Worst audit report for the Department for Work and Pensions in 33 years

A damning loss of control of Universal Credit payments has meant that the Department for Work and Pensions has received a drubbing from the ministry’s auditors, the National Audit Office, and led to its accounts being qualified for 33rd year in succession.

While the ministry has been praised for its swift response to the pandemic by uplifting Universal Credit by £20 a week and coping with a doubling of people on the benefit, the grim costs to the ministry’s finances are revealed in its annual report.

Overpayments on Universal Credit have skyrocketed, criminal gangs have targeted business payments and the ministry has had to set aside £1 billion to pay 132,000 pensioners who have been underpaid their pensions for up to 30 years.

A new problem of identity theft of some 5000 claimants has also hit Universal Credit leaving some claimants losing benefit for weeks.

Overpayments hit record £8.3 billion

DWP estimates it overpaid £8.3 billion of the £111.4 billion that it spent on benefits in 2020-21, an increase of £3.8 billion on the previous year. The rate of overpayments increased from 4.4% in 2019-20 to 7.5% in 2020-21. Nearly all of the increase in fraud and error was on Universal Credit. DWP estimates it overpaid £5.5 billion of Universal Credit (14.5%) and underpaid £540 million (1.4%).

The NAO reports: “DWP has identified four key fraud and error risks within Universal Credit that it needs to tackle, as they are the largest causes of fraud and error. It is looking to improve controls over incorrectly reported self-employment earnings, savings, living arrangements and housing costs. It has also identified several organised criminal attacks during the pandemic, with fraudsters targeting Universal Credit in particular and making claims in other people’s names.

The Department is owed £5 billion of overpayments, placing additional strain on its resources and potentially causing uncertainty and hardship to claimants. It is not sure how much of its estimated loss of £8.4 billion in 2020-21 it will recover, as it has attempted to recover only 10% of the estimated loss in the last 5 years.”

The ministry is now having to bring in more staff to sort out the fraudulent claims and a criminal investigation has been launched.

On the underpayment of pensions the ministry has promised to pay the people by the end of next year.

Gareth Davies, NAO head ” fraud and error at record levels”

The NAO report says: “The Department commissioned a root cause analysis to understand the cause of these underpayments. This analysis identified a range of process and control issues including poor staff training, instructions and quality review that led to the underpayments. These issues have also affected the Department’s initial work to quantify and rectify errors. The Department has asked the Government Internal Audit Agency to review State Pension legislation to ensure there are no further entitlements that may be underpaid.”

“The impact of this underpayment on the individual pensioners is significant, and it is vital the Department learns lessons to avoid systemic underpayments in the future and correct past underpayments.”

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said:

“I am concerned that the level of fraud and error in the benefits system continues to increase year on year, now reaching its highest level since records began. This has a real impact on public funds and on those who face deductions to their income due to overpayments.

“I recognise that the pandemic and the resulting surge in the number of claimants has increased DWP’s exposure to fraud and error. It must now review all cases that could have been subject to fraud during this time, whilst continuing to progress our past recommendations on how to reduce fraud and error.”

Whitehall embarrassment: How the DWP took 16 months to respond to a MPs report that single mums were turning to “survival sex” because of Universal Credit

It was a subject of great embarrassment to officials at the Department for Work and Pensions. A prominent committee of Mps then chaired by the Independent MP, Frank Field, decided to hold an inquiry into why people having to wait five weeks to get their first Universal Credit payment were turning to offer sexual services to men to make ends meet.

That is not the sort of news that people responsible for the ministry’s flagship benefit wanted to hear. So they sent what MPs called a “defensive, dismissive and trite” submission. Instead of wanting to know why this might be happening the officials immediately tried to dismiss the idea.

As the MPs say: “The Department’s first written response to our inquiry addressed the narrow question of whether there is a “direct causative link” between Universal Credit and “prostitution”. The Department displayed little interest in either the lived experience of claimants or the expertise of frontline support organisations.” Indeed, officials tried to blame everything but the benefit, citing drug addiction, the rise of AirBnB, even EU immigration.

Then matters took an unexpected turn. Will Quince, the junior minister for family support and benefit delivery took against his officials. As the report said: the committee held “an evidence panel in private with B, K, M and T: four women who are, or have been, involved in survival sex or sex work.”

