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Case studies showing claimants’ financial vulnerabilities needed for Serious Case Panel

Daphne
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Hi all - we’ve been asked via stakeholder forum to provide anonymous case studies for the Serious Case Panel to consider in order to -

expand our understanding of the financial circumstances that make customers vulnerable, to support internal learning, decision-making and change design

They have asked for information on the following -

External debts
• What kinds of external (non-government) debt do DWP customers tend to have?
• How prevalent is external debt for DWP customers?
• Do vulnerable customers tend to have the same types of non-government debts? Or is there a difference?
• How do interactions between DWP debt (e.g. advances, deductions) and external debts and perceptions of these debts drive customer behaviours? e.g. Which debts do customers see as high priority?

Signposting support
• DWP often signposts customers to debt and financial management support provided by partner organisations. How do partner organisations perceive this role acting as part of DWP’s signposting offering to customers?
• How do partner organisations tend to support customers where there are complex/multiple debts to collect or manage?

Best practice
• What in your experience is the most effective approach for DWP to support customers with financial vulnerabilities? Do you have examples of best practice you could share?

There is a template attached which you can use to input the information if helpful.

If anyone has any case studies to submit can you email them to me either at rightsnet or using .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) - please send by 17 June so I have time to collate them and send them in by end June

 

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Daphne
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rightsnet writer / editor

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Just bumping this as haven’t had anything yet - it’s good that the serious case panel is talking to us, so I’m keen to send in relevant evidence to influence their policy decisions.

Would really appreciate you taking the time to send in to me if you can - thank you :)

Andrew Dutton
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Welfare rights service - Derbyshire County Council

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We’re having a look at this and will send a response if we can.

Among my initial thoughts:

UC is a ‘debt hoover’, even claiming back debts which are a decade old or thereabouts.  People are unaware of this when they claim - until the first UC statement they are also completely unaware of how much will be taken off them, which hampers ability to plan and manage financially. All choice and control is taken away from the claimant.

Should claimants not be provided with a full list of debts owed to DWP when the UC claim starts, with a grace period before any deductions?

And they should be given the chance to outline in advance why deductions will cause hardship. At the moment they go straight in to difficulty, with the added problem of Debt Management being hard to get hold of.

Referral to debt help could happen before UC deductions make matters worse.

Also… why have some debts been allowed to fester for ten or so years? How are they suddenly and very efficiently revived and collected when UC kicks in? 

DWP has taken the view that people will normally come to UC with sums of final pay and/or savings – this was never true even before the pandemic and DWP needs to consider carefully that people will frequently come to UC with little available money - and very likely with existing consumer credit debt and/or debts to family and friends.

Daphne
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Thanks Andrew - that’s really helpful - if you do have other stuff please do send it to me :)

Peter Turville
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Welfare rights worker - Oxford Community Work Agency

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Daphne - just a quick point regarding:

“DWP often signposts customers to debt and financial management support provided by partner organisations. How do partner organisations perceive this role acting as part of DWP’s signposting offering to customers?”

I’m not sure what DWP mean in practice by ‘partner organisations’. Like many organisations we attend local DWP partnership meetings and have a good relationship with the regional partnership team and other local DWP staff through the escalation lists etc. But we would not describe our organisation as in any kind of partnership with the DWP.

I would suggest in this context ‘partnership organisation’ means an organisation on a DWP compiled list of agencies (including advice centres etc.) that might be able to assist a claimant.

The problem with signposting (not exclusive to DWP) is that it makes no reference to whether the organisation is appropriate (can assist with financial management / debts, covers the client group or geographical area etc) let alone whether the organisation actually has the resources to assist the particular claimant (or if not there is any alternative).

I’m not sure how helpful ‘we can’t help you with this, try these people’ is to claimants.

At ‘the other end of the telescope’ is DWP’s very own Debt Management and their imperviousness to any form of contact or representations on behalf of claimants with DWP debts. I think there is an expression about ‘putting one’s own house in order’?

The type of debts our clients (not exclusively claimants) hold have changed over recent years from mostly consumer credit debts to mostly priority debts such as rent, utilities, council tax and DWP/HMRC etc. Which maybe reflects a national picture?

[ Edited: 20 May 2021 at 04:54 pm by Peter Turville ]
Andrew Dutton
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A further quick note - UC customers who ask UC precisely what-for they are deducting large sums from their UC are being told ‘we don’t have that information’ and batted away to Debt Management.

Is it possible to ask, as a ‘good practice’ point, why UC does not hold that information, and what prevents them finding out on the claimant’s behalf, thus saving the claimant an often long and fruitless process, as per Peter’s point?

Shouldn’t there be some continuity of service here? Why is Debt Management a grim fiefdom all of its own which other branches of DWP dare not approach?

All other creditors can’t wait to tell their customers what they owe- only with DWP is it the subject of a flippin’ quest!!!!

Jo_Smith
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Citizens Advice Hillingdon

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Andrew Dutton - 21 May 2021 12:48 PM

A further quick note - UC customers who ask UC precisely what-for they are deducting large sums from their UC are being told ‘we don’t have that information’ and batted away to Debt Management.

Is it possible to ask, as a ‘good practice’ point, why UC does not hold that information, and what prevents them finding out on the claimant’s behalf, thus saving the claimant an often long and fruitless process, as per Peter’s point?

Shouldn’t there be some continuity of service here? Why is Debt Management a grim fiefdom all of its own which other branches of DWP dare not approach?

All other creditors can’t wait to tell their customers what they owe- only with DWP is it the subject of a flippin’ quest!!!!

Oh this so on point. Like button!

Andrew Dutton
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Back to my complaints about Debt Management -  a client who is owed substantial backpay after a long-delayed WCA (and who needs the money desperately) has has been told it was sent by UC to Debt Management to pay off a debt the nature and balance of which he has never been told.  He would not have known this had happened had he not specifically asked where his money was.

UC’s message ends:

‘In Regards to the money owed to you, this was sent to debt’ management to offset debt therefore we no longer have this and you will need to speak to debt management for this. The contact number is 0800 916 0647 you will need to contact debt management directly yourself.’.

Why can UC not assist their ‘customers’ in this situation?

In another case (with explicit consent on the UC Journal) Debt Management will not reply to a letter from my colleague even though they have replied previously, and they accept the client has asked her to contact them.  They refused to send the reply to the client because the request ‘did not come from him’. When the client rang Debt Management to ask them to respond to my colleague, he was told he had to put his request in writing.

If these are examples of ‘Best Practice’, I’m a budgie’s cousin. DWP is compounding financial vulnerability.

‘It being one of the principles of the Circumlocution Office never, on any account whatever, to give a straightforward answer.’ (Dickens)

Helen Rogers
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Welfare rights officer - Stockport MBC

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Another example of DWP compounding financial vulnerability.  Client with severe anxiety has deductions from ESA for Council Tax arrears.  Out of the blue, ESA decide to stop taking these.  CT write to the client and give her two weeks to make an arrangement - not enough time for someone who needs help to deal with paperwork and finances.  She then gets letter from bailiffs causing great distress.  Bailiffs refuse to send back to CT and CT refuse to take it back.  Cue the Community Mental Health Team and me to fly into action stations to get a hold put on recovery, refer to Mental Health Breathing Space and organise SMI exemption.