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Miss first UC appointment and claim “closed”

 

Martin Williams
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Hi All,

I have heard rumours about claimants who have claimed in a full service area online (during which I think but am not certain they accept a very basic claimant commitment) but who then fail to attend their first appointment at jobcentre having their claims refused.

I am trying to work out what the DWP say is the legal basis for this- if they do maintain there is one. I can only think that they are effectively saying the claimant has not accepted a claimant commitment and thus does not meet a basic condition? Does that sound right?

Has anyone had any joy in challenging such a decision on basis that they have already accepted the more basic one as part of online claim (although s.14(2) WRA 2012 might be a problem there if the SSWP has proposed a more up to date one I cannot see it would be because it is at the interview the new one is actually drawn up?).

Alternatively if I am wrong about one being accepted during the online claim (am I?) then can a claimant argue under reg 16(b) UC Regs that it is unreasonable for them to accept (for whatever reasons it was unreasonable for them to go to the appointment).

Any thoughts and / or stories about what actually happens much appreciated.

Martin

     
Elliot Kent
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The most common scenario I’m seeing goes like this:

-potential claimant goes through the claim process putting in all their details etc and is invited - at the very end of the claiming process - to verify their identity
-potential claimant is unable to use any of the online ID verification processes and is invited instead to call the helpline and make an appointment at the job centre to verify their ID (I think they’re taking a claimant commitment at this appointment as well).
-potential claimant either doesn’t ring up and book an appointment or doesn’t attend the one they’ve booked
-claim gets closed without a decision being made or reasons being given 1-2 weeks later

The rationale for closing the claim, as far as I can tell, is the DWP policy is that a valid claim for benefit simply cannot be made without proving that you are the person whose NINO you are using. If you can’t prove your ID, then the DWP will essentially refuse to acknowledge it - similar to what happens occasionally with JSA claims.

In this scenario, the simplest resolution is for the claimant to make a new claim within 1 month and put an entry on the journal asking for the date of the first claim to be treated as their date of claim. If you do this, DMs seem pretty happy to treat the first claim as a “defective claim” which was remedied by the 2nd claim.

I’m really not sure if or how any of this process is legal but that’s what we’re seeing happening.

As for basic claimant commitments in the online claim - I can’t think off the top of my head. I will have a look next time I’m doing a claim.

     
Jon (CHDCA)
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The UC “high level” commitment (as the voiceover calls it) is shown at this point of the DWP overview video of the initial UC claim, which would before any JCP meeting. I don’t know if the same commitment is given to someone who answered differently to the prior screening questions about health or caring responsibilities.

The one in the video looks like this:

Your responsibilities

Thank you, [claimant].
There are a few things you need to know and do before your application to Universal Credit is complete.

It’s important that you understand that in return for your Universal Credit payment you’re agreeing to look for extra work.

You’ll need to do everything you reasonably can to increase your earnings. Your work coach will help you agree your commitments

[_] I understand these commitments

[Next]

     
Andrew Dutton
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I’ve had a haphazard go at this in this thread: https://www.rightsnet.org.uk/forums/viewthread/11012/

A reply to my FoI request on the actual legal basis of the policy is due on 27/7.

I don’t mind being shown why/proved wrong, etc etc, what troubles me is the ‘Cancelled, gone, no appeal, try again’ attitude that UC are taking.

     
Ros White
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I think, if DWP are treating failure to attend interview as meaning the claim is defective, they have to inform the claimant of the defect and give them a month to remedy the defect - if the defect is remedied within that period, then UC claim has to be treated as properly made in the first instance - see regs 8 and 10 of the Universal Credit (Claims and Payments) Regulations 2013.

Certainly shouldn’t be just closing claims without any notification. We’d be interested in taking up cases along those lines - here’s a link to our test case referral form -

http://www.cpag.org.uk/test-case-referrals

     
Elliot Kent
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Ros White - 24 July 2017 05:27 PM

I think, if DWP are treating failure to attend interview as meaning the claim is defective, they have to inform the claimant of the defect and give them a month to remedy the defect - if the defect is remedied within that period, then UC claim has to be treated as properly made in the first instance - see regs 8 and 10 of the Universal Credit (Claims and Payments) Regulations 2013.

