Housing Systems: Combating poverty and sustaining tenancies.

Our FOIs: Universal Credit - Other
Below are a selection of FOIs we have, over the past few years, sent to the DWP with the answers
We hope you find these useful.

Just click on the FOI you are interested in to see the full question and the answer.

I have read on the Homeless Link website that Homeless Link has been in discussions with DWP who has confirmed that recent internal communications have been issued to Work Coaches to remind them that where a claimant is unable to open or manage a transactional account, DWP can pay Universal Credit into a Post Office card account. See here.
Please could you provide a copy of the internal communication that states this, so that where a Work Coach has forgotten this communication, they may be gently reminded.
By the way, I notice from a previous FOI I submitted about Post Office Card Accounts for those unable to open a bank account, (2513) that DWP had replied
"I can confirm that Universal Credit payment regulations have not changed and payment of Universal Credit can be made into a Post Office Card Account (POca).
We are pleased to report that changes to the online portal will include reference to POcas.
Early indications show that it should be possible to adapt our service in this way. In the interim, internal processes are in place to ensure that claimants who have a POca can claim Universal Credit. "
Just wondering if the change to the online portal includes changes to the online claim in Full?

Please find Universal Credit (UC) full service work coach guidance on post office accounts here.
In reference to your final question. I can confirm that some extra content changes made on the bank details screen have been released. This advises claimants who do not have bank account details to contact UC so we can help with their application.

Under "How are payments made?"
they say "Universal Credit is paid monthly. This must be paid into the bank, building society, Credit Union, or Post Office Card Account that is in the claimant’s name." and it doesn't mention exceptional circs.
but under "Advances"
they say "Only in exceptional circumstances if the claimant cannot open one of the above accounts can a Post Office Card account, be accepted for payment of Universal Credit." which sounds like this only applies to Advances, when it clearly doesn't.

We have asked for further clarification as the answer appears contradictory, and the guidance provided doesn't appear to be guidance for DWP work coaches as we had requested.

Click here to see the original.

Please could you give me information on:
a) the time allowed - before UC is suspended - for a UC Live service claimant to take steps to transfer to Full (Digital service) when the area they live in changes to Live service, and
b) the time allowed to do this once UC has been suspended, before the UC award is closed.

I note that the deposited paper states "Specific detailed guidance is available for both Service Centre and Jobcentre staff in offices that are transferring from Live Service to Full Service " so if this is available please could you provide it.

Universal Credit transfers activity starts in a Jobcentre on the date that a specific postcode area falls under Digital regulations.
For an individual claimant to transfer from the UC Live service to the Full (Digital service), activity begins when a Call to Action (CTA) letter is issued to them.
Once the CTA letter is issued, the claimant has 14 days to complete the following steps:
- create a full service online account, and declare their Full Service claim;
- book and attend an appointment and verify their identity;
- provide all the evidence to support their identity.

The process is slightly different depending on which conditionality group the claimant is in, and whether the claim is therefore dealt with at the Service Centre (SC) or in the Jobcentre (JC).

However, the steps to take and the time limits remain the same. This 14 day period can be extended at the discretion of the work coach / agent if there are specific circumstances – e.g. if additional support is required, or if an interview has been booked before the 14 day deadline to a date after it. The attached extracts from the SC / JC guidance illustrate the CTA process in each. A copy of the CTA letter is also attached.

If the claimant does not complete all the actions required by the relevant deadline, the Live service case is suspended due to non-compliance, as mentioned in the guidance. A suspension letter is issued to the claimant at that point – a copy of which is also attached. The claimant is then given a further 32 days to complete these actions. The reason for this is
because Universal Credit is paid calendar monthly, and 32 days is more than one calendar
month / assessment period.
If the claimant fully complies with the actions required in this extended period, their claim will then be transferred from live service to full service. If they still do not comply, their live service claim will be terminated, with a further letter issued.

Click here to see the original.

