Universal Credit problems have been called out by the Money and Mental Health charity today, as the organisation, which was founded and chaired by Martin Lewis, launched its “Set Up to Fail” campaign. This campaign calls for urgent action from the Government to help fix apparent flaws in the system.
These calls follow on from research which showed around 1.3 million people experiencing high levels of mental distress are currently receiving or applying for Universal Credit.
The charity’s research warned that without support, many people with common symptoms of mental health problems — such as difficulties understanding complex information and remembering appointments — struggle to deal with the ongoing admin and bureaucracy required to get Universal Credit payments.
Specifically, this includes filling in complex forms, dealing with correspondence from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and appealing decisions about their benefits.
The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute argued this in turn leaves people at risk of being sanctioned by the DWP, or being cut off from Universal Credit payments altogether.
Just over a quarter (27 percent) said they need that help always or often but despite this, only one in ten had managed to give permission for someone to help regularly.
The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute identified the following specific problems which make it hard for people to get help with Universal Credit:
- The DWP doesn’t advertise that people can give permission to a loved one to help manage their Universal Credit account, or what the process is to set that up through the Universal Credit website.
- To nominate a loved one as a regular helper, the claimant needs to tell DWP details of every single task they might need help with, and every piece of information they want to share, but without any prompts or guidance.
- In theory people can also call the DWP to explain what help they need from a loved one, but this is not a viable option for many people with mental health problems. Money and Mental Health’s research shows that more than half (54 percent) of UK adults who’ve had mental health problems say they have severe difficulties in using the phone, often leading to panic attacks, heart palpitations and spiralling anxiety.
The charity shared the troubling experience Gary, who took part in the research, went through.
He detailed: “In the last year I was made redundant after being with a company for more than 23 years, and all the stress and worry has just come to the surface.
“I found the process of managing Universal Credit just horrendous and tough to follow, nothing is ever explained to you. At the moment I find it tough to deal with people as it’s hard to talk.
“I can’t deal with the messages from the DWP myself, I need my wife’s help, but we can’t set it up for her to receive notifications about the account.
“We’ve filled all the forms in but it feels like a trap door assessment, if you answer something slightly wrong you fall through and that’s it, they’ll take the money away. It’s like the system’s designed to trip you up to fail.”
Martin Lewis concluded on these worrying findings.
He said: “It sounds like a scene from a spoof. People who are entitled to Universal Credit, sometimes due to mental health problems, which impact their ability to fill in forms or process complex information, are allowed to nominate someone to help them with the admin needed to keep receiving benefits. Yet to do that, they must go through a complex process which requires them to do the exact things they need help with in the first place. If they don’t manage it, they ultimately risk being sanctioned or losing all financial help.
“I don’t believe this is a deliberate attempt to set people up to fail. Yet that is the practical outcome for some. This is one Universal Credit problem the Government can easily fix, by providing people with the right advice on how to nominate a loved one to help them, and by making the process to do it much easier, simpler and user-friendly.
“And with more and more people likely to move on to Universal Credit when the furlough scheme ends in September, there is no time to waste. We’re calling on the Government to act now so that everyone can get the help they need with Universal Credit.”
The Set Up To Fail campaign is specifically calling on the Government: to simplify the process that people have to complete to get support from a loved one with Universal Credit by:
- Providing people with clearer advice on what information they need to share with the DWP to get support from a loved one, and the correct process for doing so through the Universal Credit website.
- Making this online process much more accessible and user-friendly, by adding prompts and drop down menus to guide people.
- Giving people more flexible options to share information about their Universal Credit account with loved ones – for example, the option to give a friend or relative view-only access to your Universal Credit account, or to allow loved ones to get notifications about your account.