Certainly shouldn’t be just closing claims without any notification. We’d be interested in taking up cases along those lines - here’s a link to our test case referral form -

http://www.cpag.org.uk/test-case-referrals

In the scenario I describe, I think the DWP logic is that claims without ID are beyond defective and are completely void. A claim needs a claimant and if they don’t know who the claimant is, there is nothing. Calling it defective later in the day is, I think, something of a fudge.

I’m dealing with a JSA case where the same policy has been applied. The DWP are refusing to decide or acknowledge a claim because the claimant has no ID. Its simply being treated as a nullity.

I’ll look at getting a test case referral over to you next time it comes up.

     
SarahJBatty
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We’ve come across the ‘closed claims’ issue quite a bit and I have been unable to pursue as got pulled off frontline advice to do something else.  Just discussed with colleagues and it is proving difficult to find out what has happened to these earlier claims once a subsequent claim has been accepted because of the lack of online record and vagueness of the terminology used by the UC helpline.

We think we have some we can refer for you to investigate further.  Will be in touch.

     
Andrew Dutton
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My FoI request is now overdue for a response.  I’ve prompted DWP.  Any bets on the eventual response?

     
SarahJBatty
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Just spoke to my colleague who is advising on UC Full Service new claims full time, and she reeled off about 8 cases of claims ‘closed’ she has dealt with just in the last couple of weeks, so this is defintely a very common issue.  The ones where an adviser has been involved are getting changed back to the original claim date, but others have already been refused by the time she speaks to them.  In one case a letter giving appeal rights against the closure of the claim was posted to the journal, but as the claim was ‘closed’ on the same date, the claimant had no access to see it so did not in reality have appeal rights!!  We are now trying to get a copy of one of these ‘closure’ letters.  If anyone has one could you post it?

Have sent a test case to CPAG.

My colleague also said that its better for people to select ‘text’ as the means of being notified of things by UC, as when they select email, unless they get email notifications on phone or check email every day, they do not know that something has happened and that they need to check the journal urgently.

     
Andrew Dutton
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DWP reply is here:

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/414606/response/1021568/attach/3/2610 Reply.pdf?cookie_passthrough=1

DWP Response
A claimant is mandated to attend the initial evidence gather interview under the power to require a person to supply information or evidence in connection with the claim, in regulation 37 of the Claims and Payments Regulations 2013. A claim cannot be closed for failing to attend an interview for this purpose until a period of one month has expired since the information was requested.

The SoS must allow the one month period to elapse before closing the claim, and may extend this one month period if he considers it reasonable.

If the claims are being closed on the basis of a failure to accept a claimant commitment which is part of the initial work interview, again there must be a ‘cooling off’ period granted to the claimant before this can be done. The claimant commitment must be drawn up and either sent to the claimant in advance of the scheduled meeting or sent to the claimant after the meeting, allowing an additional 7 days for the claimant to accept it. This gives them time to make contact and, if necessary, book a further interview. It also allows us to make additional efforts to contact claimants where there is a potential vulnerability. We cannot close a claim for failing to accept a claimant commitment unless we have produced one and given the claimant reasonable opportunity to accept it (regulation 3(3) Universal Credit Regulations 2013).

In terms of failure to attend other conditionality-related interviews, this of course incurs a low- or lowest level sanction, not a closure of the claim. This is always subject to good reason (section 27(2) Welfare Reform Act 2012).

     
SarahJBatty
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Interesting Andrew!  Thanks for posting.
So using Reg 37 evidence requirements, a month is allowed to comply, so our case where claim made 13/7/17 and closed 26/7/17 ....

     
Andrew Dutton
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I think all the cases I have seen so far were instantaneous closures.

The that point you raised about the journal also pops up the in the guidance attached to the FoI reply.

‘The claimant should receive a decision notification that the claim has been closed, including consideration of appeal rights. A journal note entry is added to this effect.’ (!!!!!) Some use if the journal is then closed too!!!

     
ClairemHodgson
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Andrew Dutton - 11 August 2017 03:04 PM

‘The claimant should receive a decision notification that the claim has been closed, including consideration of appeal rights. A journal note entry is added to this effect.’ (!!!!!) Some use if the journal is then closed too!!!

