Saturday, 24 December 2016

Universal Credit - the bureaucratic nightmare!

A mind at the end of its tether - claiming Univeral Credit
By Steve (Starlord) Fisher

Iain Duncan Smith promised that Universal Credit would 'make work pay' and make the transition into and out of paid work seamless. This has not been my experience here or elsewhere. The whole system is not fit for purpose - it is a bureaucratic nightmare! Weber's 'iron cage' of bureaucracy! The unemployed now needs the skills of a Philadelphia lawyer in order to negotiate the system.

As a self-employed consultant, I've been helping a client (who turned to me in desperation), to move from paid work back onto Universal Credit. He'd been working as a manual worker for six months and his contract came to an end. However, it has proved a bit of farce despite our doing everything correctly.

The same day his employment ended we contacted the DWP and I was happily surprised that his claim was still open. This made matters easier, or so we thought. It was my understanding that a UC claim is kept open for 6 months to facilitate movement in and out of paid work and unemployment. Any longer, and UC is automatically closed necessitating the making of a fresh claim. Apparently it can be longer, anything from 6 months up to a maximum of 8 months. It all depends on exactly when work begins and ends and where it falls within a UC monthly commencement or start-up period and end period. We thought this 'good fortune' would make it easier to make a claim. That, after all, is one of the avowed claims of UC, to make the transition in and out of paid work fluid and seamless. So we thought that was that, but the reality it couldn't have been further from the truth.

He signed-on for a couple of weeks and received a letter telling him that his UC claim had ended! We phoned the UC help-line only to be told, eventually, that they had indeed cancelled his claim, in error. His claim had 10 days before expiry, and so I speculated the most likely scenario was that his claim had been terminated, automatically, because the paperwork from Ashton Jobcentre did not reach the relevant department in time, ie within 10 days. The help-line agreed this was the most likely scenario. We were told they may be able to 'rebuild his claim'. They said he could make a complaint. As it turned-out there was nothing they could do and he would now have to make a fresh claim. But any such claim commences only from the moment it is made. What about the last few weeks then? That's why it is imperative that one make a fresh claim as soon as possible because it won't be backdated.

When he signed-on he was told he was due a payment, but what did this mean now it had been cancelled? He received an award payment of zero. I already knew he would not receive a payment until mid-January despite what he thought because the first 7 days don't count and it is paid 1 month in arrears making for a 5 week wait at best. But does this fresh claim include the last few weeks of a claim that never was, even while signing-on at Ashton Jobcentre?

We resigned ourselves to making a fresh UC claim and would have to wait and see how this farce worked-out.

So, on Tuesday 21st December 2016 we tried without success to make an online UC application. That's how it's done these days. I'd already heard about the online completion time limit. We had 20-40 minutes to complete it. Exceed this and everything's lost. One must start again playing the UC version of 'snakes and ladders'. There is no option to save and return later as with other online systems.

The online form is a poor-mans version of a HMRC Tax Return. Very poorly designed, with poor 'error-handling'. It's almost as if it's been designed to fail, to put people off making an application in the first place, and even when one does try it often fails for other reasons. The software is very fragile. But how typical was our experience?

We had no trouble finishing within the time limit. However, we ran into a different but related problem. We were well prepared and had almost finished. We were just entering banking details when the bloody system crashed, telling us to try again later or continue with the current application. However, there is no way to continue. One is forced to abandon the current attempt and start again, but even that's not easy. We tried again only to be told a claim was already in process, that we would have wait 20 minutes for the current application to expire or continue with it, but as said this was not possible. So we had to twiddle our thumbs for 20 minutes and begin again just like poor old Michael Finnegan. This time we were moving at speed knowing exactly what to do only to find it failed within minutes returning us to the beginning yet again. Yet another 20 minutes of thumb twiddling. I tried again but we were getting nowhere fast. I suggested we try again tomorrow when we could phone the UC help-line if this happened again.

So on Wednesday 22nd December 2016 we tried again. Immediately we started we were told a claim was already in process and we would have to wait 20 minutes before we could continue, but I'd not done anything yet. I telephoned the DWP UC help-line and was told they'd been having problems yesterday. That explained that. Now the excuse, was that they were updating the system starting this afternoon at 16:00, with only minutes to go! The DWP officer thought we may have difficulty and it would be best to leave it to another day. However, I thought lets give it one more try and finally, success! I told my client to include all of these difficulties as part of his efforts to find work. However, one cannot save a copy. One does not get a receipt number or get an email confirmation. My client is told that he can expect a phonecall within 2 days to make an appointment at the Jobcentre. Of course, he's already done all of this!

My client has now been told that he's got a Jobcentre appointment for his UC claim and can expect his first payment at the beginning of February 2017, having started his claim on 30 November 2015, over two months ago. He is now in rent arrears and has been given his first a food-bank voucher  from his landlord. He now faces a gloomy Christmas, with no money, and wonders what was the point of taking temporary paid work, when all it does screws up your benefit claim and leaves you facing hardhip.  God help us, if this is what the government calls simplyfying things.

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