Advice NI Policy Newsletter August 2019

  'Think'

August 2019
The Advice NI Policy Newsletter


Welcome to the latest in our series of Advice NI policy eNewsletters ‘Think'.

IMPORTANT: In order to register to receive '...Think...' direct to your inbox, please click this link.

We want to take this opportunity to highlight the Advice NI Policy Team and how the work of the Policy Team has developed in recent months:
  • Three members of staff: Bridget Meehan, Charlotte Brennan, Kevin Higgins;
  • Produced monthly social policy eNewsletter ‘Think’;
  • Produced Social Policy Briefing Papers including ‘Finance Support’;
  • Posted a range of messages on social media on social welfare issues;
  • Responded to consultations, including NIPSO PIP ‘own initiative’ investigation;
  • Provided oral evidence to the Joint Committee inquiry into ‘Welfare Policy in NI’;
  • Highlighted the looming mitigations cliffedge in March 2020;
  • Responded to social policy issues from the frontline including whether Universal Credit advance payments count as a qualifying debt in a Debt Relief Order (DRO);
  • Initiated Social Policy Fora in both Belfast and the northwest;
  • Initiated meetings on key policy priority issues, for example with DfC Universal Credit senior management;
  • Updated the social policy section of the Advice NI website;
  • And much, much more!!!
Please email us at policy@adviceni.net to discuss any policy matters, content, feedback or comments.

Best regards,
The Policy Team.

Latest News


The Advice NI Briefing Paper on DfC Finance Support, Discretionary Support and the UCCF:


Finance Support is the unit responsible for managing the new social welfare financial support funds. Read the latest Advice NI briefing paper from our policy team that covers the eligibility criteria and how to apply.

https://www.adviceni.net/sites/default/files/downloads/ani_briefing_paper_finance_support_august_2019.pdf

 


Measuring Poverty 2019:

 

 Report of the Social Metrics Commission


The report shows that a third of people in poverty – 4.5 million people – are more than 50% below the breadline line, and this proportion has not changed since the millennium. Just under half of those in poverty are in persistent poverty, meaning they are in poverty now and have also been in poverty for at least two of the previous three years.

Baroness Philippa Stroud, CEO of the Legatum Institute, writes:

‘The most important development has, of course, been the UK Government’s announcement that the Department for Work and Pensions will be developing experimental statistics based on the Commission’s measurement framework. Unlike traditional measures of poverty, our measurement framework does not just look at people’s income, but also the wider financial resources that they can rely on and the impact that inescapable costs such as childcare and the impact that disability have on their ability to make ends meet. It strikes a balance between traditionally divisive relative and absolute poverty measures and in doing so, better reflects how our understanding of poverty should respond to changes in societal expectations.’

Govt response: “Tackling poverty will always be a priority for this government. We want to build on our progress to ensure every family can thrive. That’s why we’ve raised the personal allowance to take 1.74 million of the lowest paid out of income tax altogether and increased the National Living Wage to provide the biggest pay rise for low paid workers in 20 years, while we continue to spend £95 billion a year on working-age welfare. Work offers the best route out of poverty and we’ve got record numbers in employment. Universal Credit allows those most in need to receive personalised support into employment.”

https://socialmetricscommission.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/SMC_measuring-poverty-201908_full-report.pdf


 


Work & Pensions Committee publishes Welfare Safety Net Report


The report contains a number of recommendations.  This includes measuring DWP’s performance, unfreeze LHA as planned in 2020/21, as well as adopting the Social Metric Commission’s measure of poverty [linked in previous article]:

‘We recommend that Government adopts the Social Metrics Commission’s metric as its official, central measure of poverty. It should continue to collect its existing poverty data alongside this, to maintain a long-term dataset. We also recommend the Department provides us with an update on the progress of its work developing the Social Metrics Commission’s measure by the end of 2019.

The Department is clear about what it expects from claimants, but lacks any kind of publicly available, measurable targets for its own performance. The Department’s desire to maintain flexibility in the service it delivers to claimants applies equally to other public services such as health and education, where standards are independently monitored and measured. DWP and Jobcentre Plus are not a special case. The Department should establish suitable performance measures for its working-age benefit delivery, which should be monitored against clear targets and published, potentially overseen by a new, independent regulator.’