 

i wonder, therefore, if the original plan was that journals would not be closed at all?

and given the disconnect between what their FoI/policy guidance documents say at various times, and actual practice “on the ground” (so to speak” i think that might be a valid thought…..

     
Elliot Kent
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That’s very interesting, albeit rather unconvincing.

I don’t understand how requiring someone to attend in person at a physical location at a given time amounts to simply supplying information or evidence.

And I don’t think I’ve seen a single case where someone either got a whole month before the claim was closed or was given a decision notice - or even where a decision maker was involved at all.

     
SarahJBatty
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My colleague is asking for the letter.
This issue of Journal access is really quite serious.
Case she had this week where a previously single UC claimant has formed a couple so ‘added’ a partner.
A new Journal has been created and she has no access to her previous journal, she had not yet reached the point of payment as it was a fairly new claim, so she has no record of her date of claim or anything.

Test and learn comrades, test and learn ......

     
Andrew Dutton
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The client I’m thinking of who had her claim stopped has reported that she could see the decision on her journal - but it also told her she needed to make a new claim, and when she did that ‘the information from the previous claim was replaced by the details of the new claim’.

     
Andrew Dutton
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As far as I can see, once the online claim is made, there is a valid claim for determination and it cannot just be shut down.

Reg 37 UC C&P Regs say (paras 2 and 3) that the Secretary of State ‘may’ require the person to supply information or evidence (etc)  and that ‘the person ‘must’ supply this within a month of first being required to do so or ‘such longer period [as is]reasonable.’

The Reg seems to be just the same as per the existing system, where if the information is not provided an adverse inference may be drawn and the claim refused, but as a proper decision subject to all appeal rights.

I can’t find any requirement to attend an appointment for UC purposes – only the JSA rules seem to stipulate this. JSA is also exempted from paras 2 and 3 of Reg 37 C&P Regs but UC is definitely not.

The question comes – from where did UC get the idea they could just close the claim right away?

I am concerned that UC’s refusal to note and accept disability at the beginning of a claim makes disabled claimants especially vulnerable to this little trick. I’ve had one case of this already – claimed 16/6, claim closed for non-attendance 3/7.

     
ASH
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An issue raised by this is why the DWP needs to wipe the internet details and claimant’s access to the claim when it closes a UC claim.  I can see no reason why a claimant cannot have access to the details of their closed claim for a good period afterwards at least. 

I have posted elsewhere the problems caused for some of my clients when access to their joint claim is lost because their partner dies. Apart from anything else it is crass and insensitive and can exacerbate the grief. 

If there are good reasons for wiping access to claims at some point, there needs to be policy on how long the claimant has access and what constitutes good warning procedures for this happening.  I can see no reason at all why this should be done before any right of appeal ends

     
Daphne
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I’ve emailed stakeholders to pick up both the rapid closure of claims and failure to keep the journal open -will keep you updated if there is any progress…

     
Andrew Dutton
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Looking again at the guidance, it seems to assume that closure of the claim is the sole decision that may be made. I can see no authority for this whatsoever in Reg 37 C&P Regs, which is silent as to the consequences of the claimant not taking the required action

There are several other examples listed as situations supposedly requiring claim closure, e.g. –

hasn’t done annual verification
has re-claimed but not booked First Commitment meeting
failed to produce evidence
failed to review their details

- again, there appears to be no legal authority to ’close’ the claim as such.

The guidance tells staff to make checks prior to closure, some of which may allow the claim to continue. But it does not make a sensible suggestion such as actively contacting the claimant to check with them and advise on what action they need to take to avoid an adverse decision.

     
Andrew Dutton
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I have an encouraging response to a complaint concerning one claim closure where the claimant had missed one of the first two appointments:

DWP could not find a journal entry telling the client to re-claim (client is quite clear that it was on the journal)

‘Also we have looked for a copy of the closure letter and this is not attached to the build.’

‘The claim was closed incorrectly as [claimant] should have been given time to confirm why she had failed to attend.’

DWP agree that they closed the claim one day after failure to attend and that instead a letter should have been put on the system allowing appeal rights.

They agree that they did not properly apply Reg 37 C&P Regs.

They have backdated the claim to the original claim date.

I still think that claim closure is an inappropriate response and is not supported by the law, but this may take us forward a little.