CPAG November E-Bulletin & Updates

November e-Bulletin: claimant commitments

The Early Warning System collects evidence from advisers about how changes to the benefits system are affecting their clients. We use this data for campaigns, in discussions with Government, and to produce advice resources. 

This month, we have heard a lot about conditionality:

​Meanwhile, this month DWP has introduced sanctions for people claiming new-style benefits.

Read what advisers are saying and what CPAG is doing below.

Call for evidence in November:  Universal credit has now been cut by £20 a week. We need to hear from advisers about the impact this is having on their clients. Tell us what’s happening in your cases by completing an online form or emailing the Early Warning SystemThe more we know, the more we can do.

Inappropriate commitments

For parents

The UC claimant commitment for a ‘responsible’ parent is usually based on the age of her/his youngest child. As a rule of thumb, if the youngest child is under 1, the parent should have no work-related requirements at all; if the child is under 3, that parent shouldn’t be asked to look for work; if the child is under school age, the parent shouldn’t be asked to look for work for more than 16 hours a week; and if the child’s under 13, any work search requirements should be compatible with their school hours, including drop-offs and pick-ups, and won’t normally exceed 25 hours. Things are more complicated if one or both parents are earning.

These expectations aren’t set in stone, and work coaches can change them to fit a claimant’s circumstances, but this doesn’t always happen. We have recently heard about one family in which the ‘responsible’ parent home-schools the children, but is still expected to look for work for 20 hours each week. This is unfortunately in line with DWP’s normal approach on home-schooling (ADM J3170-J3172).

For people with ill health or a disability

This month, we heard about a UC claimant who was being asked to look for work despite having limited capability for work (LCW). Being in the UC LCW category means that any work-related requirements, beyond attending work-focused interviews, should be voluntary. It’s worth noting that, if your client is still waiting for a decision about capability for work, DWP has discretion about which work-related requirements to apply. The same is true if your client has been ‘found fit for work’ and is in the process of challenging the decision. 

For terminally ill people

If your client is terminally ill (according to the UC definition) then s/he shouldn’t be asked to accept a claimant commitment on UC – but it sometimes happens. CPAG’s Judicial Review project has produced a pre-action template letter for advisers challenging these decisions, which sets out the rules and guidance.

For recently bereaved partners or parents

This month, we heard about someone who claimed UC claim shortly after losing his partner, and was told that he would be expected to look for work. In fact, DWP can’t impose a work search requirement in UC if it is less than six months since a claimant lost their partner, their child under 16, or a ‘qualifying young person.’

For self-employed workers

Earlier in the autumn we heard about a self-employed driver who was asked to attend a face-to-face Jobcentre appointment for universal credit (UC) despite working full-time. Although problematic for the claimant, this requirement might not have been contrary to UC rules.

Usually, a self-employed UC claimant can face work-related requirements while they’re not classed as ‘gainfully’ self-employed. Meanwhile, someone who is classed as gainfully self-employed – and affected by the minimum income floor – shouldn’t have work-related requirements. But if your client has only just told UC that s/he has become gainfully self-employed, s/he might be required to go to a face-to-face gateway interview to provide evidence about this, despite it clashing with working hours. 

Most of the rules discussed in this section are in Part 8 (Regs 84-119) of the Universal Credit Regulations 2013. See CPAG’s Welfare Benefits and Tax Credits Handbook, Chapters 46-49 and 52, for more details.

CPAG has produced a number of tools and resources on the topic of conditionality. These include a set of pre-action letter templates about claimant commitment issues on UC. CPAG’s Judicial Review Project is on hand to offer guidance about using the templates. 

And if your client is struggling with a claimant commitment and you’re not sure what their options are, please contact CPAG’s advice services

Claimants taking part-time courses

This autumn, we have heard about a few claimants who have decided to do part-time courses while claiming UC. Examples have included an English language course, an evening maths class, and a part-time course in childcare.

Unfortunately, there is a risk that a claimant will not be eligible for UC if s/he is “undertaking a course of study that is not compatible with any work-related requirement.” (Regulation 12(4), Universal Credit Regulations 2013) 

This might apply if the course takes up time which s/he is meant to spend job-hunting. The risk is that s/he will be classed as ‘receiving education’ and will then only get UC if s/he meets some additional criteria, like having a child or having limited capability for work. 

However, DWP can reduce the number of hours your client is expected to look for work if s/he is doing some voluntary work preparation activity – and a part-time course might count. Voluntary work preparation activity has to be something agreed on with DWP on the basis that it’s going to improve a claimant’s work prospects. Regulations 12, 14 and 95 of the Universal Credit Regulations 2013 provide the starting point in these cases.

Unfortunately, in at least one of the instances reported to the Early Warning System, the claimant seems to have been told that his claim could be stopped because he was ‘receiving education,’ despite taking an English language course which seemed important to improve his work prospects.

We would be interested to hear from advisers who are seeing similar issues. And if you think the wrong decision has been made in one of your cases, please contact CPAG’s advice services.

Do you have something to tell us?

Hearing about your cases has a profound impact on our work. If you have a case which shows how changes in social security affect you or your clients, please let us know.

Some of the topics we are looking out for include:

  1. The £20 cut – We know it will be deeply felt by all UC claimants. To make persuasive arguments to government, we need specific examples of the effects it is having.
  2. Getting paid weekly, fortnightly or four-weekly on UC – Is your client paid any way other than monthly, and having problems with UC as a result? 
  3. Young students with disabilities and ill health – Changes announced for 15th December will make it even harder for young people in education to claim UC. Do you have clients who will be affected?

Submit a case online or email the Early Warning System​ to tell us what you’re seeing and how we can help. 

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