When a UC claimant in a Full service area wishes to make a journal entry they are presented with the following options to select –
- A Payment
- A Change
- An Appointment
- Details of work search
- Message for work coach
- Service Issues
- Benefit cap changes

I understand that, depending on the option selected, the information / question will go to different sections of the DWP.
What procedure is in place / guidance for DWP staff if they receive a question (or a notification) that should have gone to a different department?
And are there any guidelines on how long it should be before a claimant receives a reply?

The journal is a tool to help claimants and staff, keep a record of activities, store information and is a channel of communication.
A recent addition to the service allows claimants to select different categories when they want to raise a query via a journal. This enables Universal Credit (UC) staff to see what the query is about. This will then be allocated to the appropriate job role with a due date of the day the ‘to-do’ was created.
For example, claimants will be redirected to the correct part of the service when they try to report a change in their circumstances in the journal. This increases the chances of changes being reported correctly and on time and encourages self-service online.
As multiple types of enquiries or content may be raised within a claimant’s journal, different procedures and or guidance products may be referenced as appropriate. The category selected defines who* is notified of the enquiry (case manager or work coach).
*(if anyone - eg ‘Work search’ doesn't create a notification and ‘Change of circs’ re-directs the claimant to the 'Report a change' page).
However the ‘to-do’ can be viewed by either case manager or work coach, so the category doesn’t prevent other parties from being able to respond.
The agents then reply via the journal and can alert the claimant via sms or email that they need to log in.
If the enquiry was for another department they would say this in their response.
There is no target time for when claimants are responded to as it would depend upon the complexity of the request but the aim is to have them cleared within 5 days, often sooner.
Feedback is regularly received about how claimants have been categorising their queries and we have been monitoring response times and use of this new functionality. When we have gathered all the data we will decide whether further work is needed. As the service develops there will be an on-going review into the role the journal will play in communicating with claimants.

Click here to see the original FOI.

I understand that when DWP ring someone back on a mobile - for example if they are calling about a Universal Credit matter - that the DWP number will automatically come up as a withheld number.

This causes problems for people whose phones block withheld numbers, or people with mental health problems or chaotic lifestyles / debts who are wary of numbers from someone they do not know.

Could you please send me any documentation which explains why this decision was made and whether there is any possibility of such return calls NOT coming up as withheld numbers.

OR if DWP could arrange for "DWP" to come up on the phone - or some code which the claimant would be told about and could recognise. Is this possible? Has it been considered?

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) withholds its telephone numbers depending on where the call originates from. If an outbound call is made from one of our contact centres, a telephone number will be presented. When a member of the public calls these presentation numbers back, they will hear a pre-recorded message stating that DWP tried to call them. If the outbound call is made from outside our contact centres, for example from a benefit processing site, the number is withheld. The reason for this is that there is a risk that these telephone numbers could be used incorrectly, impacting on the Department’s ability to deliver its business efficiently, resulting in a poor customer service.

DWP has investigated the possibility of having “DWP” present when calling members of the public, however we have been informed by our telephony supplier that it is not technically possible to do so. We recognise that not all customers will answer withheld telephone numbers, or numbers that they do not recognise, so wherever possible we will send a SMS in advance or between attempts to advise the customer that we are trying to call them. We are also attempting to reduce the amount of outbound calls that we make, by enabling contact centre agents to resolve as many queries as possible when a customer calls us, however if a query is particularly complex and requires expert intervention we will have to arrange for someone to call them back. When call backs are arranged we always advise the customer when to expect our call, for example within the next 24 hours.

Click here to see the original FOI.

I understand that normally a UC claimant in digital service areas is expected to receive and send all communications digitally via their online account.
However some claimants will be unable to do this - for example if they have no online access or have run out of credit on their mobile phone.
Please could you send me any guidance for DWP staff on what they should do, in the digital service ("full" service) area-

a) when a claimant sends a letter to notify of a change in circs, or requests a variation in their claimant commitment, or asks a question

b) when a claimant uses the UC helpline to notify of a change in circs, or requests a variation in their claimant commitment, or asks a question

c) when a Work Coach or other DWP staff member is unable to contact the claimant digitally

d) when a Work Coach or other DWP staff member has sent information digitally to the claimant but receives no reply or the claimant has not acted on it

e) when a Work Coach or other DWP staff member is aware that the claimant has problems accessing the internet.

