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Universal Credit Retrospective Verification

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Tina M
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HI all

One of our local charities has told us that the DWP is currently reviewing UC claims made during lockdown to carry out a retrospective verification of the claim.  This is the information I received from my local JCP.  Is there any official guidance on this?

‘This is due to the fact that at the start of Covid in March 2020 some 1.3 million people claimed Universal Credit and we used Trust and Protect to verify their information.  This could mean that identity, housing costs, children and other circumstances were verified without seeing proof as they could not visit the job centre.

In light of this, a team has been set up called the Repair Team who are tasked with looking at every single claim and asking for the information to now be provided. If they cannot reach the claimant after 3 attempts then the claim may be suspended until contact is made.’ 

Tina

(PS the Repair Team is not to be confused with the nice people in The Repair Shop)

Andyp5 Citizens Advice Bridport & District
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Re: FOI DWP and UC claims last spring - ‘We are now re-visiting those cases and are re-applying the verification standards that would have been in place at the time, had it not been for COVID-19. If the evidence does not support the application it will….........’.

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/jcp_retrospective_verification_t

Andyp5 Citizens Advice Bridport & District
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Heard anecdotal evidence from other bureaux of client’s being told to provide selfies for ID purposes i.e. selfie in front of accommodation. Cases where a failure to do so has meant closure of claims (and overpayments).

Can anyone shed any further light on this?

Added the link below for more background of repair and fix etc

https://www.rightsnet.org.uk/forums/viewthread/17294/

Diogenes
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had a client overpaid over £4000 UC . The nice man in my local job Centre looked on his screen and it seems that those cases that were passed through without proper ID checks in the first covid wave are now being trawled by a special UC hit squad to chase up ID that was not requested at the time of claim.  My client did not respond quickly enough an his claim was stopped and all the retrospective award is being clawed back on a deduction from earnings order, both client and his partner are having deductions from their wages to repay this £4000. Also the clients   asked for an MR back in April as confirmed by my friend in JCP and UC never responded to the MR request !!!

Timothy Seaside
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I’ve just had my first client with a Repair Team problem. She says somebody from DWP called her. She asked them to call back another day because she was very unwell with COVID. They didn’t call back. But a bit later they stopped her UC. Today I was able to tell her that they’ve stopped it back to the start of her claim (April 2020) - she was unaware of this as she is unable to access her online account, and wasn’t too bothered about regaining access as her earnings are starting to pick up so she expects to be back on her feet again soon.

I have two observations:-
1. I can’t help thinking the DWP ought to have waited until they had enough staff to handle the current workload before they started diverting resources away.
2. When there’s so much scope for error and with such huge consequences, they ought to be sending out letters to explain any decision to end UC especially where it’s due to lack of contact, and especially where it’s retrospectively ending entitlement.

This whole thing smells of procedural unfairness.

Elliot Kent
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There are significant issues in these cases relating to the extent of the DWP’s decision making powers which advisers need to be aware of.

When benefit is claimed, a decision is made. That decision is final. The decision can only be changed by revision or supersession, either of which requires a ground. ss8, 9, 10 and 17 Social Security Act 1998.

DWP do not possess a general power to go back and change decisions just because they did not ask for evidence they now think they ought to have requested. The “Trust and Protect” system was not based on any new statutory power or decision making process; it was just updated guidance.

It is possible that the DWP’s review will uncover some cases where the evidence is such that the decision was in fact wrong - for example because the claimant has claimed benefit for children who do not exist - in these cases the DWP can revise their decisions for mistake of fact.

However in the general case, where DWP has simply failed to request evidence which it now considers appropriate, it is difficult to see what legal basis exists for the awarding decisions to be revised if that evidence is not now provided. The fact that, for example, a claimant has not provided a copy of their tenancy agreement does not establish on the balance of probabilities that the liability for rent does not exist. The Tribunals have always held that it is for the DWP to establish grounds and the burden is on them to show the factual basis for the revision/supersession.

Additionally, whilst the DWP is entitled to request evidence in relation to a past period, the failure to provide that evidence does not, of itself, entitle the DWP to revise the award or generate an overpayment.

