Disability News Service (DNS) has been branded “vexatious” for trying to secure a key unpublished Department for Work and Pensions document that could finally show how many disabled people are expected to lose out in the move to universal credit.
DNS has been trying for nearly 18 months to use the Freedom of Information Act to secure updated figures showing the true impact that universal credit will have on disabled people claiming benefits.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has issued contradictory statements and blocked attempts to force it to release “internal analysis” which it has admitted carrying out and which it has used to estimate how many disabled people would gain from the move to universal credit.
In its latest attempt to secure the information, DNS asked only for a copy of the internal analysis.
In its response, DWP described how the analysis was carried out, but failed to include a copy of the document.
When DNS asked the department to review its response, as it had not provided a copy of the analysis, it responded this week by branding the request “vexatious” and insisting that there was “no additional recorded information to respond to your request”.
This would mean that it has either destroyed its internal analysis, had lost it, or had failed to record it at all in a document.
It adds: “A request may be treated as vexatious, if compliance would create a significant burden in terms of expense and distraction, if a request is designed to cause disruption or annoyance, if a request can otherwise fairly be characterised as obsessive or manifestly unreasonable, or if the request has no serious purpose or value.”
It also makes clear that “it is the request which is treated as vexatious not the person making the request”.
And it describes the task that DWP staff are being asked to perform – providing a single document that has been referred to repeatedly in the House of Commons – as “grossly oppressive in terms of the strain on time and resources”.
It then adds that it is also treating every one of the previous freedom of information requests made by DNS on this subject as “vexatious”.
It is believed that hundreds of thousands of disabled people will lose out financially by the time the rollout of universal credit is complete.
Ministers including Therese Coffey and Justin Tomlinson have repeatedly claimed that around one million disabled households will receive a higher entitlement under UC than they would have received under the previous “legacy” benefits system.
But every time they repeat the figure, they fail to say how many disabled households are expected to receive a lower entitlement under UC.
The most recent DWP equality impact assessment, published nearly a decade ago, in November 2011, suggested that the number of disabled households gaining financially from UC would be at least matched by the number losing out (with about 800,000 households in each group), with disabled people who are out of work particularly likely to lose out.
But DWP recently told the Office for Statistics Regulation that the figure of one million households came from later “internal analysis carried out to look at the impacts of a proposed policy change”.
DWP is claiming that this analysis “did not estimate how many people would lose out in the move to Universal Credit”, but only those who would gain.
But despite DWP admitting the existence of this analysis, it has refused to release it.
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