Katrina Gaffney, External Affairs Officer, Money and Mental Health

Carers are struggling to support loved ones with their Universal Credit claims

9 June 2021

“I have in the past been unable to speak to DWP as I am not the person making the claim. This resulted in my daughter not receiving her benefits and causing her distress.” – Carer

Carers play a hugely important role in supporting many people with mental health problems to claim benefits. But our new Set up to fail campaign highlights how design flaws in the Universal Credit system are making it almost impossible for carers to provide this vital support – leaving people with mental health problems at risk of sanctions, and causing great distress for both them and their carers.

This Carer’s Week, we want the government to take action to make it easier for carers to support people with managing their Universal Credit claim. We know the pandemic has put an unprecedented pressure on unpaid carers – they shouldn’t have to struggle with unnecessary bureaucracy too. You can join us in calling on the government to make these simple changes here and find out more about the issue below.

How the system makes it hard to get help

Common symptoms of mental health problems, including difficulties understanding complex information and short-term memory problems, can make it harder for people to maintain a Universal Credit claim. This means many rely on support from carers to help; in our survey of people with mental health problems who claimed Universal Credit over half (57%) said they have needed help from friends or family to manage Universal Credit.

However, both people with experience of mental health problems and carers told us how navigating the online process to grant someone permission to help is almost impossible. Almost half of people surveyed who need help with Universal Credit reported using informal workarounds, such as sharing login details and passwords – but this can put both claimant and carer at risk. Problems with the system which lead people to using these informal workarounds include:

  • The DWP doesn’t advertise that you can give permission for a carer to help with managing Universal Credit.
  • There is no information on how you can give permission for a carer to support you. To nominate a carer as a regular helper, the claimant needs to tell DWP details of every single task they might need help with, and every piece of information they want to share. This is extremely difficult to do without any prompts or guidance.
  • Theoretically people can also call the DWP to explain what help they need from a loved one, but this is not a viable option for the many people with mental health problems, who have severe difficulties using the telephone.

The financial and psychological cost of these problems

The complexity of this process means that people are often left struggling alone to maintain their Universal Credit claim – even when a carer wants to help them. This causes unnecessary distress for people who are already struggling with their mental health. It also can have huge consequences for people’s finances; without the support of carers to manage Universal Credit bureaucracy, many people with mental health problems are at risk of sanctions. Through our research, we also heard stories about people being cut off from Universal Credit entirely because they weren’t getting the support they needed:

“They stopped all benefits because my sister did not attend a meeting. But because they only notified her of the meeting through the UC portal, there was no way anyone would have known about it because she can no longer use a computer. I became aware when I noticed the payments stopped.” Carer

How can the DWP improve things for carers?

By making simple changes to the system the DWP can make it significantly easier for carers to support people with mental health problems with managing Universal Credit. The DWP should make it easier for people to nominate a carer to support them with their claim; offering clear prompts on the specific information required and introducing more options in drop-down menus would make a big difference. It is vital that the DWP acts now to improve the system – without these changes people with mental health problems and their carers will continue being set up to fail.