The material I have seen so far does not demonstrate a very good understanding on the part of the DWP as to any of the above so it will be incumbent on advisers to ensure that the decision making process is properly followed.

[ Edited: 24 Aug 2021 at 10:25 am by Elliot Kent ]
Diogenes
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Timothy’s case is similar to mine, his client may not be worried about the award of UC now earnings are picking up but maybe very worried when they get a huge bill for overpaid UC, as my client has.
Re; Elliot’s sage comments, I have lodged an appeal direct to HMCTS as UC did not provide an MR, I recently had a case where a Tribunal gave Directions to the DWP do do an MR as client had not got one. so I am hoping my client will be able to challenge the UC overpayment and am grateful to Elliot for those points which may help our case.

Timothy Seaside
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I’ve just interviewed the client properly and we managed to get into the UC claim. I made a copy of the whole journal before restarting the claim - you can’t see the old journal after you click on the “Make new claim” button.

It is rubbish. There is an overpayment letter which contains the following gems:
“On 19 July 2021 you were paid £13,922.49. You should have been paid £0.00. This is because we could not verify your identity. We have tried calling you on a number of occasions and have left messages in your journal. One calendar month has now passed since we first attempted to contact you regarding this matter. Your account has now been closed and an overpayment has been issued against you. This represents all the Universal Credit payments (including deductions paid to third parties if applicable) from the time you made your claim..

Because of this error you have been overpaid £13,922.49 and now need to pay this money back.

You are now in a minority of people who have received money they’re not entitled to.”

I’m kind of tempted to post half the journal here - it’s quite bad. But at least we’ve got the following on 23 July: “your claim has been closed in line with guidance as you did not respond to our attempts to contact you

if you want to make a new claim and appeal the decision, then please make a new claim and ask for a mandatory reconsideration of the overpayment and claim closure and you will need to provide evidence, why you did not keep your appointments and supply the evidence”

...so they are inviting an MR (although my client would never have seen any of these messages if she’d clicked on the “Make new claim” button). I’d like to see the guidance, please.

The journal messages in June/July say that the claimant was granted an easement at the start of the claim, and one of the conditions of being awarded UC was that they might be asked to provide more evidence of ID later and their claim could be stopped from the start if it wasn’t provided. Hmmmm. Really?

Diogenes picked up on the fact that my client wasn’t bothered about reinstating her UC claim as she thought it had just been stopped and work was picking up so she wouldn’t need UC any more. She’s looking at it slightly differently now that she knows what’s been going on. I think there are going to be a lot of people in the same situation - where they have no idea of the damage the Repair Team have done, and one day they are going to get a very nasty shock.

nevip
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“You are now in a minority of people who have received money they’re not entitled to.”

That sentence is wholly inappropriate, it’s truth notwithstanding.  It is entirely unnecessary in any decision notice outlining a statutory decision.  It serves no legal purpose except to serve to act as a rebuke, and simply seeks to shame and intimidate claimants into making them think that they have somehow misbehaved and let both themselves and their fellow citizens down.  The sentence is unprofessional, should be removed from future correspondence and its author reprimanded.

Jo_Smith
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nevip - 25 August 2021 09:21 AM

“You are now in a minority of people who have received money they’re not entitled to.”

That sentence is wholly inappropriate, it’s truth notwithstanding.  It is entirely unnecessary in any decision notice outlining a statutory decision.  It serves no legal purpose except to serve to act as a rebuke, and simply seeks to shame and intimidate claimants into making them think that they have somehow misbehaved and let both themselves and their fellow citizens down.  The sentence is unprofessional, should be removed from future correspondence and its author reprimanded.

This sentence is included in every overpayment decision notice.
Equivalent is not included in an underpayment decision letter. Those never include any self-directed rebukes.
Its author is of course DWP.

There is another gem: most people have already made arrangements to pay back.

LOL

see attached

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Andyp5 Citizens Advice Bridport & District
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Thinking from a W&P and PAC perspective i.e. questions for the usual suspects.

I might be imagining this (it is the phenomenon called UC, so truth stranger than fiction), but I am sure I saw something on Rightsnet.

