. So look out for severe disability premium cases. We’re not going to get into the qualifying rules of that now. But if you’re not sure, of course you can contact us, and our advice service would be very happy to help. So we’ve got about five minutes left. Liam, I wonder what other issues you might have to share with us.

Liam Casey: [00:17:51] I was going to mention the benefits uprating, but I also wanted to mention carer support payment beginning to be rolled out in Scotland. So maybe I’ll bring that on in because we can.

David Stickland: [00:18:00] Please do.

Liam Casey: [00:18:01] A few other updates in the, in the kind of documents that come out with this. Yeah. So Carer Support Payment. The Scottish Government have issued new regulations for the introduction of this benefit. It’s a Scottish benefit. It’s eventually going to replace carer’s allowance in Scotland. So the eligibility criteria for it are largely the same as carer’s allowance. However, unlike in carer’s allowance, it will be available to people in full time education from 16 to 19 year olds who are in non-advanced education at the moment, they won’t qualify for Carer Support Payment. You also must obviously be resident in Scotland as well to get it, so it’s topical because the rollout has just started recently on the 19th November, people in Dundee, Perth and Kinross and the Western Isles in Scotland will need to claim Carer Support Payment now and not carer’s allowance, and the Scottish Government have said that they’re planning to start the transfer of people from carer’s allowance to Carer Support Payment from February 2024, and rolling it out for all new claims across Scotland by I think Autumn 2024 or late Summer 2024. So it’s just a reminder really, that if you’re in Scotland, the end of carer’s allowances is happening already on its way and it’s been replaced by Carers Support Payment.

David Stickland: [00:19:29] Okay, which as you say, is a replacement for carer’s allowance with some more beneficial criteria for people, including people in education for students. Great and you mentioned a couple of dates there that I’d like to check. So if you’re working in Scotland, it can be claimed. Did you say from November in certain areas?

Liam Casey: [00:19:53] Yeah. So from the 19th November just gone and it could be claimed in Dundee, Perth and Kinross and the Western Isles and then other areas of Scotland, you’ll be able to claim it kind of from February next year onwards, or start rolling it out in different areas. That should be fully done. And I’ve lost my month. I think it’s August 2024, but from my notes.

David Stickland: [00:20:18] We can check that and put it on our website anyway. That’s great. Lovely. Thanks, Liam. Really good. We have a 2 or 3 minutes left Will, what else have you got on your list, I wonder?

Will Hadwen: [00:20:28] I just had one question for Liam, which is just to check. I’m sure this is the case, that it includes the extra that is currently in the carer’s allowance supplement, so it will be paid in one?

Liam Casey: [00:20:39] Well, actually, what I’ve seen is that they’re going to, for now, they’ll continue to pay the Carer’s Allowance supplement for people support payment. I think until it’s fully rolled out and carer’s allowance is replaced, and then they’ll look to do that going forwards I think.

Liam Casey: [00:20:54] Thank you. That’s really helpful.

David Stickland: [00:20:55] Thanks a lot. Thanks. Yeah.

Will Hadwen: [00:20:57] So my last thing was some quite big news in a way, which is that since the 27th October, there’s no past presence requirement for Child Benefit. So there was a three month past presence test. You have to be in Great Britain for three months, and that’s gone. And it’s gone in relation to what’s happening in the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel. They were going to do it anyway, but they’ve brought it forward. And along with that, they’ve also made some changes, more exemptions to the habitual residence test and the past presence test for the disability benefits, to exclude people who’ve come from the occupied Palestinian territories, Israel or Lebanon who were residing there before the 7th October and is very specific. You have to be you have to have left because of what is happening there and also, you must be able to claim benefits. So it only helps people who have a status that allows them to claim benefits. It doesn’t help people who are subject to immigration control.

David Stickland: [00:22:04] Okay, so. And this isn’t for everybody, is it? This is specifically in relation to those people that might be fleeing.

Will Hadwen: [00:22:12] That’s right. They have to be they have to be coming for that reason. Yeah. Because of the attacks and the subsequent bombing of Gaza. Yes. Okay. It’s maybe worth saying as well that this is, I think, the fourth exception the DWP have had to make before that we had Sudan, before that we had Ukraine, before that we had Afghanistan. I apologize if I’ve missed any, but I just had a client recently where the DWP had missed the fact that he was exempt from the habitual residence test, and he was from Sudan and had fled because of violence in Sudan. So it’s really worth trying to remember there are these places, specific places where if a client left after a certain date and for those reasons they may be exempt.

David Stickland: [00:23:02] Okay, so important to be aware of that. And I guess if there is an issue, we have guidance that we can refer to and we can sort of point DWP in the direction of if it helps, we can put that on our website I guess. Right. Yeah. Cool. And Liam, just returning to you, I think you mentioned about uprating briefly.

Liam Casey: [00:23:24] I can try and do it quickly. Yeah, yeah. Go on. So again, part of the Autumn Statement, basically they’re going to uprate all working age benefits by the September CPI inflation figure of 6.7%. There was some concern that they were going to do it by the lower October figure. So I think people are relieved about that. Maintaining the triple lock on pension age benefits like state pension and pension credit, that’s 8.5% increase. Local housing allowance caps will also be restored to the 30th percentile of local market rents in 2024. They’ve been frozen since 2020 but interestingly, a report from the OBR notes that they’ve actually been told by the government that the measure is also going to freeze those rates in 25 to 26, so being restored in 2024, 25, but then being frozen again the following year. And unluckily there’s no uprating or increase to the benefit cap limits to ask.

David Stickland: [00:24:27] I was going to ask about that. Yeah.

Liam Casey: [00:24:28] So these are all set to take place in April next year.

David Stickland: [00:24:32] Okay, lovely. Thanks very much both of you. That’s wonderful. Thanks everybody. Thanks everybody for listening. We wish you well. And we’ll post those links on our website of course. And any problems to do with cases, please contact us on our advice email. Thanks both again. All the best. Bye bye.

Liam Casey: [00:24:52] Thank you. Bye bye bye.