Rt Hon Frank Field [Chair] stated:

“The Government has shown that it can make target-busting savings through devastating, cumulative cuts to the incomes of the poor, by capping and freezing benefits that was begun under the Coalition Government. Likewise, there is now no effective strategy to increase the life chances of poorer children. It has failed to recognise the unacceptably bleak picture emerging as it shreds our social safety net because it doesn’t really look.”

https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmworpen/1539/1539.pdf
https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/news-parliament-2017/welfare-safety-village-report-published-17-19/

 


Work & Pensions Committee publishes report on Carers being pursued for overpayments


The Work and Pensions Committee calls on DWP to completely reassess its approach, consider writing off debts due to its own protracted administrative failures in its report on the Overpayments of Carer’s Allowance.

Frank Field states: “Carers are damned if they do, damned if they don’t: penalised as soon as they earn even a pound over the threshold, and punished by the Department’s own administrative failures and hopelessly outdated systems. The Department sets itself no targets for tackling fraud and error for individual benefits, yet jumps on struggling carers for every honest mistake.” The committee goes on to suggest:

The Department needs a new approach - it should now:
  • Conduct a review of the individual cases where it is seeking to recover overpayments of CA and where its own administrative failures have allowed overpayments to accrue.
  • Consider on a case by case basis whether overpayments are worth pursuing given its culpability, the cost of recouping the overpayments and the impact on the lives of carers and those who they care for.
  • start with cases of overpayments worth over £2,500, the majority (two-thirds) of which its internal audit team found it could have detected earlier, and decide whether it should be writing off amounts where the claimant has made an error in failing to report changes in their circumstances: errors that are easily understandable given the complexity of the rules around CA and unclear advice issued by the Department.
https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmworpen/1772/177203.htm

Conclusions and recommendations:
https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmworpen/1772/177210.htm


 


Regulations to make payments to those people who moved to Universal Credit and lost their SDP


The Universal Credit (Managed Migration and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2019

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/nisr/2019/152/made

Note:

DfC information:

“Can reiterate that transitional payments to eligible claimants will begin to be paid from August. Eligible claimants do not need to do anything as they will be contacted by the Department.”

 


Pension Credit Take-Up


Baroness Blackstone PQ: To ask Her Majesty's Government what percentage of those eligible for Pension Credit are taking up that benefit.

Response:

Latest National Statistics estimate that 60 per cent of those eligible for Pension Credit are in receipt of it.

The Government is committed to ensuring that older people receive the support they are entitled to and the DWP targets activity on engaging with people who may be eligible to benefits at pivotal stages, such as when they claim State Pension or report a change in their circumstances. The DWP uses a wide range of channels to communicate information about benefits to potential customers; including information on GOV.UK, in leaflets and by telephone. DWP staff in Pension Centres and Jobcentres including visiting officers are able to provide help and advice about entitlement to benefits, as are staff in Local Authorities who administer Housing Benefit.

Potential claimants can use the Pension Credit toolkit to check if they are likely to be eligible and get an estimate of what they may receive. People wishing to claim Pension Credit can do so by calling 0800 99 1234.

One of the best ways to reach eligible customers is through trusted stakeholder working in the community and we have developed the Pension Credit toolkit, as an on-line tool for agencies and welfare rights organisations to use in order to encourage Pension Credit take-up. It can be found on Gov.UK

The toolkit contains resources for anyone working with pensioners and includes guides to Pension Credit. It also contains publicity material and guidance designed to help older people understand how they could get Pension Credit and help organisations support someone applying for Pension Credit as well as ideas for encouraging take-up. The toolkit also provides links to information about disability and carers benefits.

Most recently we have provided to relevant organisations a fact sheet about Pension Credit and the recent changes for mixed age couples to ensure that accurate information is available in the places where people are most likely to seek information.

https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-questions-answers/?page=1&max=20&questiontype=AllQuestions&house=commons%2Clords&dept=29&uin=HL16489
 
So 40% of those eligible are not claiming Pension Credit.


