The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been caught trying to claw back vital support from disabled people set to be “migrated” across to the new universal credit from their existing benefits.
The clawback means that disabled people whose support needs are found to increase after they have been moved to universal credit will not benefit as they would otherwise have done.
The draft proposals (PDF) – described as “sleight of hand” by the disabled activist who spotted the move – will affect those who are moved from the universal credit limited capability for work (LCW) group to the limited capability for work-related activity (LCWRA) group after a work capability assessment.
The government’s proposals state that any increase in their benefits that they would expect to receive after such a move would be wiped out under the draft plans.
This is because ministers have produced draft regulations that aim to update how DWP manages the delayed process of moving claimants from benefits such as income-related employment and support allowance (ESA), income-based jobseeker’s allowance and income support onto universal credit (UC) through what is known as managed migration.
The managed migration process was paused because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is set to restart soon.
Ministers have promised to provide top-up “transitional protection” for those moved onto UC as part of the managed migration process, if their circumstances haven’t otherwise changed, and for those who were previously receiving severe disability premium.
This protection is supposed to ensure that claimants are not left worse off if moved onto UC through managed migration, although the extra support is gradually reduced every year when benefits are increased in April through the annual uprating process, and it is removed entirely if the claimant has a significant change of circumstances.
But the draft regulations state that those who later move into the LCWRA group from the LCW group will see their transition payment cut by the amount of the extra payment they are entitled to.
Disability activist Gail Ward, who spotted the ploy in the draft regulations, said the move was “absolutely a disgrace”.
She told DNS: “It’s another pernicious move by the government to cut back on benefit claimants.”
She said she believed the draft regulations would “cause problems” when they were eventually debated by MPs.
A DWP spokesperson refused to clarify the intention of the LCWRA regulation, or how the department justified the measure.
But he said: “Transitional protection will be paid via a transitional element that will be included in the universal credit award.
“Over time, the transitional element will be eroded by increases in or the claiming of other elements in universal credit.
“The transitional element can also end in certain circumstances.”
The social security advisory committee, which advises DWP on benefits, announced last week that it will be carrying out “closer examination” of one element of the draft regulations.
It wants to “look closely at how best to provide a framework of oversight, reporting and scrutiny” of the migration process.
Dr Stephen Brien, the committee’s chair and often described as the “architect” of universal credit, said: “A process to move around 1.7 million households, many with complex lives, onto universal credit from legacy benefits creates a significant risk for both those who are reliant on these benefits and also for the Department for Work and Pensions in delivering it.
“For the public to have confidence in this process and to minimise risk further consideration needs to be given to establishing appropriate independent oversight and scrutiny of the programme as it moves forward.”
The DWP spokesperson declined to say whether the department agreed with SSAC’s comment, but he said: “The government is committed to ensuring the final phase of universal credit is rolled out safely and is responsibly delivered by the end of 2024.
“The department will work closely with our stakeholder groups throughout this work to monitor and understand what support is required and what works best for claimants.
“The department will also continue its regular engagement with the committee.”
The committee’s concerns come as the information commissioner has ruled against efforts by DWP to brand Disability News Service “vexatious” for trying to find out how many disabled people are expected to lose out in the move to universal credit (see separate story).
Meanwhile, 290,000 claimants of disability living allowance (DLA) and personal independence payment (PIP) are set to lose the right to receive the Warm Home Discount (WHD), which offers households at risk of fuel poverty cuts to their energy bills.
This year, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is set to increase the payment by £10 to £150 for households across England and Wales.
But although BEIS is increasing annual spending on WHD from £350 million to £475 million a year*, with about 750,000 more households to benefit, many of those receiving PIP or DLA will no longer be eligible.
Those PIP and DLA claimants who also receive means-tested benefits such as income-related ESA will be able to receive the discount, but those who do not receive “one of the specified means-tested benefits or income-capped Tax Credits” will not be eligible.
This means that the number of DLA and PIP recipients who receive WHD will fall by about 35 per cent (290,000 individuals).
In the government’s response to a consultation on the plans, it says it believes that the number of recipients “who declare they have a long-term illness or disability” will rise in total by 160,000 – despite the fall in the number of PIP and DLA recipients – an increase of 12 per cent compared to the current scheme.
*At 2020 prices
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