“Given our concerns about the Department’s engagement with our inquiry, we invited the Minister for Family Support, Housing and Child Maintenance, Will Quince MP (the Minister), to attend our private panel with B, K, M and T. We hoped that hearing directly from people with lived experience of the relationships between sex work, “survival sex” and UC would help the Department to better understand the issues.”

The evidence was graphic:”I am about to be moved on to Universal Credit. I will lose £200 a month, approximately […] The thought of going into debt and having no money is really frightening. I have children. I can’t do that. I will sell my body. – K”

“I am about to be moved on to Universal Credit. I will lose £200 a month. The thought of going into debt and having no money is frightening I will sell my body”

“I didn’t go out looking for it, I said no at first. It wasn’t until about three weeks later
that I said ‘OK, yeah,’ because I thought I need to, because I need money […] It was
during the eight weeks that I was waiting to get the Universal Credit. I couldn’t wait
eight weeks for money. I just couldn’t. – Julie”

Will quince MP and DWP minister: Pic credit: willquince.com

It changed the minister’s mind and he wrote a letter to the committee apologising for his official’s submission, He wrote a letter to the committee praising the bravery of the people who came forward and in evidence later made it clear that he disagreed with his officials submission. The submission was revised.

The report came out in October 2019 and it proposed some practical ways to change the situation – particularly ending the now 5 week delay before people can get any money. The ministry has tweaked the rules and allowed people to take out loans which they have to start paying back after three months and they are reducing the maximum amount each month that has to be repaid. But the ministry will not budge over the wait. Fast forward 16 months and the ministry have finally replied to the MPs now with a new chair, Labour MP Stephen Timms. Earlier this week he commented: “The experiences of survival sex heard by the last committee act as a reminder of the hugely damaging impact that the wait for a first Universal Credit payment has been having on so many for so long. The Government’s latest rejection of constructive proposals for cutting the five week wait goes down as another wasted opportunity to rectify the harm it is causing to many vulnerable people.”

The reply, in my view, also tried to evade the issue. They have written a new guide. As their response said:

“The Department has developed a new Universal Credit Detailed Help and Support Guide for stakeholders, partners and support organisations to help vulnerable claimants get the financial and practical support they need, including helping them to make a claim for Universal Credit.

The new guide has been drafted and designed by working in collaboration with key stakeholders, including organisations who provide support and other areas where further detailed information is deemed beneficial.”

New DWP guide still not published

Unfortunately it is still to be published. On the specific issue the response said:

“Our Work Coaches are trained to encourage disclosure in the most complex and sensitive
of situations. This includes domestic abuse, modern slavery and immigration concerns.
We deliver this type of support daily across our jobcentres.”..The acts of buying and selling sex are not in themselves illegal in England and Wales. However, there are many activities that can be associated with prostitution which constitute offences.”

It goes on to talk about modern slavery and sex trafficking which are serious issues. But I feel it still doesn’t address the main point – the problem people have feeding their family while they wait five weeks for their first payment. My feeling is that the officials are still embarrassed by these revelations. The women involved are not slaves nor are they being used as sex traffickers – they are desperate for money and this is an extreme example of what happens when they are. It brings it back to the very issue officials won’t talk about – the structure of Universal Credit.

How the ” emotionally attached ” architect of Universal Credit will now be its chief DWP scrutineer

Dr Stephen Brien: The architect of Universal Credit. Pic credit: BBC

Self declared non politically active appointee turns out to be one of Iain Duncan Smith’s close advisers

A very important quango appointment has been made by the Conservative government which could affect the treatment of millions of benefit claimants -especially the huge number on Universal Credit.

It is to a fairly obscure body known as the Social Security Advisory Committee – which provides impartial advice on social security. It scrutinises most of the complex secondary legislation that underpins the social security system.

Put it more simply, its advice will influence how the DWP treats millions of poor, disabled, jobless people who are living on the breadline. It will cover a period when the government plans to to claw back money after the huge spending splurge to combat Covid-19.

The appointment is for the chair of the body and it has gone to Dr. Stephen Brien, a man who is publicly credited as the architect of one of the country’s most hated benefits, Universal Credit.

He will now lead until 2024 a committee of people who will both comment on future benefit changes and do independent research on the effects of the benefits system on the poor. The membership of the committee includes Seyi Obakin, Chief Executive of the homeless charity Centrepoint: Phil Jones,Director, The Prince’s Trust Cymru and Liz Sayce, board member of the Care Quality Commission.