In which Neil Couling was quoted as saying something to the effect roughly Spring 2020 during the mass claims. That ID was no biggy because they had that info on people anyway.

It might have been in one of the discussion forums as opposed to a News story. Can anyone point to it please?

Edited - PS in case anyone missed the following response to Martin at CPAG https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/further_information_about_reveri

[ Edited: 25 Aug 2021 at 10:16 am by Andyp5 Citizens Advice Bridport & District ]
Ianb
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Andyp5 Citizens Advice Bridport & District - 25 August 2021 10:13 AM

Edited - PS in case anyone missed the following response to Martin at CPAG https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/further_information_about_reveri

As far as I can see that is a refusal to answer some of the questions and for those parts that purport to be answers the response doesn’t actually address the questions asked! The regulations cited make no reference to verification procedures.

shawn mach
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Meanwhile:

DWP used discretion to waive recovery in just 10 universal credit official error overpayment cases in 2020/2021

FOI response confirms that there were more than 330,000 official error overpayments worth more than £228 million during the year, but that only £22,000 has been waived ...

https://www.rightsnet.org.uk/welfare-rights/news/item/dwp-used-discretion-to-waive-recovery-in-just-10-universal-credit-official-error-overpayment-cases-in-20202021
https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/universal_credit_where_a_waiver

Mkfiftyeight
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From the PAC report of 30 June , we learnt some good news (last line of para 28), DWP has 1,400 people who can work methodically but then I have twisted words slightly!

28.We asked DWP how it balanced the need to protect taxpayers’ money with the speed and accessibility of support schemes. DWP told us that Universal Credit was a good example of balancing these needs as applications normally rely on people coming into the jobcentre for ID checks which was no longer possible. DWP told us it had to find other ways of verifying information which were “less satisfactory”, but over time was able to find new techniques, using data and remote methods. DWP explained that those early cases where payments were made without having satisfactory data were flagged for review and it now has a team of 1,400 people methodically going through those cases, one by one, to put them right.83

<https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm5802/cmselect/cmpubacc/253/25308.htm>

Andyp5 Citizens Advice Bridport & District
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Ianb - 25 August 2021 10:32 AM
Andyp5 Citizens Advice Bridport & District - 25 August 2021 10:13 AM

Edited - PS in case anyone missed the following response to Martin at CPAG https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/further_information_about_reveri

As far as I can see that is a refusal to answer some of the questions and for those parts that purport to be answers the response doesn’t actually address the questions asked! The regulations cited make no reference to verification procedures.

Not uncommon for FOI’s sadly, but worth posting/flagging up to a wider audience. For the reasons you mention Ian, but also wider political policy questions beyond the World of Welfdom.

Andyp5 Citizens Advice Bridport & District
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Published 22/06/2020

22.The surge of new claims following lockdown highlighted some of the existing flaws in the identity verification process. The changes DWP has made to the application process in response to the outbreak—particularly allowing the use of Government Gateway accounts for identity verification—are very welcome. We remain concerned, however, that the online application process continues to be difficult to navigate for people who lack digital literacy, especially people in vulnerable groups. The Department should continue to allow claimants to use their Government Gateway accounts to verify their identity once the lockdown has ended. It should also use this as an opportunity to reflect on what other changes to the process are needed, with a particular focus on the needs of people who are vulnerable and digitally excluded.

https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm5801/cmselect/cmworpen/178/17805.htm

It appears they came up with selfies and…................. during that : ‘opportunity to reflect on what other changes to the process are needed’.

Paul_Treloar_AgeUK
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Ianb - 25 August 2021 10:32 AM
Andyp5 Citizens Advice Bridport & District - 25 August 2021 10:13 AM

Edited - PS in case anyone missed the following response to Martin at CPAG https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/further_information_about_reveri

As far as I can see that is a refusal to answer some of the questions and for those parts that purport to be answers the response doesn’t actually address the questions asked! The regulations cited make no reference to verification procedures.

Astounding isn’t it? If I may be so bold, the response and link to the Social Security (Coronavirus) (Further Measures) Regulations 2020 is tantamount to a flat-out falsehood from the DWP.

