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Benefit Safeguards - policy issues

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Owen Stevens
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Welfare Rights Service, Greenwich Council, London

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Total Posts: 211

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Owen Stevens
forum member

Welfare Rights Service, Greenwich Council, London

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Total Posts: 211

Joined: 8 August 2012

Hello all

Demos have recommended a strengthened safeguards system including monitoring of these safeguards by a reference group.

Rightsnet story: https://www.rightsnet.org.uk/welfare-rights/news/item/wca-descriptors-should-be-overhauled-so-that-they-reflect-the-british-labou

Full Demos report: https://www.demos.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/DEMJ5688-Work-Capability-Assessment-171222-WEB-2.pdf

Some extracts:
“The government should strengthen safeguards to ensure disabled people are not unfairly sanctioned for failing to meet impossible conditions. Thinking about claimants who might struggle with the system is not just inherently important, or a case of avoiding bad headlines, but is a legal requirement.

Three safeguards are particularly important:
– New claimants at crisis points cannot be expected to attend interviews or communicate by letter or phone with the DWP, and should be placed in the ‘no requirements’ group. The system must also cope with existing claimants who suffer a crisis mid-claim.
– Claimants who cannot be expected negotiate with a work coach should not be sanctioned until they have been
assessed by a health professional.
– Where there is a risk to claimants’ health if they are sanctioned, additional safeguards need to be put in place.”

“The government should strengthen safeguards to ensure disabled people are not unfairly sanctioned for failing to meet impossible conditions
Thinking about claimants who might struggle with the system is not just inherently important, or a case of avoiding
bad headlines, although both of these are true. More than this, it is a legal requirement: the courts have already ruled that the government must not discriminate against those with mental health conditions in its disability assessment (reference: This is the ‘MM case’: MM and DM v Secretary of
State for Work and Pensions, [2013] EWCA Civ 1565, http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/1565.html).

There has been some discussion over safeguards (reference: See Work and Pensions Committee, Disability Employment Gap, paras 30–31) and it is worth stressing that four are particularly important:
· New claimants at crisis points cannot be expected to attend interviews or communicate by letter or phone with the DWP, and should be placed in the No Requirements Group. When applying for Universal Credit, claimants should be asked questions which flag that they are at a crisis point. The DWP should then confirm this via the claimants’ doctors and medical records, with expert assessment available by telephone or home visits if sufficient medical information is not given.
· The system must also cope with existing claimants who suffer a crisis mid-claim. When a claimant does not turn up to a meeting or respond to contacts, this should be a flag to the DWP to contact the claimant’s doctor, other health
or social care professional or named contact person to see if they are at a crisis point.
· Claimants who cannot be expected to negotiate with a work coach should not be sanctioned until they have been assessed by a health professional. Work coaches are particularly likely to make mistakes for claimants who cannot clearly communicate what they can do (because of communication barriers or a lack of insight into their condition). Health professionals are therefore required to understand the often hidden impact of their conditions.
· Where there is a risk to claimants’ health if they are sanctioned, additional safeguards need to be put in place. The criteria and assessment for this are slightly different from criteria for assessing work capability, but adequate
safeguards are clearly essential – given the large number of claimants, there are substantial numbers of very vulnerable claimants within the system.

To maximise transparency and legitimacy, these safeguards should be monitored by a new reference group for protecting vulnerable claimants.”

Owen Stevens
forum member

Welfare Rights Service, Greenwich Council, London

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Total Posts: 211

Joined: 8 August 2012

Owen Stevens
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Welfare Rights Service, Greenwich Council, London

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Total Posts: 211

Joined: 8 August 2012

The recently released UC project assessment reveiws include some comment on the approach to complex needs.  This was spotted by AndyP5 here: https://www.rightsnet.org.uk/forums/viewthread/12835

https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmworpen/740/74007.htm

‘The IPA found a high level of uncertainty about the proportion of UC claimants who could be considered vulnerable, noting that estimates ranged from 25% to 50%. Given the resources required to support vulnerable claimants, if levels were towards the top end of that scale the medium-term sustainability of UC would be threatened’.

33.‘The IPA’s call for the “industrialisation” of UC for complex cases and vulnerable customers is an unfortunate choice of phrase. In those stark terms, however, it epitomises the challenges facing the UC programme. To make its promised efficiency gains, it must become a far more automated system. Key areas such as identity verification, however, are currently manual processes for a large proportion of claimants. Delays to the rollout and automation of the digital service reduce projected efficiency savings. In seeking to maximise savings, however, the Department must monitor closely any potential adverse effects on claimants and factor those into its decision making’

Owen Stevens
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Welfare Rights Service, Greenwich Council, London

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Total Posts: 211

Joined: 8 August 2012

Owen Stevens
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Welfare Rights Service, Greenwich Council, London

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Total Posts: 211

Joined: 8 August 2012

Safeguards mentioned in the following submissions to the Work & Pensions Select Committee sanctions inquiry:

Scope - http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/work-and-pensions-committee/benefit-sanctions/written/82870.html
NHS Health Scotland - http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/work-and-pensions-committee/benefit-sanctions/written/83439.html#_edn40
Mind - http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/work-and-pensions-committee/benefit-sanctions/written/83484.html
DWP - http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/work-and-pensions-committee/benefit-sanctions/written/84015.pdf
Scottish Association for Mental Health - http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/work-and-pensions-committee/benefit-sanctions/written/83497.pdf

The transcript of the recent evidence session is worth a look.  Didn’t include anything specifically about ‘benefit safeguards’ in the way that I use that term.  However, there was lots of relevant discussion of importance of identifying vulnerability, recording and sharing this info effectively, putting extra checks in place before a sanction, information sharing protocols between services to enable support (with some good case studies - from memory I think these were from Crisis and Children’s Society).  Also a very relevant point on the relative merits of discretionary versus rules based systems in the context of vulnerability. http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/work-and-pensions-committee/benefit-sanctions/oral/85755.pdf

[ Edited: 22 Jun 2018 at 11:01 am by Owen Stevens ]
Owen Stevens
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Welfare Rights Service, Greenwich Council, London

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The NAO released a report on the rollout of UC today: https://www.nao.org.uk/report/rolling-out-universal-credit/

Some press coverage here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-44468437 & https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jun/15/universal-credit-savaged-by-public-spending-watchdog-nao

Benefit safeguards are not really mentioned. 

However, the NAO do highlight the problems DWP have in identifying, recording, and carrying out research on, the vulnerability of claimants (important when identifying claimants to whom benefit safeguarding should be applied).  Here are some extracts:

“10 Some claimants have struggled to adjust to Universal Credit. We spoke to local and national bodies that, together, work with a significant minority of claimants. They showed us evidence that many of these people have suffered difficulties and hardship during the rollout of the full service. These have resulted from a combination of issues with the design of Universal Credit and its implementation. The Department has found it difficult to identify and track those who it deems vulnerable. It has not measured how many Universal Credit claimants are having difficulties because it does not have systematic means of gathering intelligence from delivery partners.”

“Identifying vulnerable claimants
2.5 Identifying which claimants are vulnerable is important so that the Department can properly target support and set appropriate conditions on welfare (for example, reduced work search requirements). However, the Department’s research in October 2017 shows that some staff found it difficult to support claimants because they:
• lacked the time and ability to identify claimants who needed additional support;
• lacked the confidence to apply processes flexibly and make appropriate adjustments; and
• felt overwhelmed by the volume of claimants reporting health problems.
Some jobcentres we spoke to had introduced resilience training to support work coaches to deal with the greater range and severity of health issues among claimants.

2.6 The Department has recognised the need to make changes to the way it identifies and provides support to vulnerable claimants. This includes making it easier for work coaches to record information about claimants’ needs. In 2017 the Department issued guidance to staff, instructing them to record information on a claimants’ needs using a text box in their journal. This followed research that showed that work coaches were often not aware that claimants were vulnerable before meeting them. The Department is developing an approach to allow work coaches to pin this text to the top of a claimant’s journal, so it is more obvious to staff picking up a claimant’s case. It has also provided more training to staff, for example mental health training. Each jobcentre has developed a complex needs plan which helps staff to direct claimants to third-party support.

2.7 The Department lacks the ability to monitor the treatment of vulnerable claimants nationally. It has not yet developed means to record different vulnerabilities in its data systems. Jobcentre managers told us the lack of vulnerability identification markers makes it difficult to understand the types of local provision needed. The Department has told us it is developing a text-mining approach to allow it to identify different vulnerability groups within the pinned information.”

The report also includes a recommendation which suggests some possible improvements to working with third parties:

“Make it easier for third parties to support claimants. This might include:
• extending the concept of the landlord portal to simplify verification processes (for example, for childcare costs);
• sharing, with the claimant’s consent, appropriate information with third parties, such as information on additional support requirements;
• allowing the bulk upload and download of information helpful to the support of claimants, such as changes in rent; and
• allowing those supporting claimants access to a version of the journal through which they can view appropriate shared information and communicate with the Department.”

I would like to see a system of notifications to notify authorised third parties when a vulnerable claimant is appears to be having difficulties resolving problems with their benefit claim (see the submission to the sanctions inquiry in my earlier post).  DWP have an opportunity, when responding to this NAO recommendation, to consider something along these lines.

Owen Stevens
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Welfare Rights Service, Greenwich Council, London

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DWP agree to contact third parties before sanctioning vulnerable young people.

“SSAC recommendation:
Change the application of sanctions for young people living independently via the following adjustments to the sanction process to decrease the very real risk of inappropriate sanctioning:
[...]
Second, ensure that any known support workers for vulnerable young people are contacted before a decision is made – to understand any attenuating issues”
https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/709732/ssac-occasional-paper-20-young-people-living-independently.pdf

DWP response:
“b. DWP agrees with this recommendation.

It is our intention to build this into work coach guidance and learning, so that where we know a support worker is involved, and we have contact details, work coaches will contact them to understand any attenuating circumstances and to enlist their help in getting the claimant to contact us.