Charlotte Pickles.Pic credit: Conservative Home

But Therese Coffey, the secretary of state for works and pensions, has also recently appointed Charlotte Pickles, director of the “non partisan” think tank, Reform and former adviser to Iain Duncan Smith, who piloted Universal Credit. She wrote an article for Conservative Home calling for the abolition of child benefit for millions of people and taxing the Disability Living Allowance. Read it here.

The appointment process for Dr Brien was marred from the start. The works and pensions committee was never informed of the recruitment process which is a breach of Cabinet Office guidelines as the appointment has to be scrutinised by Parliament. They learnt about it after a member of the committee staff spotted it.

This led to an exchange of correspondence between Stephen Timms, the committee’s Labour chairman and Therese Coffey. It is reproduced here.

Not only did Mr Timms complain about the omission but also some subtle change in the wording of the job specification. The 2018 wording asked for ” strong leadership qualities”. The 2020 specification is ” measured and balanced leadership qualities”. Similarly the words ” independent” has been dropped in favour of “impartial”.

Therese Coffey defended the change in wording to reflect the future strategic direction of the organisation and that she wanted ” to strengthen relationships” between ministers and shareholders. She admits she was embarrassed by the omission but can’t bring herself to apologise. It took an earlier letter from Mr Timms to Baroness Stedman-Scott, Lords minister for work and pensions to give her ” sincere apologies”.

The appointment process looked fair – though the small number of applicants -12- were overwhelmingly white with just one disabled person. Six were ruled out without an interview including the disabled person.

Six made the interview including one BAME person. Four were women and two men but only three were considered appointable.

The interviewing panel itself did include one BAME “fast track” woman , Tammy Fevrier, from the DWP Partnership Division.

Dr Brien’s appointment comes under the category of a ” non political ” one according to the code adopted by the Commissioner for Public Appointments. He declares himself :” I am not now and have never been politically active.”

Yet his CV is pretty questionable on this matter. As well as developing the idea for Universal Credit he was on the board of Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice from 2008-11 and 2013-19. This is where he developed the idea of Universal Credit and this is the body that wants to deprive people in their late 60s and early 70s of a state pension by raising the age to 75.

Official Commons portrait of Sir Iain Duncan Smith

On top of this he was a special expert adviser to Iain Duncan Smith in the coalition government from 2010 to 2013 at the DWP where in his words he “Played a substantial role the DWP’s engagement with the Treasury and Office for Budget Responsibility to secure the financial settlement for the reform programme” and “Worked in partnership with the senior officials delivering the Universal Credit”.

This was the time the Treasury insisted on speeding up the rise in the pension age to 66, refused to introduce national insurance auto-credits for women born in the 1950s while keeping them for men and imposed other welfare cuts.

And guess what Charlotte Pickles – also just appointed to SSAC- started her policy career at the Centre for Social Justice and then went on be the expert special adviser to Iain Duncan Smith at the DWP.

Critical friend

MPs did question Dr Brien thoroughly at the appointment hearing – with both Labour MPs Stephen McCabe and Debbie Abrahams pushing him on disabled people’s deaths and whether he was emotionally attached to Universal Credit. See here.

Dr Brien’s mantra was he would be impartial and he kept repeating he will be a ” critical friend” of the ministry.

I wonder. It depends on the balance of being friendly and critical. Either he will use his knowledge- he claims to be passionate about social security since he was 19- to try and make the new system work better. Or will he be part of the new Chumocracy – which takes in everyone from Dominic Cummings, the PM’s adviser and Michael Gove to Rishi Sunak – and give a fair wind to new benefit cuts no doubt with the approval of Charlotte Pickles.

I did an article for Byline Times on how the Conservatives through a former Vote Leave adviser are trying to pack quango appointments with Brexit inclined Tories – though it is not clear whether this is one of them.

I shall be watching. He can start with something he did promise to MPs over transparency. The minutes of SSAC should be public. They have not been published for over a year which is a disgrace. Let’s see how he gets on with this first.

Revealed: Dramatic rise in benefit and disability claims from women born in the 1950s

Disclosure undermines ministry claim of no link between poverty and bad health and loss of state pension

DWP case undermined by new figures


Days after the Court of Appeal rejected the judicial review brought by the BackTo60 campaigners the House of Commons library produced a set of previously undisclosed figures showing huge leaps in the numbers of 50sborn women claiming universal credit[UC] or Jobseekers allowance[JSA] and employment and support allowance [ESA].

