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Universal Credit claimants blocked from challenging DWP decisions

Written by: Emma Lunn
Universal Credit (UC) claimants who ask for their payment to be reviewed are often blocked by the department of work and pensions (DWP), according to the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).

The CPAG report titled Computer Says No: challenging decisions draws on the charity’s early warning system which has gathered and analysed 1,600 benefit cases from welfare rights advisers across the UK

When they disagree with a DWP decision, Universal Credit claimants must ask the DWP to conduct an internal review – called a “mandatory reconsideration” – of the decision before they can appeal to an independent tribunal.

Decisions might, for example, relate to how much Universal Credit they should get or whether they are entitled to Universal Credit in the first place.

But the CPAG found claimants are sometimes wrongly advised that decisions can’t be appealed. Others are told they must take a different route to try to resolve the issue, or that they need to provide evidence to challenge a decision when that’s not the case. In effect, this delays or blocks their efforts to have mistakes corrected.

When people have their claim refused when they first try to claim, their online account is often closed. This makes it even harder to get a decision reviewed because letters explaining why it was refused cannot be accessed any more.

The obstacles to getting a decision reconsidered are all the more worrying for the fact that in almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of Universal Credit cases that reach a tribunal, the DWP decision is overturned.

Alison Garnham, CPAG chief executive, said: “The failure to ensure Universal Credit operates in a way that upholds basic legal duties is cause for serious concern. Universal Credit staff dealing with claimants do not always seem to understand the rules as to how decisions can be challenged, and efforts to make the system more user-friendly by encouraging informal online chats can mean claimants are prevented from exercising their rights and ultimately cannot make sure their awards are corrected. The system throws up so many obstacles to getting a decision reviewed that some claimants – often the most vulnerable – are likely to give up and lose out.

“One hundred and thirty thousand individuals and families are moving on to Universal Credit each month. If it isn’t accountable, and if appeal routes are not crystal clear and readily available to claimants, then Universal Credit isn’t fit for purpose.”

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