Universal Credit: Complex Needs Alerts
By Karen Dunn, Specialist Welfare Benefits Team, Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke on Trent
Navigating the intricacies of the Welfare Benefits system can be daunting. Making a new claim for benefit is just the start. It is important then, that we alert the DWP to anything that will prevent our customers from managing and maintaining their claim, sooner rather than later. Especially so with the introduction of Universal Credit and ‘digital by default’.
If we are supporting people experiencing multiple and complex needs with their benefit issues, we need to understand that the DWP definition of ‘vulnerability’ and ‘complex needs’ may not be the same as our own.
The DWP definition of vulnerability is “An individual; who is identified as having complex needs and/or requires additional support to enable them to access DWP benefits and use our services.” Its aim is to provide a service that is, “equal in quality and outcome to those whose needs are not complex”.
Its definition of complex needs for Universal Credit purposes is that “the claimant may need additional or different support if it is likely that they will have difficulty:
- Accessing UC
- Proving eligibility for UC
- Fulfilling the Labour Market requirements
- Maintaining their UC account or,
- Managing their money”
To qualify for and to receive Universal Credit (UC), the person must meet certain work related conditions, known as ‘requirements’ (unless the person is in receipt of the limited capability for work related activity element in which case, they will still have to sign a claimant commitment but there are no work related requirements for this group of people).
The ‘claimant commitment’ is the record of the work related requirements agreed between the claimant and their Job Centre Work Coach and, they must continue to meet these requirements in order to keep receiving Universal Credit. The work-related requirements are:
- The work-focused interview requirement – you will need to take part in one or more work-focused interviews
- The work preparation requirement – you will need to take action to improve your chances of getting work
- The work search requirement – you will need to show that you have taken reasonable action and, ‘any particular action’ specified by the DWP, to obtain work
- The work availability requirement – that you are available for work and, willing and able to take up work or attend a job interview immediately
In relation to the work related requirements within Universal Credit the definition of complex needs is expanded a little stating that, “the claimant is experiencing some difficult life event or personal circumstances that mean it would be unreasonable to expect them to meet their current work related requirements.”
The work related requirements can be limited in prescribed circumstances but, any work related requirement within an agreed claimant commitment can be reviewed and changed if the DWP perceive this to be appropriate. In certain conditions the DWP can apply an easement to these requirements.
There are compulsory easements where there is a legal duty to switch off the work search and availability requirements for example, when someone is a victim of domestic violence or receiving treatment or drug and alcohol dependency. There are also discretionary easements “where it is unreasonable to expect the claimant to complete their requirements for a period.” The decision maker must look at each situation on its own individual facts and circumstances so in discretionary cases it’s important that we provide all the relevant information as soon as possible, either at the beginning of the claim or, at any time during the claim.
Using a template pro-forma in order to alert the DWP to the complex needs of our customer, can be an effective way of obtaining the appropriate easement and ensuring that they are not drawn into accepting a claimant commitment that they will not be able to fulfil. The form can be handed over to the customer’s Job Centre Work Coach who can then upload it onto the claimant’s UC journal for reference. The claimant will have to attend an interview to discuss the impact of their complex needs and, where an easement is seen as appropriate it will begin on the date of disclosure and will continue for as long as evidence is provided. There is of course no guarantee of success, however it is something tangible that we can draw the attention to when and if things go wrong.
Disclosing complex needs to the DWP in an easy format like this can help prevent unnecessary sanctions, can save precious support time as the worker may not be able to support the customer to every benefit appointment or with every contact with the DWP and, it can remove any angst the worker may have about what to put in a letter. We first came across the Complex Needs Alert (see link) during a freelance training session for Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), and were encouraged to share it with other services working with people experiencing complex needs. We have used it in a few cases now and so far we have had no negative feedback.
Welfare Reform Act 2012
ADM Chapter J3, J3253 Work Related Requirements
DWP UC Full Service Guidance, Claimant Commitment V.1
DWP UC Full Service Guidance, Complex Needs Overview V.10 (last updated 10 April 2018)