 


Universal Credit: Natural Migration


Mark Tami MP: The changes in a claimant's circumstances that would result in natural migration from legacy benefits to universal credit.

Response:

Currently people only move to Universal Credit because they have had a significant change in their circumstances which would previously have led them to make a new claim to a legacy benefit.

Claimant circumstances within the legacy system are diverse and interact with a range of benefits in different ways. Eligibility for Universal Credit is dependent on individuals’ circumstances, the specific nature of the change and rules for access to legacy benefits.

Therefore, it is not possible to give a definitive list as each will depend on the individual circumstances of the claimants involved and the specific nature of the change.

However, some specific examples of changes which would cause a claimant to move on to Universal Credit are:
  • A single Jobseeker’s Allowance claimant starts working for more than 16 hours per week;
  • A Housing Benefit claimant moves to new rented accommodation in a different local authority area;
  • An Income Support claimant wishes to claim support for their first child;
  • A Working Tax Credits claimant’s only employment ends and they wish to claim support because they have insufficient income (whether during or at the end of the WTC run-on period);
  • The child (or youngest child) of an Income Support claimant reaches the age of five (and the claimant does not belong to any other prescribed category for continuing to receive Income Support);
  • A Child Tax Credit claimant moves to new accommodation, and they need support with rent costs for the first time.
https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-questions-answers/?page=1&max=20&questiontype=AllQuestions&house=commons%2Clords&dept=29&uin=268991
 
There is not a comprehensive, definitive list of what constitutes changes in circumstances, that results in Natural Migration [and therefore no transitional protection]. Below is the link to the Work & Pensions Committee Report on this issue:
https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmworpen/1884/188402.htm

 


100+ academics write open letter to The Times, re: 2 child limit

 

Two-Child Limit 'Harms Families'


“Sir, Today the government is publishing statistics on the number of families affected by the two-child limit. This policy substantially reduces support through tax credits and universal credit for low-income families with a third or subsequent child born since April 2017. The two-child limit breaks the fundamental link between need and the provision of minimum support. It implies that some children, by virtue of their birth order, are less deserving of support. It leaves affected families £50 a week worse off and will push 300,000 more children into poverty by 2024.

The two-child limit means unprecedented cuts to the living standards of the poorest children in Britain. We know it is affecting children now. Families report struggling to pay for basic living costs and being forced into debt, and children missing out on healthy food and activities. Children growing up in poverty, or pushed further into poverty as a result of the policy, will be likely to do less well at school, have poorer health outcomes and worse life chances. It is quite simply one of the most damaging changes to the social security system ever.

The two-child limit should be abolished before it harms more children.”


https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/times-letters-reasons-for-the-atttainment-gap-at-gcse-c6285s6lq

Also see Advice NI evidence to the Joint Committee Inquiry into welfare policy in NI:

“You may be reluctant to think about things that are over and above the current mitigations package, but I would say to you that the benefit cap and the two-child policy are in some ways the two sides of the same cruel coin. In that, if you look at the impact of the benefit cap, by far and away the vast majority of households impacted by the benefit cap are households with three, four, five, six and more children. I know there will be a reluctance to go beyond our current mitigations package, but I think there is a really strong argument—and it is not a lot of money and we can try to cost it out—to also mitigate the two-child policy.”

http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/northern-ireland-affairs-committee/welfare-policy-in-northern-ireland/oral/103079.html



 


Mixed-Age couples, re: Pension Credit & Housing Benefit


DfC correspondence:

Dear Stakeholder,

I wrote to you in February 2019 highlighting a House of Commons written statement, in which the Under Secretary for Pensions & Financial Inclusion, Guy Opperman, announced changes to Pension Credit and Housing Benefit for Mixed Age Couples.

From 15 May 2019 benefit rules changed for Pension Credit and pension age Housing Benefit. This means couples where one member is below the State Pension age are no longer eligible to make a new claim to Pension Credit and/or Housing Benefit as a couple. Mixed age couples may be able to qualify for Universal Credit if they meet the capital, income and other entitlement conditions.

