I’ve been ploughing through a long, complex but very worthwhile report from CPAG, which examines the effect of the digital administration of Universal Credit on the way that people experience the system. It focuses on the scheme’s serious deficiencies in transparency, procedural fairness and lawfulness.
First, there are the problems relating to claims. Thje system absolutely insists that people fill it in perfectly and in line with the expectations of administrators. It can’t cope with incomplete information, such as people not having a bank account, and doesn’t have the options the process needs for people to get round the blocks. Standard additions, exemptions and exceptions aren’t considered. The system can’t manage backdating or claims made in advance (for example, for someone leaving care).
Second, there is the problem of decisions. The DWP has sailed ahead regardless of the notices it is supposed to give or the need to fix problems that come from clearly incorrect assessments. The absurd pretensions of tracking income in ‘real time’ are still subject to wildly inconsistent arbitrary calculations based on calendar dates – the courts have repeatedly taken the DWP to task about this. There are widespread problems of claims being closed without due consideration, obstructing further action or the ability to revive and correct the details.
Third, there are the issues of communication: incomprehensible calculations, failure to inform people of their entitlements, and frequent failure to give the information required by law.
Fourth, there is the management of disputes. The process for “mandatory reconsideration”, itself a deliberate obstacle to access to justice, is protected by stonewalling, where DWP officials refuse to register requests or let claimants ask for redress.
It seems all too clear that, nearly thirteen years after the scheme was adopted, the many deficiencies of the computer programme have still not been sorted, and the benefit continues to fail in many major respects.