Claims for UC and JSA – which of course were non existent when the pension age was 60 – have gone up by an average of 382 per cent between 2013 and 2019. The figures are still relatively low (from 7582 to 36,531) but the trend is overwhelmingly upwards. It also excludes those who are battling on or using up savings rather than claim.

Claims for ESA – a difficult benefit to claim unless you are hospitalised and involving a 25 page questionnaire and work capacity assessment – have soared by 185 percent – to reach 205,385 -over the same six year period.

The figures are bound to be a huge underestimate as they take no account of the rule change that allowed people to claim the benefits if they had to stay at home because of Covid 19 this year. But they do allow a direct comparison during the period when the only big material change for this group of women was the loss of their state pension.

The disclosure of these figures -obviously not available at the time of the hearing – does undermine the forceful case made by Sir James Eadie, QC, who represented the Department of Work and Pensions, that any poverty or ill health suffered by these women could not be linked to the rise in the pension age to 66.

They also back up the argument made by Mr Mansfield who is quoted in the judgement:
” It is not uncommon for women born in the 1950s to have contracted various ailments and health problems by the time they reach their early 60s, because of the environment they lived in during their early years.  He said further that it is common for women in this age group to be living in straitened circumstances particularly if they are now single, with part time jobs at best and working for low pay. 

” It is also very common for them to be caring for elderly and infirm parents.  He argued that the lack of state pension means that they have to resort to makeshift measures to make ends meet, selling their houses, using up their savings and cutting back on any non-essential spending so that they are not in a position to enjoy their retirement years.”

But the judges concluded: ” there is no sufficient causal link here between the withdrawal of the state pension from women in the age group 60 to 65 and the disadvantage caused to that group. 

” The fact that poorer people are likely to experience a more serious adverse effect from the withdrawal of the pension and that groups who have historically been the victims of discrimination in the workplace are more likely to be poor does not make it indirectly discriminatory to apply the same criterion for eligibility to everyone, if that criterion is not more difficult for the group with the protected characteristic to satisfy.”

The figures also provide a useful constituency by constituency breakdown – showing an unequal distribution of the misery caused by ill health and failure to get as job depending on where you live. The guide would provide a very useful campaigning tool if people wish to lobby their MP over the bad treatment of 50s born women over their loss of pensions – as they can quote the figures back at their MP.

These are some of the top increases and the names of the MPs who were elected at the last election.

Unemployment biggest percentage constituency rises

Knowsley 1388 pc rise from 8 to 119 George Howarth ( Lab)

Newcastle North 1347 pc rise from 6 to 88 Catherine McKinnell (Lab)

Morecombe and Lunesdale 1300 pc rise from 6 to 84 David Morris (Con)

Birmingham Yardley 1270 pc rise from 10 to 137 Jess Phillips (Lab)

Wells 1220 per cent rise from 5 to 66 James Heappey (Con)

Disabled and ESA biggest constituency percentage rises

Glasgow North East 315 pc rise from 214 to 889 Anne McLaughlin (SNP)

NE Hampshire 300 pc rise from 32 to 128 Ranil Jayawardena (Con)

Linlithgow and East Falkirk 292pc rise 149 to 584 Martyn Day (SNP)

Brecon and Radnorshire 292 pc rise from 77 to 302 Fay Jones (Con)

Leeds NE 291pc rise from 89 to348 Fabian Hamilton (Lab)

Glasgow SW 287pc rise from 205 to 794 Chris Stephens (SNP)

Interestingly Martyn Day is the one MP who challenged Boris Johnson about the court judgement at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.

The full report is available here. You need to download the table on working age benefits 2020 to get all the info on the big increases in payments. There is also an up to date breakdown of the numbers of 50sborn women living in individual constituencies.

So again we yet have another disclosure backing up the case for the 50swomen to get their pensions.

Universal Credit: Fear and Loathing for 2.9 million in the Poverty Trap

The government’s Universal Credit logo – the slogan is makes work pay. Pic Credit: gov.uk

Today the National Audit Office produces a timely report on the operation of Universal Credit and the impact on claimants of having to wait five weeks to get paid.

It comes when the numbers claiming the benefit has jumped from 2.9m to 6.1 million because of Covid 19.

The report investigates the plight of those needing to claim before Covid 19 struck and it paints a particularly bleak picture.

