Around 2.6 million people who are receiving “legacy benefits” are to be transitioned over to Universal Credit (UC) as part of a mandatory “managed migration” procedure that was initiated by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).
During the ‘discovery phase’ of the trial programme being run in Bolton and Medway, 500 people receiving legacy benefits are to be informed that they must apply for UC.
This will be rolled out to all those on legacy benefits including income-related employment and support allowance (ESA), working tax credit and child tax credit, income-based jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), housing benefit and income support.
Claimants of legacy benefits were to be given notice, as required by legislation, that they had until the end of the third month to submit an application for universal credit.
If they failed to do so without a valid cause, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) were given the authority to terminate their legacy benefits.
However, Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey has since confirmed in a letter to the Commons Work and Pensions Committee that payments will not cease immediately if legacy benefit claimants fail to meet the three month deadline.
“I have decided [the DWP] will not terminate any benefits if the claimant fails to claim within the three-month period given,” she said.
“Instead, if these claimants have failed to engage with the Department, DWP will make a minimum of a one-month extension to the deadline outlined in their notice.
“In this time, we will undertake proactive engagement with the claimant to understand why they have not claimed.”
On concerns that some people may have difficulties in making a claim for universal credit online, Coffey added: “As part of our learning during the discovery phase, we are keen to understand what additional support is required for people to make their claim to universal credit and what this means for the scaled-up process.
“We will also be excluding some particularly vulnerable and/or complex groups from the managed migration process initially, including claimants who are terminally ill.”
Commenting on the policy change, Disability Rights UK Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser Ken Butler said: “It’s unclear how the DWP will identify “particularly vulnerable” claimants and “complex groups” from the UC discovery phase. Or if those concerned will be told they have been excluded.
“The DWP has admitted that it is not itself able to identify all claimants who will need support, and plans to rely on a hard-pressed voluntary sector and others to help with this
“The DWP should halt UC migration until they can guarantee they will not stop anyone’s old benefits until they have successfully claimed UC.
“The DWP must also take responsibility for supporting people through a complicated system that its own research has shown to be difficult to navigate.”