People already receiving either Pension Credit and/or pension age Housing Benefit will not be affected, providing their circumstances do not change, and will continue to receive their current benefits.

In February 2019, we wrote to people living in Northern Ireland who may have been affected by these changes. From 5 August 2019 we will be issuing letters to couples who made a claim to Pension Credit and/or pension age Housing Benefit between 18 February 2019 and 15 May 2019 and therefore would not have received the letter, issued in February, advising them about this change. Letters will also be issued in September to those mixed age couples who have not already received a letter and have been awarded Pension Credit and/or Housing Benefit up to 13 August 2019 which is the last date for a claim to be backdated.
The letter will tell the claimant that we are writing to them as our records indicate that they are currently receiving Pension Credit and/or pension age Housing Benefit for themselves and their partner who had not reached State Pension age at the time these changes were introduced on 15 May 2019.
The letter also provides information on how this change may affect the claimant and provides them with details of where to contact if they need any further information.

I hope you find this information useful and if you have any queries or would like any further information please do not hesitate to contact our Communications & Engagement team by emailing CommsEngagement@communities-ni.gov.uk.
 
David Sales
Universal Credit Programme Director
Department for Communities
 


DWP Sanctions Statistics

 

Dr David Webster, of Glasgow University, has produced the following paper on the DWP’s sanction statistics.  He states:
‘This is a very important release, as the DWP has at last for the first time published figures on the numbers of Universal Credit Full Service sanctions and we can now really see what is happening.’


He highlights the following points:
  • When Full Service and Live Service UC sanctions are put together it emerges that there has been a decline in the overall monthly rate of UC sanctions before challenges as a proportion of claimants subject to conditionality from around 9% in 2015 to around 3% by January 2019.
  • In the 12 months to January 2019 there were a total of approximately 228,000 sanctions on all benefits taken together, comprising 198,000 UC Full plus Live Service sanctions, 20,000 JSA, 1,800 ESA and 7,900 IS sanctions. The total number of sanctions on all benefits for 2018 at 246,000 was the lowest for a calendar year since this statistical system began in 2000.
  • Therefore while the rate of sanctions on UC started very high by historical standards, it is now at a level comparable to that seen on JSA in the earliest years of the century, although sanctions are now more severe.
  • In the year to January 2019 missed interviews were the main reason for UC (81%) and almost the only reason for IS sanctions. For JSA, missed interviews and non-availability for work/not actively seeking work were almost equally important at 28%, followed by non-participation in employment programmes at 26.5%, with voluntary leaving/misconduct at 17%. For ESA, non-performance of work related activity was at 60% of sanctions and missed interviews at 40%.
  • By April 2019 the number of claimants on UC had reached almost two million (1.96m), of whom just over half (50.9%) were in practice subject to conditionality.
  • The total of claimant unemployed on UC or JSA has risen above one million for the first time since June 2014.
  • Ruth George MP has continued to elicit information from DWP about deductions from UC via parliamentary questions. This shows very substantial indebtedness to DWP among UC claimants, many of whom are living on incomes well below the official benefit scales as a result.
https://cpag.org.uk/policy-and-campaigns/briefing/david-webster-glasgow-university-briefings-benefit-sanctions




 


Proportion of Sanctioned Universal Credit Claimants Recieving a Hardship Payment

 

David Webster


It is now possible to calculate what proportion of sanctioned Universal Credit claimants are receiving a ‘hardship payment’, i.e. a loan equal to 60% of the benefit otherwise due, paid if the claimant can show they are otherwise destitute.

From about 10% at spring 2017 the percentage had risen only to 17% by August 2018. With unemployed claimants accounting for 80%-90% of UC claimants subject to conditionality, it would be expected that the percentage of sanctioned UC claimants getting hardship payments would be close to that seen for JSA claimants. But it is much lower. According to the available figures, the percentage for JSA is around 45% and for ESA just under 20%.