It is also relevant to the group of 1950s born women whose pension has been delayed from 60 to 66. As the Independent reported separately recently the rise of women making claims for such benefits – soared from 7,578 to 36,527 between 2013 and 2019 – and was almost three times more than men who are aged 60 and over.

Fear factor

What is alarming about the findings – which are an analysis by the NAO of the Department for Work and Pensions own figures – is that many of the people were too frightened to claim and delayed claiming for up to three months after they lost their job.

This damning point is raised in the report. It says:

“Our consultation with claimants and support organisations indicated
that a “fear factor” about Universal Credit is also likely to play a part in some people delaying a claim, or not claiming at all. This may result from people hearing about bad experiences from friends, family or the media, for example.
Some respondents told us they were worried about whether they would be able to cope during the wait.”

As a result the report says the DWP’s analysis of earning data ” found that almost half(49%) of households who claimed Universal Credit in the four years to mid-2018 had no earnings in the three months before they claimed the benefit.

Taking this into account and the additional five week wait to get the benefit this meant that many had to apply for advance payments to tide them over or go to food banks simply to get food to live which then had to be paid back by deducting it from the meagre universal credit they have to live on.

DWP headquarters in Westminster,London.

A particularly revealing table in the report puts together this bleak picture. It shows that an astonishing 80 per cent of all low income people starting to claim the benefit were in serious debt. Some 77 per cent had to rely on advance repayable payments. Another 34 per cent owed money to other government departments – often historic debts. And six per cent had third party debts,like unpaid council tax, child maintenance, rent and water arrears.

Nearly as badly off were claimants with a disabled child, disabled people and carers. Some 65 and 70 per cent had serious debts.

Now as the report shows this is against a dramatic improvement of paying the benefit on time from 55% in January 2017 to 90% in February 2020.

However, as the number of people claiming Universal Credit has grown, the number of people paid late has also increased from 113,000 in 2017 to 312,000 in 2019. In 2019 those new claimants who were paid late faced average delays of three weeks in addition to the five-week wait. Some 6% of households (105,000 new claims) waited around 11 weeks or more for full payment.

Universal Credit expansion delayed

The government has also limited the expansion of universal credit – delaying the final date of switching from other benefits from March 2023 to September 2024 at an extra cost of £1.4 billion to £4.6 billion.

Yet despite spending £39m to try and explain the new benefit to wary claimants the National Audit Office concludes the ministry has a communications problem.

Meg Hillier, chair of the Commons public accounts committee, said: ” too often the most vulnerable claimants still aren’t receiving the money they are entitled to when they need it most.”  

Stephen Timms, chair of the Commons work and pensions committee. Pic credit: Twitter

Stephen Timms, chair of the Commons work and pensions committee said:

“This hard-hitting report on Universal Credit from the National Audit Office confirms the Select Committee’s concern that that the five week wait for the first payment causes ‘financial hardship and debt’.

” It provides further evidence that the initial planning assumptions for Universal Credit were naive. We now know UC will cost an extra £1.4bn to the public purse.  It will take more than twice as long to roll out as originally planned.  Far from reducing fraud and error, Universal Credit is driving historic record high levels – more than £1 in every £10 paid through UC is incorrect”

Neil Couling director general Universal Credit

There is one man who has done rather well out of all this. He is “Mr Universal Credit” Neil Couling, who is in charge of the benefit at the DWP. According to the latest DWP accounts for 2019 he received a bonus of £15,000 on top of a salary of between £150,000 and £155,000 a year. He has got pension benefits worth a cool £80,000.

He will be appearing before the Commons work and pensions committee next Wednesday to explain how well he has handled the benefit for the 2.9 million claimants.

Bonuses for Universal Credit bosses as record benefit errors and fraud revealed at the Department for Work and Pensions

The annual report that reveals the damning failures of the ministry to keep a grip on benefit and error fraud and the high pay and pensions of the people running the Universal Credit programme

Benefit error and fraud has reached record levels at the Department for Work and Pensions and it is going to get worse, according to its own figures released in its annual report for the last financial year.

 For the 30th year running the National Audit Office has qualified the ministry’s £86.6 billion benefit accounts because it considers them to be inaccurate

The most damning section of the report is on Universal Credit – whose current and previous directors – have just received bonus payments up to £15,000 each for their work.

The full story is on byline here.

