Universal Credit: Applying for alternative payment arrangements
Following the introduction of Universal Credit (UC), standard practice is to pay claimants their benefit once a month, compared to the old-style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), where claimants were paid on a fortnightly basis. 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’. However, a case of a gentleman I supported to claim UC found managing his UC payments extremely difficult, mainly due to his lack of insight into budgeting his money and his struggles with accessing his online account. After getting his payment, the customer would use this to top up his pre-payment utilities. However, after a few days, the customer was left with no money to fund his pre-payment utilities, so he was left without electricity or gas for weeks, until his next payment. The gentleman had been used to being paid fortnightly and has never had any budgeting support throughout his life, and also has poor tenancy management skills due to his needs.
Alternative payment arrangements (APA’s)- These exist to help those at risk of financial hardship. Personal Budgeting Support and Alternative Payment Arrangements Guidance (April 2008) states that ‘Alternative Payment Arrangements should only be considered for those claimants who cannot manage the single monthly payment and as a result there is a risk of financial harm to the claimant and/or their family. The Universal Credit Agent will consider a number of factors and evidence provided to decide if an Alternative Payment Arrangement is appropriate’. This criteria is usually focused on factors such as homelessness, substance use, mental health problems, recent release from prison etc. My customer met all of these criteria, plus was experiencing financial hardship. Therefore, he was supported by VOICES to claim an APA.
This request for an APA was completed in November 2018 via his online UC journal. After a few weeks, the customer had not heard any updates, so he contacted the job coach via his UC journal. The customer received no response after sending several messages over a 2 month period to request updates on his APA request. Meanwhile, the customer was struggling financially and was at risk of offending to fund paying his bills and in order to have food to eat. After not hearing any updates for 2 months from the work coach, an email was sent to the Customer Services Manager at the Job Centre. No response was provided, so the case was raised to the Senior Operations Manager, regarding the customer not having any responses via his journal, the time it was taking to apply for the APA and the financial hardship he was experiencing.
After being raised with management, the matter was investigated urgently, and the APA was granted on the same day. However, the customer had to wait approximately 2 months from the date he initially requested the APA when the matter could have been dealt with more urgently to support the customer in avoiding the financial hardship he experiences.