As part of their preparation for delivering Universal Credit full service, all DWP case managers and work coaches undertake learning specifically designed to help them provide support to claimants who are not able to self-serve using the online portal. This may include coaching the claimant in person or over the phone, or, where necessary, acting as an agent by proxy or arranging a home visit.
a) Upon receiving a letter, the work coach or agent will contact the claimant online or, where required, by phone or by letter to book a face to face meeting.
If the letter received asks a question, the work coach or agent will provide a response via the claimant’s online account, unless they specifically requested a telephone call or letter response.
b) The Service Centre agent will firstly make the claimant aware of the online functions.
If the claimant has access to their online account, the agent will talk the claimant through the process to do this.
If the claimant is unable or unwilling to action the change online, the agent will action the change on the telephone, they will explain to the claimant they must view details of the change on their online account and accept this.
c & d) If claimants cannot be contacted online, or do not respond to information sent, DWP staff will attempt to contact the claimant by phone or a letter will be sent.
If the claimant still doesn’t take the action needed, the claimant may be referred for a sanction.
e) Universal Credit claims are made online via www.gov.uk/apply-universalcredit.
If a claimant needs support to do this, help is available by the following
- telephone
- face to face support from a partner organisation
- in the office
- exceptionally, through a home visit

Click here to see the original FOI.

Would it be possible to see the new questions that job coaches will be using to check if a new Universal Credit claimant needs personal budgeting support and/or an Alternative Payment Arrangement? Or if not a list of questions, any guidance to job coaches as to how they do this?

We will be implementing the role of the work coach in identifying the budgeting support needs of Universal Credit claimants towards the end of the year. We have been developing the behavioural skills of our coaches so that they build trust and confidence with claimants to encourage them to open up about their ability to manage money and pay bills on time. Coaches will use the insight from recent trials to integrate suitable budgeting questions into the conversation that they feel are pertinent to the individual, so that they tease out the help needed and put this in place quickly e.g. they will phone the Local Authority to set up the support there and then.

Guidance here.

As part of their learning, work coaches are given a handout with examples of the types of questions they could use. For example,
Start by explaining how UC is different:

1. “Now, I’d like to talk to you about how Universal Credit is paid in a different way to other benefits. Universal Credit is paid monthly into your bank account. And if you are paying rent, we pay this as part of your single Universal Credit payment. You will then need to pay your landlord yourself. “Like you, lots of people are new to universal credit and we know that some may struggle with monthly payments and paying rent themselves for the first time”
2. “For many people these changes mean they will have to manage their day-to-day spending differently and may need some additional support to help them with this.”
3. “Are you paying rent?”
4. “Do you know how you will pay your rent this month?”
5. “Are you good with money? How would you cope with a monthly payment?”
6. “Are you keeping up with paying your bills? (This could include mobile phone bills) credit card or debt repayments or repaying any other money that you owe?”

If a representative (eg social landlord or support worker) sent in a signed letter of authority from their claimant, with all the appropriate wording, would this be accepted as authorisation or does it have to be on the DWP template letter of authority?

Written authority is necessary where implicit consent* cannot be established, or where a request for information is received in writing from a representative. Written, signed authority should be requested only when consent cannot be established by other means.

In these cases, we ask the representative to complete the ‘Authority to Disclose’ template**,
which the customer must sign. The representative should then post or fax the signed form to
the relevant DWP office; we can provide the correct address and/or fax number. Faxed
authorities and authorities containing electronic signatures including scanned documents are acceptable. Local Authority representatives should follow the agreed Security procedures for emailing forms to approved secure email addresses. As it is the terms set out in the consent that is important rather than the form itself, a written authority using the same wording would be acceptable as long as we can confirm that it has been completed by the person needing a representative.

Written authority does not last indefinitely in these cases, but covers a particular piece of
business. The authority to act should be treated as current for the whole process of a new
claim or change of circumstances, including any follow-up reconsideration process. A separate authority is required for an appeal, unless the existing authority specifically covers the appeals process.

Full response here.

*implicit consent is not accepted in digital full service areas
**Template not provided, can’t be found online so please see link to our website here