Revealed: The £200,000 food bank warehouse in Amber Rudd’s Hastings constituency caused by the Universal Credit debacle

amber rudd

Amber Rudd- former home secretary and MP for Hastings as the Universal Credit debacle rolls out in her constituency

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The  billion pound plus failure of the implementation of Universal Credit is rightly condemned by the National Audit Office in a report published today.

Aimed to save money, get everybody back to work, simplify a complex benefit system and to be easily implemented.  Instead it is going to cost more, is years behind schedule, discriminates against disabled and poorly educated people, and the government has plans to force the elderly not entitled to a pension to have to use it when it  changes entitlement to pension credit ( see my earlier blog here)

But it is also having appalling consequences for food banks, landlords, council and housing association tenants – as the example in Amber Rudd’s constituency ( details down below show).

In the meantime ministers today were patting themselves on the back today how successful it is while senior civil servants behind  it were awarded  bonuses worth up to £20,000 each for its botched introduction ( see an earlier blog  here and  an article in the Sunday Mirror).

The statistics are appalling. According to the NAO :

“In 2017, around one quarter (113,000) of new claims were not paid in full on time. Late payments were delayed on average by four weeks, but from January to October 2017, 40% of those affected by late payments waited in total around 11 weeks or more, and 20% waited almost five months. Despite improvements in payment timeliness, in March 2018 21% of new claimants did not receive their full entitlement on time with 13% receiving no payment on time.

The Department does not anticipate payment timeliness to improve significantly in 2018. On this basis, the NAO estimates that between 270,000 and 338,000 new claimants will not be paid in full at the end of their first assessment period throughout 2018. Those with more complex cases are more likely to be paid late.

The Department expected most claimants would have enough money to cope over the initial waiting period after their claim is submitted (previously six weeks, now five). In reality, nearly 60% of new claimants (around 56,000 a month) receive a Universal Credit advance to help them manage before receiving their first payment.But they have to pay it back which means deducting an average £43 a month from their benefit. 

But while the statistics are bad, the examples are worse.

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Hastings Foodbank

Appendix 5 of the report  reveals In  Amber Rudd’s Hastings  constituency for example, according to the NAO Hastings foodbank has increased its opening hours, needs around two tonnes of stock each week to meet demand, and is considering building more storage space, costing £200,000.”

Hastings Citizens Advice pays staff to deliver Universal Support delivered locally. It therefore needs to pay providers regardless of the number of people
that are referred for support. But its income from the Department is not guaranteed so it can’t plan

Hastings Citizens Advice is considering scaling back on what it does in order to cope with increased demand.

Similarly NHS Hastings and Rother Clinical Commissioning Group funds its local advisory services. But this takes time to identify and secure. This hampers the ability of organisations to employ high-quality advocates because of the uncertainty of future funding.

.Hastings and Rother Credit Union no longer accepts Universal Credit claimant because of the complications in dealing with the new benefit and the long time waiting for people to be paid it.

Other areas have also got problems.Landlords are carrying extra debt – Croydon’s rent
collection rate has fallen from 92% to 58%, and its bad debt provision has doubled to £8 million.
Sedgemoor Council  in County Durham reported an increasing unwillingness, even with social landlords, to take on low-income tenants or those claiming Universal Credit.

So the government has piled on misery upon misery for the claimants,. voluntary organisations, food banks, landlords, credit unions, local authorities and health services. Meanwhile ministers on excess of £100,000 a year go home to expensive houses, enjoy fine wines, expensive meals out and luxury holidays while boasting how they are helping the poor. Some sick joke. As Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said today:

“The Department has pushed ahead with Universal Credit in the face of a number of problems, but has shown a lack of regard in failing to understand the hardship faced by some claimants.

“The benefits that it set out to achieve through Universal Credit, such as increased employment and lower administration costs, are unlikely to be achieved, yet the Department has little realistic alternative but to continue with the programme and hopefully learn from past mistakes.”

 

Department for Work and Pensions postpones new nasty for poverty stricken pensioners until 2019

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Guy Opperman, pensions minster and MP for Hexham pic credit: guy opperman website

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The Department of Work and Pensions has put back harsh plans to change the rules for new claimants for pension credit from next June to sometime next year.

The decision not to implement savings that could lead to  tens of thousands of elderly people having to live on half the money paid out by pensioner credit is not motivated by a change of heart on a heartless measure.

