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Case Study: Universal Credit – A simple process for people experiencing multiple needs?

VOICES case study 03

Universal Credit (UC) is a new benefit that has recently started to be rolled out nationwide, the aim to replace 6 existing means tested benefits. According to the Gov.uk website, ‘you can claim UC if you have a health condition or disability which prevents you from working or limits the amount of work you can do. UC provides you with a simple system of financial and work-related support.’


I have been supporting a customer to apply for UC following their release from prison. The customer has found the process to be difficult, and not simple as explained.


Step one: Initial online claim

I supported the customer to attend the Job centre on the day of prison release and supported him to complete the initial claim online. The customer was faced with many barriers, the first one being completing the address field. The customer was homeless and tried to type in ‘no fixed address’. The system would not accept this as it wanted a valid post code. The customer had to use one of his support service’s office address before he could proceed with the application. The next barrier was completing the email address field. The customer did not have an email address and has limited knowledge around IT and accessing the internet. Luckily, I was there to support him with this step. The next barrier was completing the bank detail section. Fortunately, the customer had his post office card, however, this did not show the sort code and account number that was needed. We called the main UC helpline and were advised to add a combination of random numbers into the system until he was able to provide his bank details. Fortunately, this worked, and he was able to submit the claim. The customer requested an advance payment but was advised that he would need to attend a further appointment to verify his identity before he could apply.


Step two: Verifying identity

The customer was given an appointment for 4 days later. He was unable to verify his identity due to having no ID. Fortunately, the job coach was able to ask him security questions based on a previous benefit claim and he was able to verify his identity this way. I am unsure what would have happened had this customer been unknown to the benefits system. The customer then asked if he could have an advance payment. He was advised he would need to attend a commitments appointment first before being able to apply for an advance payment. He was given a further appointment for 7 days later.


Step three: Commitments appointment

The customer was given a commitments appointment for 7 days later. Unfortunately, due to him being homeless, staying in hostels and on the streets, he did not attend this appointment. I contacted the job centre to advise the customer couldn’t be located. They advised that the main UC call centre would need to be contacted. I advised that I couldn’t do this due to me not currently being with the customer. I was advised that if this is the case, it would go down on his record as a missed appointment with no explanation given for missing the appointment.

3 days later I managed to catch up with the customer and supported him to log onto his online journal. We contacted the job centre and were advised he would need to call the main UC helpline. Unfortunately, after 20 minutes of waiting to get through, I was advised I had pressed the wrong option on the automated helpline and would need to hang up and call back and select option 2.
I asked if I could be transferred through to the correct option but was told I couldn’t. We did not call back due to the customer feeling unwell and us already being on the phone for over half an hour.

Fortunately, 4 days later I supported the customer to log onto his journal and he had been given a further commitment appointment for 3 days later. The customer attended this commitment appointment. The customer went through what their commitments would be with his job coach. These commitments included: agreeing to log into journal regularly to check activity, attending all related appointments. The customer was advised he would need to log on and accept these before they could proceed with the claim. The customer didn’t have a phone. Fortunately, he was able to use my phone. Had I not been there, I am unsure what alternative he would have been offered. After accepting these commitments, the customer asked if he could have an advance payment. The job coach advised he couldn’t until he had given evidence of his bank details. The customer had previously called the Post office to obtain his account details, as these were not listed on the post office card, and he inputted his bank details into his online account. However, he did not have these on an official document. The job coach advised he would have to make a further appointment and provide a document with his bank details to verify the bank details before he could apply for an advance payment. At the point, the customer left feeling very frustrated.

The customer has now been without any money for 23 days. The customer is vulnerable, with a variety of both physical health and mental health support needs. The customer has only two sets of clothing and no food. The customer moved into supported housing 5 days ago and did not have money to top up his utilities. Fortunately, we were able to help him with this. Had this not been the case he would also be without basic means such as electricity. I am also concerned that the customer will be reluctant to return to the job centre again, due to the frustrations and distress that he experienced during his last visit. The customer does not feel that UC is a ‘simple system of financial and work-related support’ and is suffering hardship due to the difficulties he is experiencing navigating the system.


Note: VOICES regards the anonymity of our customers to be of utmost importance, therefore details may be changed in order to maintain anonymity where necessary.

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