Making it easier for people to get help with Universal Credit

Money and Mental Health take us through their latest research 'Set Up To Fail'

Woman with brown hair wearing orange top. Her name is Nicola and she wrote this blog

Nicola Bond - Senior Research Officer, Money and Mental Health

Earlier this month, we at Money and Mental Health launched our latest report, Set up to fail at the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute. This research looked at the difficulties people with mental health problems face in getting help from family or friends to manage their UC (Universal Credit) account. As an independent charity committed to breaking the link between financial difficulty and mental health problems, ensuring the state's safety net is accessible to the people who rely on it is central to our work.

 

Our research, which Lloyds Bank Foundation kindly sponsored, identifies the challenges people with mental health problems face in getting support to maintain their UC claim. These problems often stem from difficulties authorising another person to assist you within the UC system, rather than a lack of appropriate or available support networks. To resolve this we launched a new campaign, calling on the government to make it easier for people to get the help they need to maintain their UC claim.

Keeping up with requirements to maintain a claim 

Under UC people have to do more to maintain their claim than they did under legacy benefits, such as Jobseekers Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance. UC claimants are expected to liaise with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) via the digital system: complete tasks set in their ‘to-do list’, as well as raise queries and respond to notifications via the online journal. This all needs to be done within strict timeframes.

 

However, symptoms of mental health problems, including depleted energy levels and motivation, reduced concentration or difficulties understanding and processing complex information, can impact people’s ability to keep up with these increased responsibilities. The consequence of not successfully keeping up with tasks in the UC system can be enormous; people risk cuts to benefits and, in some cases, losing entitlements altogether.

 

Our research with over 230 people with mental health problems who had claimed UC, found that people experienced specific pain points in the UC system. One in three survey respondents found it difficult to understand tasks set in their to-do list. Half found it difficult to raise queries or questions online, and only one in four found it easy to understand which changes in circumstances they were required to notify the DWP about. These are routine tasks that UC claimants must regularly navigate to maintain their claim - but many people with mental health problems are struggling to complete them.

“If you don’t keep up with UC online they will shut your claim down.“ Expert by experience

Report cover of a man and lady sitting on a blue coach on opposit ends of the sofa. the man is holding a laptop and this is the front cover for the Set Up To Fail research

Set up to fail

Faced with these challenges people with mental health problems often rely on family and friends for support. Almost six out of ten survey participants said they had needed support from family or friends to manage their UC account, and just under half of those always or often needed help.

 

There is an army of willing family, friends and carers who want to help their loved ones maintain their benefit entitlements, but complicated processes in the system make it hard for claimants to authorise people to help them. Our research found four key problems that make this difficult:

  • Claimants don’t always know about different ways they can delegate permissions to a third party
  • There is a lack of signposting to let claimants know specifically where to record third party consent
  • There are no prompts to support claimants to provide the precise information required to delegate permissions successfully
  • People are required to provide consent repeatedly.

“Dealing with them [the DWP} has sent my anxiety through the roof, they have authority to speak to my partner but insist on speaking to me every time they call.' Expert by experience

Only one in ten people surveyed had successfully navigated the process to get regular help with maintaining their claim. Instead, almost half of those who had needed help had bypassed the arduous system by sharing personal login details and passwords with family members or friends to get the help they needed.

 

Small changes can make a big difference

The current system for delegating consent is unwieldy and stands in the way of people getting the support they need from family and friends who are willing and able to help. We’re proposing three small changes which would make it easier to delegate consent online:

  1. Raise awareness of third party access options by proactively targeting vulnerable claimants via the existing Help to Claim service
  2. Offer clearer and more consistent prompts on the information required to successfully delegate consent including options around what information claimants want the DWP to share with their third party
  3. Introduce a drop-down menu with options for the duration of the consent. This could range from one day for a specific query to several months for people who may be acutely unwell and unable to manage their account.

 

With 1.3 million UC claimants experiencing significant mental distress, these changes are sorely needed if we are to ensure people with mental health problems do not suffer sanctions and lost entitlements due to difficulties getting help to maintain their claim. 

 

Sign our petition calling on government to fix the problems with the UC system which stop people from getting the help they need to maintain their claim.

 

You can read the full report, Set up to fail, here.