It is because of incompetence and failure by the ministry itself to roll out another major benefit called universal credit – which replaces a whole series of benefits – on time. This was supposed to be nationwide by June this year. But the civil servants who planned it failed in their job – despite collecting bonuses worth £20,000 on top of six figure salaries for introducing the new benefit. You can read all about it in my blog last year here.

So now instead the benefit will not be rolled out across the country until the end of December 2018. The proposed timetable is here– and you can see which local area changes when.

Of course the department has not announced the delay to the new pension credit cuts until I contacted them to check the date. Rather like they forgot tell 3.9 million  women pensioners about the rise in the pension age until some 14 years later.

A spokesman told me:

“The timetable for the introduction of any policy changes will be determined by the roll out of universal credit – this change will not now be implemented this year.”

The measure as I reported earlier is particularly harsh if there is a big age difference between pensioner couples – with one say years younger than the other.

Previously the law said when the oldest person in a relationship reached pension age  they qualified for pension credit. Now it is being changed to the youngest person in the relationship reaching pension age. This means if there were a 10 year difference – the oldest person could get no pension credit payment until they were 76 – ten years after the raised retirement age. On person has told me of a 17 year difference – meaning one of them would wait until they were 83.

What is as shocking is the department’s disclosure to me on how the new system is planning to work. When it comes in they are proposing both people in a couple apply for universal credit when there is an age difference between the two- and only one is over 65. The change is devastating.

If you are on pension credit these are the rates (per week) for 2017 – 18 and the proposed rate for 2018-19

PENSION CREDIT
Standard minimum guarantee
single £159.35  rising to £163.00
couple £243.25   rising to £248.80
Additional amount for severe disability
single £62.45  rising to£64.30
couple (one qualifies) £62.45 rising to £64.30
couple (both qualify) £124.90 rising to  £28.60

But when you switch to Universal Credit these are the rates for 2018-19 per month:

Single claimant 25 and over £317.82
Joint claimants, either/both 25 and over £498.89

This means a couple instead of receiving £995.20 for 4 weeks would see their income halved to £498.89 a month until both of them were over, by then, 66.

Furthermore the younger person in the marriage will be subject to benefit sanctions if they fail to continually seek work. This would cut their benefit compared to pension credit by two thirds to just £313.82 a month.

Notice there are no new rates for universal credit for 2018-19 as the benefit is frozen unlike pensioner credit which rises in line with pensions. This in theory could mean the people deprived of pension credit could be forced to live on a frozen benefit for years and see their living standards fall every year.

The DWP is being generous enough to say they would not force a person over 65 to seek work and sanction them if they don’t succeed. Presumably even Mr Opperman, the pensions minister, would not want to be seen trying to force a 77 year old into a job while he or she waits for pension credit.

Frankly  this is an appalling situation and I hope Backto60 people take this up as well as demanding their pension and try and put pressure on MPs to tell the government not to go ahead next year. This is a real and sustained attack on the poorest pensioners in the country and ministers should be ashamed of thinking of implementing it.

 

 

 

The £20,000 benefit bonus rewards for the metropolitan elite at the Department of Work and Pensions

neil couling

Neil Couling – £145,000 a year

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Last week I had a story in the Sunday Mirror about top bonuses and pay rises for five of the most senior  and well paid civil servants at the Department of Work and Pensions over the last two years.

The information was published in the annual report and accounts  of the DWP released last month. These same accounts were qualified for the 29th year  running according to the the National Audit Office – because of fraud and error in payouts to claimants rendered them inaccurate and wrong.

 

 

Sir Robert Devereux pic credit Twitter

Sir Robert Devereux – £190,000 a year Pic credit : Twitter

The bonuses announcement came at the same time as 31 Labour MPs had called for a pause in the roll out of the ministry’s new Universal Credit  programme – which replaces five benefits – because of reported chaos in its administration leaving some claimants without money for up to six weeks. One of those 31 MPs, Kevan Jones, who represents Durham North said the bonuses were a ” reward for failure”.

He described them as “an insult to many of my constituents who are already living on the breadline. In my constituency they plan to introduce this in November which could leave thousands of people without money in the run up to Christmas.”

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Mayank Prakash £220,000 a year including £20,00 bonus Pic credit: DWP Digital

Within days of the publication of the story the FDA ( the First Division Association) which represents the top civil servants attacked the article in a report in Civil Service World.

