Written evidence from MedConfidential (supplementary to oral evidence [UCW0100]
Supplementary and Illustrated Answers from medConfidential
- In oral evidence I said that medConfidential had recently published information on how HM Government is seeking to use Digital Economy Act powers to access NHS records for “fraud” purposes. That article was published on our website, here:
and it also makes reference to medConfidential’s June review of the powers in the
Digital Economy Act 2017:
Payment frequencies and earning patterns
2. When using RTI as part of the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system, employers already tell HMRC whether a person is paid weekly, fortnightly, monthly, etc.:
HMRC’s Basic PAYE tool
- As far as we have been able to determine, HMRC provides DWP with all of the data that DWP asked for. In our evidence session, the Committee heard from another witness that DWP does receive this payment frequency information. Why therefore has DWP not declared it specifically asks for this information, and – if it does, and if indeed it receives this data – why does DWP not use it to help people avoid falling off UC due to the payment periods problem?
- DWP’s own official advice shows that it quite clearly knows there is a problem:
‘Universal Credit: How you’re paid’, retrieved 05/02/20
- And yet the Universal Credit system is so inflexible that – despite being an entirely predictable consequence of DWP’s chosen assessment cycle – in any month where this ‘double payment’ does happen, it tells claimants that “you will be notified that your income is too high and you will no longer get Universal Credit.”
- When this happens, the official advice is merely that claimants “re-apply the following month”, putting the burden of DWP’s automation choices onto individuals who are fully complying with the rules:
‘Universal Credit: different earning patterns and your payments’, retrieved 05/02/20
- While claimants may be informed their UC has been stopped in their monthly statement, the requirement to deal with the consequences is laid squarely upon them. Neither their employment status nor level of earnings may have changed, and yet the amount of benefit they receive can fluctuate wildly – causing at the very least unnecessary stress, and in many cases significant financial problems.
- The first screenshot (paragraph 2) confirms that HMRC is in possession of information that for any period can absolutely confirm that people’s circumstances have not changed. The second and third screenshots, however, show DWP acting as if that information is unavailable to DWP – thereby placing undue burden on claimants.
Information given to claimants, and MPs; ‘short form’ vs ‘long form’ statements
- DWP currently provides what could be termed a ‘short form’ statement, which tells claimants the information DWP generally thinks they should know – like the summary information on your credit card bill. Following the first ‘Computer Says No!’ report from the Child Poverty Action Group, we note DWP added some additional information to the normal statements; this is still not enough.
- What is missing – but what could certainly be produced – is a ‘long form’ statement that tells claimants everything they need to know, especially in those areas where DWP thinks the numbers don’t apply.
- For example: if you have children, you would need to know that your ‘short form’ statement from DWP should contain a child benefit section – otherwise you simply won’t know that it is missing, in cases where it is. In such cases, the ‘long form’ statement would include a section that stated “zero children”; a fact which could be queried. In effect, the ‘long form’ should include all of the information which MPs and claimant support organisations routinely have to ask DWP to provide.
- I briefly covered part of this in my evidence, but include our full answer here for context:
- DWP always chooses what to automate, and hides most of those choices. For example, the Department loses a massive number of cases about disability benefits in tribunal; the cost in stress and misery to claimants in these cases is enormous. In passing judgement, many tribunal judges tell DWP it should not reassess claimants for some time period, often 3 years. When DWP processes the tribunal’s findings, it could therefore enter a ‘not-before’ date for the claimant’s next assessment; but it doesn’t.
- What DWP does is roughly as follows: first, it puts the tribunal findings into the claimant’s file. A few months later, DWP’s automated systems decide it is time to haul that person who is already confirmed to be sick, and often vulnerable, back through the assessment system; sending out a reassessment notice automatically, as if the tribunal had never decided anything.
- The first time that a human being looks at the case file again is usually only a few hours before the assessment; they do so, discover the tribunal findings, and then cancel the assessment as unnecessary – after the claimant, and often their care team, have already had to undergo a massive amount of work and stress to prepare.
- DWP chose to automate the sending out of notices for (re)assessment before it automated the step to check whether the recipient should be called for assessment at all. In fact, it appears not to have bothered to automate that check – thus perpetuating the problem, causing undue stress to claimants who are more vulnerable by definition, and ignoring the tribunal judges’ intent. The correct answer here is actually more and better (thought through) automation, not less.
- medConfidential’s approach is to look at whole systems and I chose this story for a simple, illustrative reason – for, as with HMRC and the information gathered by the PAYE system, DWP is not the only entity involved that has agency in the situation.
- Should DWP refuse to change anything about its reassessment processes, for example, the Committee could choose to write to the Tribunal with a request that judges in tribunals consider slightly modifying their template text for judgments; DWP could be told that a claimant should not be called for assessment for 5 years – or whatever period the judge chooses – rather than ‘not be assessed’. Such a requirement should result in more appropriate use of automation by DWP at the correct point in the process, and far less stress and harm to vulnerable claimants.