The Right First Time Project for three years has been battling with the botch and bury the blame approach taken by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Sadly the project is now at the end of its three year funding cycle and its time to reflect on its outcomes both policy changes and outcomes for individuals. Over the past three years the project has raised a total of £79,306.82 in both compensation and increased payments for clients. The project has also forced a local authority to re-house a family who had lost their home due to mal administration and most recently to admit whether those on Universal Credit (UC) in temporary accommodation are prevented from bidding. The Project has exposed problems around the Independent Case Examiner (ICE) investigation process; in which it takes a total of 65 weeks for a case to be investigated and the lack of ability to feedback systemic changes to the DWP. In this blog post I am going to outline some of the main achievements of the past three years. Whilst I can’t include all cases I have selected a few to emphasize what can be achieved through complaint.
Year one was about setting up the project. An early success was in forcing Independent Assessment Services to include information in their letter about home visiting and audio recording. Previously the only way that claimants could access this information was online discriminating against those who were unable to use a computer.
Influenced by our complaints a local Jobcentre were forced to introduce training for staff on alternative forms of ID to verify JSA claims. This was following an advisor erroneously not allowing a claimant to claim JSA because their passport had expired.
In the area of housing, gatekeeping has been a prevalent problem among local authorities. In a particular case a local authority worded a letter advising a tenant who was fleeing domestic violence to suggest that homeless applications had not been made since 2006. The Local Government Ombudsman upheld the complaint ruling that further correspondence should be amended to inform tenants that homeless applications can be made in any form.
In 2017 Universal Credit was becoming more prevalent across London Boroughs. At this stage the main people it affected were still single people with housing costs. In a particular case the DWP failed to apply correct right to reside regulations following an initial application. The DWP failed to consider whether the claimant’s parents had permanent right to reside. DWP accepted that they should have considered this and confirmed that they would train staff to consider all appropriate regulations.
Complaints can also make a big difference to individual claimants. In the case of a client who had been placed in emergency B&B accommodation out of the borough. The client lived in the property for two years. After a year of living in the property he was told that he would need to contribute to council tax as the property had been re-rated from business rates to council tax. I was able to establish that the council did not do enough to inform the tenants when the property was first re-rated causing a delay of six months before the tenant was notified. The Local Government Ombudsman ruled that part of the council tax arrears should be written off.
Through our complaints we have forced the DWP to admit what there procedure should be for ensuring that all eligible claimants claim the Severe Disability Premium. DWP admitted that if the relevant form is not returned, they should call the client and if still no response, send a visiting officer to assist them to complete the application form. We are all fully aware that this does not happen but it sets a precedent which can be used in the future.
In one other final case a local Jobcentre wrongly advised a client to make a claim for Universal Credit. The person was a Severe Disability Premium claimant and therefore following the Transitional Protection Managed Migration Regulations in January 2019 should have made a claim for Universal Credit. Following a complaint the DWP agreed to re-instate their claim for ESA up unit they made a claim for Universal Credit.
The above show the broad range of results that can be achieved through the complaint process. It is a useful tool in which to highlight problems, expose administrative problems and seek remedies for claimants. However it will need to be used in conjunction with other policy methods to exert pressure on government to bring about legislative changes. Making the DWP aware of the problem is half the battle, getting them to notice and change will always be a challenge.