The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been branded “outrageous” for effectively trying to stop an MP from helping one of their constituents. But this policy change has been a long time in the making.
The DWP: shutting out MPs?
Labour and Co-op MP Kate Osamor has had problems helping a claimant. It boils down to the fact the DWP has changed its rules about disclosing claimants’ information to third parties.
Osamor realised the DWP change in policy on 14 September:
I have just tried to make representation for a constituents by
using DWP's new portal but was told that MP’s can no longer make direct representation for constituents. This is outrageous, how on earth will the most vulnerable seek their welfare rights before falling into debt!
— Kate Osamor🌹 || Labour & Co-op MP for Edmonton|| (@KateOsamor) September 14, 2018
Now, she has written to work and pensions secretary Esther McVey. Osamor said:
I recently attempted to make representations on behalf of a constituent in relation to her son’s Disability Living Allowance claim only to be told any request for personal information must now be made using a new online portal, due to GDPR [the new EU General Data Protection Regulation].
A representative from the DWP urged my office to encourage constituents to use this portal directly and emphasised that our own authority to act would not be accepted; instead, we are to use a ‘request form for third parties’ which could take over a month to process once received by the relevant department.
She said that this new policy was “simply not feasible” and would be “detrimental” to claimants; especially for those “already facing considerable hardship due to unreasonable delays in processing their claims”.
Today I have written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to convey my serious reservations with DWP new policy not to accept direct referrals from MPs. This process will be detrimental to the most vulnerable. #HostileEnvironment pic.twitter.com/UFQSRjoNII
— Kate Osamor🌹 || Labour & Co-op MP for Edmonton|| (@KateOsamor) September 21, 2018
But Osamor isn’t the first MP to spot the problem.
An ongoing issue?
SNP MP Alan Brown also raised a similar issue in a written question in June. He asked the DWP “for what reasons enquiries from [MPs] on universal credit will not be taken by telephone”. It did not give a reason.
But its solution? It said in response to another written question that Universal Credit claimants can, via their online account, give “explicit consent” for MPs to act on their behalf. It also said that MPs can work with DWP district managers “if there are urgent constituent cases that need attention”.
Essentially, claimants now have to give permission for anyone (including their MP) to act on their behalf. The DWP has been working on this policy since at least January 2017. It said then that claimants have to give “explicit consent” either online, by phone, or in person for third parties to act on their behalf.
Chaos and doublespeak?
But disability rights campaigner Gail Ward noted on Twitter that this system is causing chaos:
Implicit consent has to be given while claimant in room every single time a problem occurs and yes it causing chaos. You have to nominate person and wait for DWP approval of said person before they can act
— gail ward (@blueannoyed) September 16, 2018
Is the DWP just being super-cautious with claimant’s personal data? Or is it making it harder for MPs to help constituents? Either way, as Osamor says, the system needs to be “streamlined”. Because ultimately, it’s claimant’s that will end up suffering. But with its track record, the DWP probably won’t care.