Jawad Raza, FDA national officer for DWP, said officials should not be used as targets by political opponents of the system simply for doing their jobs.

“The suggestion that these civil servants have been ‘rewarded for failure’ shows a blatant disregard for the facts regarding their pay and

Jeremy Moore pic credit

jeremy moore – £135,000 plus £20,000 bonus

wilfully misrepresents the true complexity of their roles,” he said.

“Senior civil servants have delivered billions of pounds worth of savings since 2010 with an ever reducing workforce. These are highly skilled professionals working in challenging circumstances and they deserve to be adequately remunerated without having their names and faces spread across news pages.”

Sorry Jawad I think there is more to this.

The five civil servants are Sir Robert Devereux, permanent secretary at the Department of Work and Pensions; Neil

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Andrew Rhodes – £140,000 a year plus £15,000 bonus

Couling, director general of universal credit; Jeremy Moore, director of strategy; Mayank Prakash, director general of digital technology and Andrew Rhodes, director of operations have received between £10,000 and £20,000 each .They are nearly all paid more than Theresa May, the PM.

The bonuses were awarded for “ top performance “ and “ leadership “when the rest of Whitehall is limited to one per cent pay rises and many benefits have been frozen.

Sir Robert last year received up to £20,000 extra on a salary of up to £185,000 a year. This year he hasn’t received any bonus but his basic salary has moved to £190,000 a year.

Neil Couling, who is directly responsible for universal credit, got a bonus of up to £20,000 last year on a salary of £125,000 a year. This year instead of a bonus his salary has jumped by £20,000 to £145,000 a year.

Mayank Prakash, director of digital strategy has received a bonus of up to £20,000  this yearon top of salary of £200,000 taking his annual salary to £220,000 .

Jeremy Moore, director of strategy, has received bonuses two years running –  totalling up to £40,000 over the two years – taking his total salary to £155,000 a year.

Andrew Rhodes, director of operations has received a £10-15,000 bonus this year, taking his salary to £155,000 a year. He also claimed £37,600 in travel expenses.

The ministry insist that all these pay rises were decided objectively by line managers.

In a statement it said:

Line managers are required to make an evidence-based and objective assessment over whether objectives have been met, not met or exceeded. 

 Individual performance is assessed by the individual’s line manager through an appraisal discussion, with supporting evidence from a range of stakeholders.

But apart from Sir Robert – whose bonus was decided by Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary – the Department declined to say who these line managers are and which outside organisations and people recommended they should get bonuses. The bad news for the DWP is that Kevan Jones plans to table a Parliamentary Question next month to find out who.

Now the FDA has a point that compared to the top of the  private sector they are badly paid. A report put out by the House of Commons library revealed that the top 3000 bankers are ALL earning over £884,000 a year – which makes £20,000 sound small beer. But if anything that reflects that huge growth of inequality in Britain.

At other end of society how effective are these five top men ( note they are all men) in delivering what they are supposed to do. All are responsible in one way or another for the delivery of Universal Credit.

At present they are using Newcastle-upon-Tyne – to roll out the full effect of Universial Credit.

Catherine McKinnell , Labour MP for Newcastle North, said:“ My office has been deluged with complaints from constituents about a Universal Credit system that is clearly struggling to cope and failing to deliver the support that claimants need in anything like an orderly or timely fashion.”

Her debate can be read here.  Suffice to say it reveals a very sorry picture. The  new IT system means people can’t talk to a human. It has  a verification process that requires claimants to produce photographic identification such as a passport or driving licence, “which many simply do not possess and certainly cannot afford, even though some have been in receipt of benefits for several years.”

“I also have numerous examples of Universal Credit claims being shut down before they should be; of documentation being provided to the DWP, at the constituent’s cost, and repeatedly being lost or even destroyed; and of totally conflicting, often incorrect, information being provided to constituents about their claims.”

For a time the ministry effectively banned MPs from taking up cases by making impossible verification demands before they would talk about it.

What this shows to me is a growing disconnect between the people at the top – who are computer savvy, have nice centrally heated homes, no problems with bills, can afford expensive holidays, and can’t conceive of anyone not having a passport – designing a system for poor, dispossessed, desperate people without any understanding of how the world works for them.

It was this disconnect between the elite and the poor  in the USA that led to the rise of Donald Trump and I suspect this huge gulf between the Metropolitan elite – whom top Whitehall civil servants are part – and the provincial poor is in the end going to propel Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street.