There are probably two main contributory factors. The most important is the fact that, unlike JSA or ESA, UC makes hardship payments repayable, currently at the rate of 40% of benefit otherwise payable (to be reduced to 30% in October 2019). UC already has a number of other features which put claimants into debt, in particular the 5-week wait for the first payment, the much higher rates at which other debts are deducted, increased penalties for lone parents of young children, and retrospective reimbursement of up-front payments for childcare. This accumulation of debt is likely to make claimants reluctant to claim hardship payments and to try to do without. The other factor is that under JSA and ESA, a hardship award once made applies for the rest of the sanction period, whereas under UC, the claim for a hardship payment has to be renewed for each month. The time, expense and uncertainty involved will act as a deterrent to claiming. This is well known from experience with other benefits.

Under UC (Universal Credit Regulations 2013, Reg.116), there are also more explicit restrictions on the award of hardship payments, and this may be having an effect. Only four ‘immediate and most basic and essential needs’ can be met through a UC hardship payment, namely for accommodation, heating, food and hygiene. The claimant also has to demonstrate that they have sought alternative sources of support, and ceased any expenditure not relating to the four needs. They also have to demonstrate compliance with all requirements for a period of seven days before being allowed to apply, and this can be difficult.

 

Advice NI NI Policy News


Advice NI sought clarification from DfC as regards the issue of benefit overpayment and recovery

 

Background:


A benefit overpayment can occur when benefit payments are made in excess of entitlement.

Overpayments that are always recoverable (regardless of the cause of the overpayment), for example:
  • Universal Credit claimant paid too much UC, contribution based ESA or contribution based JSA;
Some overpayments are sometimes recoverable, if the claimant failed to disclose or mis-represented a ‘material fact’. Some are not recoverable, if caused by ‘official error’, for example:
  • Income Support claimant notified the Department that the person he was caring for stopped getting Personal Independence Payment. Any overpayment is not recoverable.
A claimant can appeal against an overpayment decision but cannot appeal against a decision to recover an overpayment.

A claimant should check if ‘offsetting’ should occur; namely a reduction in the amount of the overpayment by the amount of Universal Credit that should have been paid;

A claimant can request a reduction in the rate of recovery of an overpayment;

A claimant can request a waiver (write-off) of the overpayment amount;
 

Welfare reform debates in parliament on this issue


https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmpublic/welfare/110519/am/110519s01.htm

Welfare Reform Bill

Thursday 19 May 2011

Chris Grayling:  May I begin by saying that I agree with almost everything that has been said in this debate by Opposition Members and by my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar? Those of us who have been in the House in the past 10 years, and know about the issues and problems in the tax credit system, will share the concerns that have been raised this morning. I am absolutely clear that we must not make those mistakes again. There are some real issues around whether vulnerable individuals can or cannot be aware of the error that takes place when overpayments are made without their realising it, and they only discover afterwards that they have a substantial debt. We have to be really careful and sensitive about that situation. 

The real question about the clause, however, is whether it is sensible to establish safeguards in primary legislation that apply absolutes to a situation and which effectively say, “You can never do anything”. This is a case where I can give the Committee an absolutely clear statement of intent, because we have all learned the lessons of what has happened in the past, but I do not think that we should prescribe in all circumstances that money that has been paid in error cannot be recovered. That is the essence of what we will do in primary legislation. 

Column number: 1019 

There is one big difference between universal credit and the experience of tax credits. Tax credits were based on an estimate of what somebody would earn, but often such estimates would bear no relation to what they actually earned. What is different about universal credit is that it is based, in almost all cases, on real-time information about earnings. Therefore, there is a greater reliability of information about the earnings going into somebody’s bank account than under the tax credits system. 

The amendments seek to require the Secretary of State to prescribe exceptions to the basic principle that all overpayments of universal credit and those benefits within the scope of clause 102 will be recoverable. As the hon. Member for Westminster North said, amendment 253 seeks to include a requirement that recovery of 

“Official error overpayments of benefits” 

by benefit-paying authorities can be made only when the claimant could reasonably 

“have been expected to know they were being overpaid.” 

The practical reality is that we do not have to recover money from people where official error has been made, and we do not intend, in many cases, to recover money where official error has been made. There will be an absolutely clear code of practice that will govern the circumstances in which recovery action will or will not be taken, to ensure consistent, considered decision making. 

