David Webster’s latest sanctions briefing will shortly be listed on the CPAG website. He comments that the transfer of single people to Universal Credit seems to be distorting the statistics.
The Universal Credit statistics have already marked a large discrepancy between the number of people receiving the benefit, and those who have claimed – 251,000 claims, but 141,000 current recipients. There’s no immediate way in that of distinguishing rejected claims, sanctions and disallowances, and terminations.
I’ve recently had the opportunity to observe the Universal Credit process in a Jobcentre, and I think there may be an anomaly in the process. The way it works is that people make an initial claim online, they go to the Jobcentre, and they’re told there what the conditions are. Then they have to wait – the payment date is 5-6 weeks after claim, and the Jobcentre interview is meant to happen very shortly after the claim, so by the time of the JCP interview they’ll probably have four or five weeks more to wait. After that point, JCP staff told me, a fair number of people disappear – they just don’t come back in, and JCP don’t know why. But there is no easy way to terminate a UC claim. The JCP officers aren’t expected – or permitted – to handle this. It’s left to claimants to inform the Service Centre by telephone if their circumstances change. If they don’t there’ll be warning letters, a sanctions procedure, possible disallowance and so on.
There are lots of things we don’t know here. How many people are put off by the waiting period? How many find work shortly after claiming? Are there people giving up claims they should carry on with while in work? Are there people who think that telling one DWP officer ought to be enough? There has to be a suspicion that the process of sanctions and disallowance is clocking up disallowances in cases where conditionality is not the issue at all. If that’s happening, it’s an own goal for the DWP, because the UC figures may look worse than they should.