The DWP has gone full passive-aggressive with Universal Credit

The DWP logo and Universal Credit
Steve Topple

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is once again in the firing line. This time, it’s over rules surrounding Universal Credit. The SNP has said the DWP and the government are trying to “lock people out” from their entitlements. But as is always the case, it’s claimants who will suffer the most.

The DWP: under fire again

As Welfare Weekly reported, SNP MSP Linda Fabiani has brought to light DWP rules about politicians acting on behalf of claimants. Currently, if someone is having trouble with the DWP and they go to their MP for help, the rule of “implicit consent” applies.

In layman’s terms, that means that the DWP assumes the claimant has legally agreed the MP can have access to their relevant personal data. The claimant doesn’t need to do anything. The rules let the MP automatically act on their behalf. This was put in place by former work and pensions secretary Damian Green in March 2017.

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But what Fabiani has highlighted is that the rules for MSPs are different. This process is called “explicit consent“. So, if claimants go to their MSP for help, they have to first go through data protection red tape. Only after that can the MSP support them.

‘Locking’ claimants out of Universal Credit

An SNP press release, reported on by Welfare Weekly and seen by The Canary, claims that the DWP:

requires claimants to sign a waiver form explaining why they have approached a politician for support – rather than going directly to the Job Centre [sic].

It also says that the DWP requires:

claimants to state exactly what they have discussed with their elected representative before information can be disclosed regarding an appeal.

The press release slammed the Conservatives for creating another “extension of the hostile environment” with the policy. It accused the DWP of creating a system designed to “lock people out” of getting their entitlements.

Fabiani is furious. She told The Canary:

Many of those who come to the MSP for assistance are at the end of their tether, with no income coming in. It’s ridiculous that barriers are put in the way of elected representatives trying to help.

The DWP says…

Meanwhile, the DWP told The Canary:

Before giving out sensitive and personal data about people’s benefit claims, we simply ask MSPs to prove that they have the claimant’s consent. This is a simple process for the safety of people’s personal data and it’s been in place since 2017.

It directed The Canary to a document which partly contradicts the SNP’s claims. It outlines rules surrounding “consent and disclosure”. DWP guidelines state claimants have to do the following to satisfy explicit consent:

  • “Give [the DWP] consent for their personal information to be disclosed”.
  • Say “what information they want to be disclosed”.
  • Also tell the DWP “why” they need the information.
  • Give “the name of the representative and the organisation”.

It says this can be done “using the [Universal Credit online] journal, face to face or by phone” and in writing. Also, it specifically states that:

Members of Scottish Parliament and assembly members in Wales can still represent claimants using explicit consent.

So, it seems the DWP does not officially require a waiver form to be filled out. Nor does the document say claimants have to tell the DWP what they’ve discussed with MSPs. But it does require claimants to say why they want it to give their personal data to them.

In reality…

But, according to Fabiani this is not what’s happening on the ground. She told The Canary:

We have been told locally that the rules covering ‘explicit consent’ have been changed and additional information is now required. Previously the claimant placing an entry on their journal or calling to confirm that we were acting on their behalf was enough. Not any more it seems. The whole system is flawed – the proof of that is the fact that over 50% of appeals are successful.

Moreover, the consequences of this are national. Implicit consent only covers MPs. Therefore, Welsh AMs and Northern Irish MLAs would be subject to the same rules as MSPs. Also, local councillors in all of the four nations would have to abide by explicit consent.

Plaid Cymru say…

Rhondda AM and former Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood told The Canary:

This has all the hallmarks of a deliberate Tory ploy to prevent people in desperate situations as a result of the pernicious Universal Credit system accessing the help they need. I’ve had many people come to my office in dire straits because they have nothing to live on because of unfair changes to the income they receive through the state. It can be absolutely heart-breaking, especially when kids are involved. Thankfully, we have been able to help many of these people get justice – and perhaps that is the problem for the Tories. They obviously don’t like the fact that so many people are exposing the many flaws in Universal Credit through successful appeals.

This change, making it harder for people to seek support – and indeed the whole Universal Credit system – needs to be kicked out if there is to be a shred of compassion and credibility from this UK Government.

DWP passive-aggressiveness

It seems right that politicians from the devolved parliaments should be able to help constituents in the same way MPs can. But with the DWP and Universal Credit, there’s apparently hoops they have to jump through before they can do so. What’s more, the fact that claimants must disclose to the DWP why they want their MSP/AM/MLA to get involved reeks of passive-aggressiveness. As one disabled person told The Canary:

Under what other circumstance would a victim be required to explain to their abuser why they’re trying to get help to stop the abuse?

The DWP needs to level up the rules for MPs and devolved politicians. Quickly. Because once again, claimants are the ones ultimately suffering.

Featured image via Disabled People Against Cuts and Wikimedia – UK government

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