What I do not want to do, however, is apply the one-size-fits-all approach suggested by the amendments. If we prescribe circumstances for a discretionary write-off or non-recovery of an overpayment, we will miss the fact that every case is different and every circumstance is different. The degree of error is also different in every case. We must have sufficient flexibility in the system to apply discretion and common sense to individual cases.

 

PQs on Universal Credit and Overpayments

 

Universal Credit: Overpayments (257458)


Frank Field MP: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, how many cases involving universal credit overpayments have been pursued subsequent to an appeal on the grounds of hardship.

Response:

In 2018/19, 16,260 successful applications for a reduction in their repayment rate were made by claimants or their representatives.

In 2018/19, 10 overpayments were waived, either in full or in part, as a result of applications made by claimants or their representatives. In the same period, 20 applications were unsuccessful.

The Department has an obligation to ensure that public funds are administered responsibly and to abide by the principles set out in Her Majesty’s Treasury’s guidance on Managing Public Money (which can be found on gov.uk). Waivers are only granted in limited circumstances including where the recovery of an overpayment is causing substantial financial and/or medical hardship and clear supporting evidence of this is provided.

Rather than waiving benefit overpayments, the Department works to support claimants through the recovery of these overpayments.

If a claimant is having difficulty repaying a benefit overpayment, they can request a review of the amount that is being taken. Any adjustment to the rate of repayment will be based on the individual circumstances of the claimant.

*All figures in this response have been sourced from internal management information and were not intended for public release. They should therefore not be compared to any similar figures subsequently released by the Department. All figures have been rounded to the nearest 10.
 
https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-questions-answers/?page=1&max=20&questiontype=AllQuestions&house=commons%2Clords&dept=29&uin=257458
 

Universal Credit: Overpayments (265449)


Frank Field MP: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, pursuant to the Answer of 5 June 2019 to Question 257458 on Universal Credit: Overpayments, how many overpayments were waived in (a) full and (b) part as a result of applications made by (i) claimants and (ii) their representatives in 2017-18.

Response:

In 2017/18 there were fewer than 5 successful applications for the full waiving of a Universal Credit overpayment, and fewer than 5 successful partial waiver applications for UC overpayments.

The Department has an obligation to ensure that public funds are administered responsibly and to abide by the principles set out in Her Majesty’s Treasury’s guidance on Managing Public Money (which can be found on gov.uk). Waivers are only granted in limited circumstances including where the recovery of an overpayment is causing substantial financial and/or medical hardship and clear supporting evidence of this is provided.

We are unable to provide a breakdown of how many applications were made by claimants or their representatives as this information is not stored.

*The figures provided in this response have been sourced from internal management information and were not intended for public release. They should therefore not be compared to any other figures subsequently released by the Department. We are not able to report exact figures that are lower than 5, therefore this have been listed as “fewer than 5”.

https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-questions-answers/?page=1&max=20&questiontype=AllQuestions&house=commons%2Clords&dept=29&uin=265449
 
Her Majesty’s Treasury’s guidance on Managing Public Money

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/742188/Managing_Public_Money__MPM__2018.pdf

4.7 Non-standard financial transactions
4.7.1 From time to time public sector organisations may find it makes sense to carry out transactions outside the usual planned range, eg:
• write-offs of unrecoverable debts or overpayments;
 
4.11 Standards of service
4.11.1 Poor quality public services are not acceptable. Public sector organisations should define what their customers, business counterparties and other stakeholders can expect of them. 4.11.2 Standards can be expressed in a number of ways. Examples include guidelines (eg response times), targets (eg take-up rates) or a collection of customer rights in a charter. Even where standards are not set explicitly, they may sometimes be inferred from the way the provider organisation carries out its responsibilities; so it is normally better to express them directly. 4.11.3 Whatever standards are set, they should be defined in a measurable way, with plans for recording performance, so that delivery can be readily gauged. It is good practice to use customer feedback, including from complaints, to reassess from time to time whether standards or their proxies (milestones, targets, outcomes) remain appropriate and meaningful. 4.11.4 Where public sector organisations fail to meet their standards, or where they fall short of reasonable behaviour, it may be appropriate to consider offering remedies. These can take a variety of forms, including apologies, restitution (eg supplying a missing licence) or, in more serious cases, financial payments. Decisions about financial remedies – which should not be offered routinely - should include taking account of the legal rights of the other party or parties and the impact on the organisation’s future business.
 

