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Absurd Universal Credit flaws leave 100,000s struggling

The Money and Mental Health charity has launched a campaign calling on the government to fix the Universal Credit system. 

The campaign, Set Up To Fail, calls for urgent action from the government to fix the design flaws in the Universal Credit system to ensure that anyone who needs help with Universal Credit can get it, instead of being inadvertently set up to fail by the system.

This comes after research by the University of Essex revealed that 1.3m people currently receiving or applying for Universal Credit are experiencing high levels of mental distress.

The charity’s research shows that without support, many people with common symptoms of mental health problems, such as difficulties understanding complex information and remembering appointments, struggle to deal with the ongoing admin and bureaucracy required to get Universal Credit payments.

This includes filling in complex forms, dealing with correspondence from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and appealing decisions about their benefits.

In turn, this leaves people at risk of being sanctioned by the DWP, or being cut off from Universal Credit payments altogether. It also causes unnecessary anguish for people who are already struggling with their mental health, and for their carers.

Money and Mental Health estimates that 100,000s of people experiencing high levels of mental distress may struggle to get the support they need with Universal Credit.

The research shows that the Universal Credit system is setting vulnerable people up to fail because to nominate someone to support them, they have to navigate similarly complex and unclear processes to those that they were trying to get help with in the first place.

In a survey of more than 230 people with mental health problems who have claimed Universal Credit, more than half (57%) said they have needed help from family or friends to manage their Universal Credit account.

More than a quarter (27%) said they need that help always or often, and yet only one in ten (10%) has managed to give permission for someone to help regularly.

5 pieces of banknotes on yellow and white textile

The charity said there are specific problems that make it hard for people to get help with Universal Credit. These include:

  • The DWP doesn’t advertise that people can give permission to a loved one to help manage their Universal Credit account, or what the process is to set that up through the Universal Credit website.
  • To nominate a loved one as a regular helper, the claimant needs to tell DWP details of every single task they might need help with, and every piece of information they want to share, but without any prompts or guidance.
  • In theory people can also call the DWP to explain what help they need from a loved one, but this is not a viable option for many people with mental health problems. Money and Mental Health’s research shows that more than half (54%) of UK adults who’ve had mental health problems say they have severe difficulties in using the phone (3), often leading to panic attacks, heart palpitations and spiralling anxiety.

Gary, who took part in the charity’s research, said: ‘In the last year I was made redundant after being with a company for more than 23 years, and all the stress and worry has just come to the surface.

‘I found the process of managing Universal Credit just horrendous and tough to follow, nothing is ever explained to you. At the moment I find it tough to deal with people as it’s hard to talk.

‘I can’t deal with the messages from the DWP myself, I need my wife’s help, but we can’t set it up for her to receive notifications about the account.

‘We’ve filled all the forms in but it feels like a trap door assessment, if you answer something slightly wrong you fall through and that’s it, they’ll take the money away. It’s like the system’s designed to trip you up to fail.’

Martin Lewis, chair and founder of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, said:

‘It sounds like a scene from a spoof. People who are entitled to Universal Credit, sometimes due to mental health problems, which impact their ability to fill in forms or process complex information, are allowed to nominate someone to help them with the admin needed to keep receiving benefits.

‘Yet to do that, they must go through a complex process which requires them to do the exact things they need help with in the first place. If they don’t manage it, they ultimately risk being sanctioned or losing all financial help.

‘I don’t believe this is a deliberate attempt to set people up to fail. Yet that is the practical outcome for some. This is one Universal Credit problem the government can easily fix, by providing people with the right advice on how to nominate a loved one to help them, and by making the process to do it much easier, simpler and user-friendly.

‘And with more and more people likely to move on to Universal Credit when the furlough scheme ends in September, there is no time to waste. We’re calling on the government to act now so that everyone can get the help they need with Universal Credit.’

The Set Up To Fail campaign is calling on government to simplify the process that people have to complete to get support from a loved one with Universal Credit by:

  • Providing people with clearer advice on what information they need to share with the DWP to get support from a loved one, and the correct process for doing so through the Universal Credit website.
  • Making this online process much more accessible and user-friendly, by adding prompts and drop down menus to guide people
  • Giving people more flexible options to share information about their Universal Credit account with loved ones – for example, the option to give a friend or relative view-only access to your Universal Credit account, or to allow loved ones to get notifications about your account.

Photo Credit – Christopher Bill

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