Ianb
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Paul_Treloar_AgeUK - 25 August 2021 11:55 AM

Astounding isn’t it? If I may be so bold, the response and link to the Social Security (Coronavirus) (Further Measures) Regulations 2020 is tantamount to a flat-out falsehood from the DWP.

I am going to be charitable and go with utter incompetence. Oh, they’re asking about Covid regulations, what were there, oh these are called Covid regulations so they must do (but not actually reading them to see if they deal with the matter being asked about.

I hope Martin at CPAG will ask again.

Elliot Kent
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I am sorry to be here stating the obvious, but the covid-specific regulations do not exist.

I am looking at an appeal bundle in one of these cases now. There is no reference anywhere to the Decisions and Appeals Regulations - there is just lengthy quotation from s71ZB Social Security Administration Act 1992.

That provision authorises the recovery of amounts in excess of entitlement (i.e. overpayments). What it does not do is to authorise revision of decisions so as to change the claimant’s entitlement and therefore create an overpayment. If the underlying entitlement decision has not been lawfully revised, then there is no payment in excess of entitlement so there is no overpayment to recover.

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Elliot Kent - 25 August 2021 02:41 PM

I am sorry to be here stating the obvious, but the covid-specific regulations do not exist.

I am looking at an appeal bundle in one of these cases now. There is no reference anywhere to the Decisions and Appeals Regulations - there is just lengthy quotation from s71ZB Social Security Administration Act 1992.

That provision authorises the recovery of amounts in excess of entitlement (i.e. overpayments). What it does not do is to authorise revision of decisions so as to change the claimant’s entitlement and therefore create an overpayment. If the underlying entitlement decision has not been lawfully revised, then there is no payment in excess of entitlement so there is no overpayment to recover.

Well yes, which is why DWP highlighting another separate set of Covid regulations is so egregious Elliot, as Ian states.

Furthermore, your post above is a brilliantly clear explanation of the legal process that they should be following, so hopefully clients and advisers can try to properly challenge these half-baked attempts at circumventing the law.

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Elliot Kent - 25 August 2021 02:41 PM

I am sorry to be here stating the obvious, but the covid-specific regulations do not exist.

I am looking at an appeal bundle in one of these cases now. There is no reference anywhere to the Decisions and Appeals Regulations - there is just lengthy quotation from s71ZB Social Security Administration Act 1992.

That provision authorises the recovery of amounts in excess of entitlement (i.e. overpayments). What it does not do is to authorise revision of decisions so as to change the claimant’s entitlement and therefore create an overpayment. If the underlying entitlement decision has not been lawfully revised, then there is no payment in excess of entitlement so there is no overpayment to recover.

Quite!

Ianb
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Just want to get my head around the possibilities here.
If DWP discover that the original award was made based on incorrect facts (say client had undeclared capital) they can supersede the original decision and an overpayment will have occurred.
If they ask claimant for more information but claimant does not respond there is no lawful basis for changing the original decision.
Is there a basis for stopping or suspending any ongoing award pending receipt of information requested?

Elliot Kent
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Ianb - 25 August 2021 04:50 PM

Just want to get my head around the possibilities here.
If DWP discover that the original award was made based on incorrect facts (say client had undeclared capital) they can supersede the original decision and an overpayment will have occurred.
If they ask claimant for more information but claimant does not respond there is no lawful basis for changing the original decision.
Is there a basis for stopping or suspending any ongoing award pending receipt of information requested?

The DWP has a power to suspend payment of benefit pending the provision of (relevant) information relating to entitlement. Under certain circumstances, if the information isn’t provided, the award may be terminated. See regs 44-47 D&A. This is entirely forwards looking so the fact that your award has been suspended and then terminated due to non-provision of information cannot of itself result in an overpayment.

The powers of revision and supersession are then separate to that and can be carried out as far as they are authorised by part 2 and 3 of the D&A Regs.

