Nikki Bond, Senior Research Officer, Money and Mental Health
The Universal Credit Help to Claim services is changing - here's how it could affect people with mental health problems
7 January 2022
Universal Credit (UC) is a financial lifeline for around six million people in the UK. This number is only going to grow, because earlier this month the DWP resumed their programme of moving everyone over from old-style benefits onto UC, with the aim of completing this by the end of 2024. Supporting people to access UC and make a claim is crucial in this context. Therefore, it is extremely disappointing that the government announced that the Help to Claim service, which supports people to make and manage a new UC claim, will only be provided through telephone and digital channels from April 2022.
It is welcome that the government has committed to continuing to fund Citizens Advice to deliver the service, which has supported 100,000’s of people to access UC. But changes in the new contract mean that from April 2022, the service will only be provided through telephone and digital channels, with people no longer able to access the service face to face. This narrowing of delivery channels risks some of those with the most complex needs, including mental health problems, falling through the gaps.
Setting people up with the skills to manage their claim beyond their first payment
UC is a complex system that can be tricky to navigate. Common symptoms of mental health problems, such as difficulties understanding and processing information, memory problems, reduced concentration or difficulties with clarity of thought, can make engaging with the system even harder.
The Help to Claim service supports people to make a claim until they receive their first payment. But the challenges of maintaining a UC account do not end here. People are expected to continually navigate the system, respond to notifications and complete tasks for all the time they’re claiming UC. Failure to do so, can result in sanctions and in some cases lost or missed payments.
The Help to Claim service is crucial in supporting people to navigate the complexities of the UC system and setting them up with the skills and knowledge to maintain the claims. However, narrowing down the ways in which people can access the service poses a real risk that people with the most complex needs, including those with mental health problems, will be left to struggle. Many will be unable to access a remote service, and therefore will not get the support they need to make a claim. In addition, remote delivery of the service also reduces the opportunities for advisors to identify people who may struggle with the skills, knowledge and capabilities to manage their ongoing claim.
Falling through the gaps
Difficulties navigating the system mean that many people with mental health problems already turn to family and friends for support. Over half (57%) of survey respondents in receipt of UC said they have needed help from family or friends to manage their account, and more than one in four (27%) always or often needed help.
Yet needless flaws in the Universal Credit system make it too hard for people to nominate someone to help them. The system sets people up to fail when they need support. That’s why last year, we launched our Set Up To Fail campaign, calling on the government to make it easier for people to get help to manage their UC account, by making it easier for people to give permissions for a family or friend to help them with the UC system. While we’re aware that work is underway in the department to explore this, progress is slow.
The removal of face-to-face delivery of the Help to Claim service poses a real risk that people with the most complex needs will not be set up with the skills required to maintain their claim, and that more people will need to turn to loved ones for support. Therefore, it is more important than ever that people in receipt of UC are able to quickly and efficiently give permission to family and friends to support them with their account, if we are to avoid more people with mental health problems falling through the cracks.
Our Set Up To Fail campaign calls on the government to make small changes to the system to make it much easier for people to get help from loved ones.