DfC Overpayment Notifications to Claimants


DfC response:
“There are no notifications issued that explicitly communicate the option to seek a waiver of an overpaid amount.”
 

Advice NI Guidance to Advisers re Universal Credit Overpayments


You may get a client who receives an overpayment letter from DfC; for example, where someone claimed Universal Credit but the Department failed to stop payment of legacy benefits, and so an overpayment arose.

The letter will say (correctly) that this is recoverable, but it may not say that the claimant may request a waiver of the overpayment.

Information regarding how to trigger an overpayment waiver request and the information that needs to accompany such a request:
  • Send in a complaint letter requesting a waiver (cover the points highlighted in the information below)
  • There is no right of dispute against a decision not to apply discretion to waive recovery of a debt, or where the debtor disagrees with the discretion applied
  • NI Address for customer/representative to send request for consideration of a Waiver: Debt Management, PO Box 2136, Belfast, BT1 9RW
  • Cc to DfC complaints Dept … https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/dfc-complaints-procedure for further info
  • To make a complaint you should contact the office that is dealing with your case.
  • For those in receipt of Universal Credit you may make a complaint via your journal on the Universal Credit System, by telephone, at your local office or by emailing UC.CUSTOMERSERVICE@dfcni.gov.uk
  • If not happy, Next steps would then be escalating the complaint to NIPSO or ICE.

Advice NI Sought Clarification on an Adjustment to the DfC PIP Mandatory Reconsideration Process


DfC response:

Kevin, in relation to your query I can advise that there hasn’t been a change to the overall PIP Reconsideration process as such but more an adjustment made to it to try and ensure we obtain all the evidence and consider as part of that process to avoid unnecessary appeals which I am sure you will agree with.

At present the vast majority of Reconsideration requests are made by phone and when registering this request the member of staff will try and establish if the customer is requesting a Reconsideration of the whole entitlement decision or just a particular component and also whether or not they intend sending in any additional evidence in support of their request, in which case they are given one month (set down in law)  to provide this evidence before the decision is made Often during those telephone conversations the customer and/or their representative will often go on query the reasons for the decision and explain why they feel the decision is wrong. As the member of staff is not a trained case manager they do not have the relevant skills to explain or justify the decision reached or assess the relevance of any new oral evidence being given during the call .This has often resulted in the Reconsideration Case Manager phoning the customer back to get clarity on these issues before making the decision and frustration for the customer as they feel they are having to go over again the same information.

The change is that in every Reconsideration request made, the operator will continue as normal to lodge the request and advise the caller that a Reconsideration Case Manager will phone them back within 5 working days to take account of any information they want considered as part of the Recon request. The Reconsideration Case Manager when making the call back to the customer, or their approved Rep if there is one registered, will discuss the decision made and establish from them exactly what components/activities of the decision they are disputing and reasons for this, in addition to establishing whether or not they are intending to send in further evidence in support of the Reconsideration request. The Case Manager when making their Reconsideration decision can therefore have due regard to any oral evidence provided by the customer and/or their Rep during this call.

I can assure you that the enhancement to this process is in no way aimed at trying to get a customer to withdraw their Reconsideration request or reduce the number of appeals. At no stage during the process is the customer asked do they wish to continue with or withdraw their Reconsideration request. 
 

Tax Credit Renewals

 

The tax credit renewal deadline was 31st July. 
Advice NI: Can claimants still renew their claim via ‘out of time’ route, how long does this option exist for (if indeed it does exist) or is everyone forced to claim UC (either from 1st August onwards or from after the ‘out of time’ window)?