However, there will still be occasions where we might have to process a sanction referral, i.e. where there is no contact forthcoming from the claimant. But in doing so, all available information would be included in the referral, including information about the claimant’s circumstances and any known issues that might have undermined their ability to attend”
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/government-response-ssac-report-on-young-people-living-independently/dwp-response-to-ssac-report-on-young-people-living-independently-government-response

Owen Stevens
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Welfare Rights Service, Greenwich Council, London

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DWP are carrying out a consultation on stats for the Work and Health Programme:
https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/work-and-health-programme-statistics-publication-proposals/work-and-health-programme-statistics-publication-proposals#how-to-reply
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/731627/consultation-questionnaire-proposals-for-work-and-health-programme-statistics.odt 

I’ve attached the response (for question four of the questionnaire) we have provided to the consultation.  I’d encourage others who support these points to make similar submissions.

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Owen Stevens
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The Mind response to the SSAC consultation on UC managed migration calls for the inclusion of a safeguarding process enabling a registered third party to be contacted in the event of problems with a vulnerable person’s benefit claim (on an ongoing basis rather than simply in relation to migration) - this is something that Greenwich WRS has also been making the case for and is a feature of our local benefit safeguarding policy.

Here’s an extract:

“The Department should take action to resolve the issues caused by the current process of explicit consent. This should include allowing for more open-ended kinds of consent (e.g. a named contact for safeguarding purposes), and
exploring the National Audit Office’s recommendation for an equivalent to the landlord portal for people supporting a person through the process of claiming Universal Credit.”
https://www.mind.org.uk/media/24099840/mind-response-to-the-ssac-consultation-on-universal-credit-managed-migration.pdf

Edit: The Mind response has been reported on by the Guardian here: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/05/disabled-people-could-slip-through-net-in-universal-credit-move-says-charity

[ Edited: 6 Sep 2018 at 09:44 am by Owen Stevens ]
Owen Stevens
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Welfare Rights Service, Greenwich Council, London

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Benefit safeguards have been referenced in a HoC briefing paper on Suicide Prevention.  The document can be found here: https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-8221#fullreport

Benefit safeguards are referred to at 7.2 and 7.5

Owen Stevens
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Welfare Rights Service, Greenwich Council, London

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This post sets out a recent minor change to benefit safeguarding guidance: https://www.rightsnet.org.uk/forums/viewthread/9141/P30/#62323

This is another example of safeguards being watered down (though it’s not clear how meaningful the change is).  DWP are able to make changes to the guidance without consultation or making anyone aware of the change due to benefit safeguards not being set out on legislation - this was discussed in the team’s recent submission to the WPSC Sanction inquiry: http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/work-and-pensions-committee/benefit-sanctions/written/81896.html

Owen Stevens
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Welfare Rights Service, Greenwich Council, London

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DNS have got hold of some Internal Process Reviews relating to Universal Credit claimants: https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/dwps-secret-benefit-deaths-reviews-universal-credit-death-linked-to-claimant-commitment-threats/

Going by the news story it seems that, as with the last batch of reports, DWP failed to identify vulnerability.  Greenwich WRS has commented on DWP’s ability to identify vulnerability/complex needs among claimants here: http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/work-and-pensions-committee/benefit-sanctions/written/81896.pdf

DWP also appear to have been failed to carry out a safeguarding core visit.

It’s not clear from the link whether DNS plan to make these documents publicly available.

Those interested in DWP Peer Reviews (renamed Internal Process Reviews after previous reporting on the topic) will be able to find more information here: https://www.rightsnet.org.uk/forums/viewthread/8346/P45

Owen Stevens
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Welfare Rights Service, Greenwich Council, London

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Hello all

I’m moving on from my current role today.  As I clear out all my notes on benefit safeguarding I’m coming across things that I’m not sure I’ve uploaded so far.  For completeness I thought I’d post anything mildly interesting here:

Link to debate in which Angela Eagle referred to the introduction of the minimum requirements: https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/2000/mar/16/mentally-ill-people

I’ve attached a couple of FOIs.  There’s a few on core visit stats and a few on efforts I made to track down a newsletter (either from the Benefits Agency or the Employment Service Agency) and various other things that had been referred to in a guidance memo.  If anyone has any copies of the newsletter from that time I’d be interested to take a look.

[ Edited: 27 Sep 2018 at 12:38 pm by Owen Stevens ]

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Owen Stevens
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While reviewing my old FOIs I’ve come across DWP guidance from 2014 which sets out the DWP approach to vulnerability including a definition of complex needs.  This is interesting to me as I’d (having forgotten this FOI) been under the impression that ‘complex needs’ was a more recent concept.

This is also interesting because unlike some other more recent versions of this document it sets out (at ‘the aim of this approach’ and ‘the approach’) the intentions behind the introduction of the concept of ‘complex needs’

[ Edited: 27 Sep 2018 at 12:52 pm by Owen Stevens ]

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