The economics of Universal Credit

  1. I offer my written submission following the call for evidence with regard to Universal Credit and its implementation.  My experience is limited to how it has affected my son with learning difficulties and mental health issues.  My son falls into a vulnerable group that cannot hope to understand the complications that Universal Credit has already, or is about to, introduce into their lives.  I write this submission with the hope that it will help all the group and not just my son.
  2. My son was born with brain damage 40 years ago and the only diagnosis that we were able to obtain at the time was “lack of oxygen at birth” and I certainly recall a difficult birth in Harrogate Hospital.  Although my wife was in hospital I had difficulty in getting staff to come and attend to her as there was a shortage of staff on duty at the time. 
  3. The prognosis that we were given was not good and we were left in no doubt that my sons condition was for life and that he would always rely on us while-ever we were alive.  However, all members of my family have worked very hard to make the best of my son’s chances of living as normal a life as possible. In addition, we were able to get my son on various independence courses that gave him some of the skills required if he was ever going to survive when my wife and I are no longer around to support him.
  4. Under the old benefit system my son got both the standard and enhanced level of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) including a Severe Disability Allowance.  In addition he got the old Disability Living Allowance (DLA) which then got replaced by the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) that he qualified for the enhanced level of Daily Living, but only the standard level of the mobility element despite us asking for a mandatory reconsideration.
  5. My son has always lived with my wife and myself until two years ago when we decided to use the Governments HOLD scheme, Home Ownership for the Long-term Disabled, to buy him an apartment in conjunction with a Housing Association.  Under HOLD the Government made available funding to pay for some of the mortgage by means of a scheme called Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI) in the form of a loan and a benefit to pay for the rest of the mortgage and the element that had to be paid to the Housing Association.
  6. We had been living in Glasgow for about twenty years because of my job, but we bought my son’s apartment back in Harrogate, as I had retired a few years earlier.  We then rented an apartment in the same building as my son’s apartment as he still required a level of support; in particular the benefit system was a huge problem to him.
  7. The first problem we encountered was that unknown to us Harrogate was chosen as one of the first areas to migrate to Universal Credit.  This had not filtered through to us while we lived in Glasgow.  My son had got his keys to his apartment on the 31st May 2018 and we sent a letter off to both the DWP addresses that we had for ESA and PIP the very same day informing the DWP of my son’s change of address.   About a week later we got an acknowledgment from the ESA address of the change of my son’s address.   In the acknowledgment letter there was no guidance with regard to the fact that my son had now entered a UC area and things had to be done differently.  We had obtained a mortgage for my son through an organisation called “My Safe Home” and they had told us to leave everything to them with regard to dealing with the HOLD scheme.  It took 6 weeks before they were informed that they couldn’t deal with all of my son’s HOLD paperwork as under the new UC scheme everything had to be done on line and by my son.  The process required my son to make an application to open a UC account on lineThere lay the second problem as my son was not capable of handling the UC application and I was not much better.   It was only with the help of the Housing Association that we were able to make the application on line.  By this time we had lost 2 months of funding to pay the SMI element of the mortgage and the element to be paid to the Housing Association.   The loss was about £1200 of funding in the form of SMI loan and benefits.  We explained the problem to the DWP who just said that we should have known about UC even though they had had a chance to tell us and hadn’t.   The help we got from the DWP was zero.
  8. The £1200 loss did hurt, but worse was to come.  Now under UC my son soon faced an assessment like he had never faced before.  The previous assessments under ESA and PIP in Glasgow acknowledged my son’s medical condition was irreversible and that his disability was permanent.  I accompanied my son on the UC assessment and it soon became clear that the assessor had only one aim and that was to find some improvement in my son’s condition that simply wasn’t there.  Despite not finding one the assessor still reported that my son was now fit to work.   This was conveyed to us a little later through a letter attached to my son’s UC journal that went on to say that don’t worry there would be no loss of benefits, and that he didn’t need to look for work until some retraining had been carried out. Clearly someone was trying to take into account that my son was 40 years old and never had a job before.  Despite what the letter said a week later my son’s UC payment was reduced by £400.  This was funding to pay my son’s part of the mortgage and to pay the rent etc. to the Housing Association.   We felt that our whole world had collapsed
  9. Of course this was a total shock to us and a total disaster because not only was there a reduction in UC benefits the new status of being capable of work endangered my son’s qualification for the SMI.  The end result would have been a repossession of my son’s apartment and possibly the loss of the £15,000 that I had provided for the mortgage deposit and to pay My Safe Home fees. 
  10. We immediately went to see the new work coach at the Job Centre and ask why the reduction in benefits despite what the letter had advised.  The only explanation that we got was that the letter was written by somebody different to the one deciding on the reduction in benefits.  Of course that was no explanation at all and just told us that the system was broken. With the help of the work coach we finely got the decision to find my son fit for work reversed and his benefits reinstated.    
  11. There is clearly no provision in the UC system for dealing with vulnerable people like my son and it seems that there is no account taken of the HOLD system at all.   The HOLD system requires the claimant to be on certain benefits to qualify for SMI.  If those benefits are taken away then the claimant faces a double whammy of losing benefits and possibly losing the SMI.   The whole UC system seems to be budget lead and when the DWP starts running out of funds they have to find ways of reducing peoples benefits regardless of what damage it will do.  The easiest targets are often the most vulnerable people and the ones that cannot fight back.  I hope my submission will somehow help protect such people and get some changes to how the UC system is implemented.  
  12. My recommendation is that the DWP should not be looking after vulnerable people with mental health issues as their strict and budget lead implementation of UC will only drive such people on to the streets or worse.

By Ray Herbert father of Gavin Herbert

25 February 2020