If a question arose as to whether a claimant had capital from the outset of their claim, the DM could suspend payment under reg 45. If that information was not provided, the award could be terminated under reg 47. That would then just end entitlement going forward. However if the decision maker concluded on the balance of probabilities that the claimant in fact had capital exceeding £16k from day one of the claim, they would revise the pre-existing entitlement decisions on the basis of mistake in fact.

i.e. the failure to provide the information could provide sufficient grounds to end the entitlement going forward but not to create an overpayment; however the claimant actually possessing the capital may provide a basis for revision of the earlier entitlement decisions and the imposition of an overpayment.

Ianb
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Thanks, Elliot. Very helpful to have that confirmed.

tbidmead
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Has anyone come across examples yet where this has impacted claimants who were on UC in the short term last year but have since found work and not been in receipt of UC for many months?

I’ve not come across this myself but seen some quite desperate comments elsewhere online recently from people who have been hit with overpayment letters from DWP debt management and I guess this is what’s happening to them? e.g. having not claimed UC for many months they are not aware that requests for evidence have even been made…

Just wondering about what actually happens in those cases; presumably their UC accounts & journals would have remained live and requests for evidence would have been posted there? Are they being contacted in any other way? Very concerning…

(& thanks to Elliot as always for v helpful commentary above)

Peter Turville
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A client of ours has just received a UC overpayment and civil penalty decision. At this stage it is not entirely clear if it is a ‘retrospective verification’ issue (but it is another illustration of the DWPs lack of understanding of its decision making powers). The issue is verification of housing costs but UC entitlement has not been terminated (client has recently moved - which appears to have prompted the o/p decision).

There is no evidence that SSWP ever requested evidence of rent liability (background is client, with significant cognitive impairment, lived in a caravan on another persons land - has now moved caravan to different location). There is no evidence of a revision or supersession decision.

The decision states ” On ..... you wrongly told us that you were liable for housing costs. We have not been able to verify these costs and [they] have been removed. Because of this change you have been overpaid”.

The grounds for imposing a civil penalty “you failed to provide evidence or information as required for your claim or award without reasonable excuse”.

MR prepared - let the ‘fun’ begin.

Jo_Smith
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I have had few clients recently who received overpayments “decisions” as a result of retrospective verification exercise (in quote marks because thanks to Elliot’s education, I now know that these are not decisions, but simply demands for money, because the original decision has not been properly revised).
The common thread is “you have not provided evidence”
THIS IS BECAUSE YOU HAVE NOT ASKED FOR IT!

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There are a growing number of cases where UC has been withdrawn in temporary and exempt cases i.e. cases where the rent is paid by Housing Benefit / the local authority. This makes me cross (being polite).

I see no power to withdraw HB and create an overpayment as a result of UC ending but then I see no power to withdraw UC on no additional evidence (as already mentioned). This is a review type scheme that some private companies operating on behalf of LA’s have tried in the past. The UT has said in some decisions this is simply not lawful application of the law (e.g. “unless you respond to this letter within 14 days we will “cancel” your claim for years and ask you to pay back thousands” and similar rubbish).

Some of the tenants living in exempt will be very vulnerable and simply will not understand the process. Tenants who have rarely left their room in 18 months etc….often because of Government Covid advice .....this is bullying in my view.

There must be a clear role for social landlords to intervene here and help the tenant and although I am generally dubious about some of the “landlord” arrangements in this area these days I know there are some brilliant staff trying their best to help.

Daphne
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I have sent an email via stakeholders to question this whole practice…

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This issue (and this thread) has been picked up on by thecanary.co.uk in this article:

Meet the secretive DWP ‘hit squad’ trawling through Universal Credit claims

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shawn mach - 02 September 2021 09:44 AM

This issue (and this thread) has been picked up on by thecanary.co.uk in this article:

Meet the secretive DWP ‘hit squad’ trawling through Universal Credit claims

The DWP’s Neil Couling has responded on Twitter:

I did brief the press back in May but appreciate you may have missed it (example below).  At height of claim spike we tagged all cases that didn’t get full verification with a view to checking later when not so busy. That’s what we are doing now.

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/breaking-dwp-re-checking-million-24099182

https://twitter.com/NeilCouling/status/1433421779133865989