Alternatives for Universal Credit claimants with limited access to bank accounts
By Lisa Kearns, Welfare Benefits Caseworker, Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke-on-Trent
What is the problem?
Currently Universal Credit does not allow claims to be made with no bank account. This is causing difficulties for people without their own bank account.
DWP are recommending that claimants with no bank account and who are unable to open their own account, can use a trusted third party account to enable them to make a claim.
This third party then becomes responsible for ‘issuing’ money on payday, and often faces no repercussions if this money does not reach the intended claimant. Claimants can also find that they lose contact with the person who is receiving their money, and are therefore unable to receive ongoing payments without updating their claim with someone else’s account.
What can we do?
The Jobcentre have access to different routes to pay a claimant if they have no bank account, including opening a Post Office account and the Payment Exception Service (PES) (previously Simple Payments).
We have found that frontline Jobcentre staff and UC helpline agents are mostly unaware of the PES and deny its existence. They also often signpost to the Post Office regarding opening accounts, who are unable to help.
What is the Payment Exception Service (PES)?
PES allows claimants to receive their Universal Credit payments via a shop with PayPoint rather than into an account.
For claimants who have no access to a safe bank account, this can be set up, providing it is to be used as a temporary measure until they open an account. This includes, amongst others:
- Claimants who cannot open a basic bank account (due to lack of ID or other reasons)
- Claimants who have escaped Domestic Abuse and their UC is not paid to them
How can we access PES?
We recommend initially contacting the UC helpline to inform the DWP that PES would be an appropriate solution for the claimant. They cannot set this up immediately over the phone, however a request can be sent to the claimant’s UC case manager to contact the customer or a representative named on the account.
If no call back is received, or the call centre staff are unwilling or unable to help, you can escalate this to the Universal Credit Team Leaders specific to the relevant Jobcentre via the Escalation Routeway (Click here to download).
Inform the case manager or the Universal Credit Team Leader of the claimant’s circumstances, including any information which highlights the need for a change to their method of payment and the problems faced by the claimant in setting up these changes themselves.
If no response is received within 48 hours, we recommend chasing this with the next step on the Escalation Routeway which is the Senior Operations Manager.
A case manager has informed that if an emergency stoppage is required, for example, a customer’s UC is about to be paid into an unsafe account, a claimant can change the bank details on their account. This can be done by requesting a change of circumstances and updating bank account details to dummy account numbers. As payment should not be released while a bank account details verification is awaiting, this should prevent payment being released. This is untested so we cannot confirm its accuracy.
Once PES is in place, the claimant will need to attend their Jobcentre on their payment date and pass usual ID verifications or biographical security questions to receive a voucher enabling them to receive payments from any PayPoint store. Your nearest PayPoint store can be found here (https://consumer.paypoint.com/). These vouchers are usually for £100, so multiple vouchers may be issued.
The Jobcentre should support the claimant to open a Post Office account or a high street bank account, so that they can move on from receiving payment by PES. The Post Office account scheme is due to close in 2021, however claimants can still be referred into this by the DWP as a short-term solution.
List of standards of evidence and biographical security questions – http://data.parliament.uk/DepositedPapers/Files/DEP2017-0556/70_Identity_verification_and_standards_of_evidence_v4.0.pdf
Statement from Alok Sharma about support for homeless people applying for Universal Credit – https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2019-02-27/226486/
Gov.uk guidance for organisations working with homeless people – https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/791852/universal-credit-homeless-people-guide-supporting-organisations.pdf