HMRC: A customer is still able to renew their tax credits claim through the normal ‘out of time’ routes, either within 30 days of the date of the notice terminating their provisional payments, or where it is over 30 days but no later than 31 January and they provide good cause for their late renewal. If a customer chooses to claim UC within that period, their tax credits award can only be ‘restored’ up to the day before the UC start date, if they satisfy the above criteria.”

 

Universal Credit

 

Advice NI sought clarification as to whether Universal Credit advance payments counted as a qualifying debt in a Debt Relief Order (DRO)


DfC: We have received advice from the Insolvency Service, Department for the Economy, who have confirmed the following:
  “If the advance was paid to the claimant before the date on which the DRO was made it would be covered by the DRO and you would have to stop any recovery action permanently and write off the debt.”


Universal Credit

 

Advice NI sought clarification re: Non-dependent Deductions [NDD] from Housing Costs Element in UC


HMRC: DfC: Please be advised, there is no automatic notification of benefits that non-dependents within a claimant’s household are in receipt of. The Universal Credit system does not hold the non-dependent’s sensitive information such as their national insurance number.

In order for the Universal Credit claimant to receive an exemption from the Housing Cost Contribution deduction, they are required to report if the non-dependent in their household is in receipt of a specified benefit paid on account of disability, such as Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Personal Independence Payment (PIP). The claimant will also be required to provide proof of the benefits claimed by the non-dependent.

 

Impact of Accessing your Pension Pot

 
Advice NI: How do DfC assess situation where claimant takes 25% of pension pot at 55 (say they are on UC or legacy benefit)?

DfC: “Any capital release from accrued pension funds will be subject to normal capital rules. Any amount released should be declared to the Department and normal capital rules will be applied to the released capital. 
Any expenditure will require evidence in the form of receipts and bank statements. A Decision Maker will consider expenditure in accordance with potential deprivation of capital rules.”


Advice NI: If a client under SP age in receipt of Income Support (IS) takes 25% of a pension pot, does the remaining amount in the pension pot count as ’notional’ capital?

DfC: “For customers claiming working age benefits, there is no effect from untaken pension savings, even if the savings can be accessed.  
 


Welfare Supplementary Payment (WSP) Overpayments

 

Advice NI raised this issue of WSP overpayment (seems to be most usually re benefit cap WSP but presumably could also be bedroom tax) where the WSP was paid direct to a private landlord. Recovery being sought from the private landlord; they are often single property landlords who cannot afford repayments; 

Advice NI: Re: DfC communications with the landlord. What if the landlord wants to find out more; how much information can DfC share with the landlord about the tenant?

DfC: Information currently provided in relation to payments and current overpayment letters is the only information we can disclose in line with GDPR rules.

Advice NI: Are there DfC communications with the claimant / tenant? Are they also pursued for the overpayment?

Both parties are informed of overpayment when the Debt Management team in the Department issue the recovery letter. A notification letter is prepared for issue by Debt Management NI to the private landlord and a notification also goes to the customer. Recoverability is sought from the landlord not the customer in line with the “Welfare Supplementary Payment (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017 regulations 8 (5) which states 
“If payment is made to A’s landlord or A’s landlord’s agent, then the amount recoverable is only recovered from the landlord or the landlord’s agent as the case may be”. 
 
Advice NI: What about dispute rights; can the WSP overpayment decision be challenged?

DfC: The landlord is entitled to ask for the decision to be reviewed as set out in the regulations and this can be requested by contacting the Welfare Supplementary payment team. 

Advice NI: What if this creates a serious situation regarding the landlord / tenant – potentially evictions situation; can the WSP overpayment be waived (See article re waivers above)?  

DfC: All overpayments are recoverable under “Welfare Supplementary Payment (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017 regulations 8 (5).  Requests for waivers can be requested by the tenant or landlord and are considered by Debt Management team in the Department .However a waiver is only normally considered where there is reasonable evidence that the recovery of an overpayment would be detrimental to their health and/or wellbeing or that of their family, or that recovery would not be in public interest. Medical evidence would also be required. It is unlikely that a Private landlord could meet the criteria for the former.  

 

Useful Information


Independent welfare changes Helpline 0808 802 002