Becca Stacey, Senior Research Officer, Money and Mental Health

Universal Credit: Why managed migration is failing people with mental health problems

22 May 2024

  • The government is moving people from certain legacy benefits to Universal Credit (UC) using a process called managed migration.
  • They previously said that people receiving Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) would not be migrated until 2028. Yet recent benefit proposals have brought this forward, with everyone now set to receive a request to move to UC by the end of 2025.
  • We are concerned that the current process, and a lack of support, will make it extremely difficult for people with mental health problems to move across and make a successful UC claim. This places them at risk of having their benefits cut off.
  • We want the government to take steps to make sure the managed migration process is both more accessible to, and supportive of, people with mental health problems.
  • We’re calling on the DWP to improve managed migration communications and support, and guarantee that they will not stop someone’s benefits until they have made a successful UC claim.

Since the government’s recently announced welfare reforms, there has been a lot of coverage of proposed changes to fit notes and Personal Independence Payment (PIP). As we outlined in a recent blog, if taken forward these changes could have a devastating impact on people with mental health problems. 

A less talked-about change was also announced: the speeding up of moving people on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) – many of whom will have mental health problems – onto Universal Credit (UC). This has the potential to be equally concerning for people with such conditions, especially in light of newly released figures showing how many people are failing to make a UC claim.

The context

Six legacy benefits are being replaced by UC. The government has been moving people from these legacy benefits onto UC through a process called managed migration. It originally said that people receiving just ESA – who arguably constitute those in the most vulnerable situations – wouldn’t be moved onto UC until 2028. But these timescales have shifted in the recently announced welfare reforms, with everyone now set to receive a request to move to UC by the end of 2025. 

Many people receiving ESA will face significant challenges navigating the migration process as a result of their mental health problem. Of those we surveyed with such conditions who had already migrated to UC, two-thirds found it difficult to complete at least one task involved in making a claim. Despite calls to improve the managed migration process ahead of moving those on ESA across, a recent report from the Public Accounts Committee clearly demonstrates how little progress has been made.

A lack of support

People are unable to get the support they need. Our research has shown that when people with mental health problems are going through the managed migration process, only two in ten know where to access help with this. While the DWP signposts to support in migration notices, this approach is insufficient for many people with mental health problems. Difficulties with motivation, memory or self-advocacy can mean that people struggle to reach out to sources of support even when provided with information and contact details.

There are also limits to how effective the support on offer is for people with mental health problems. Help to Claim, the main service available to assist people, is an online or telephone-only service. We know that people with mental health problems can struggle to engage with remote advice, and can therefore struggle to access this service. 

To make matters worse, the UC system makes it especially hard for people to get informal support with managed migration from friends, family or loved ones. For many moving from legacy benefits, it will be the first time they have to navigate UC’s explicit consent model, which requires someone to delegate ‘explicit consent’ to a third party so they can liaise with the DWP on their behalf. The process for doing this can be prohibitively difficult for people with mental health problems, preventing them from getting the support they need.

Incomes are not protected

As well as a lack of support to help people throughout the claim process, there are also insufficient safeguards to protect people’s incomes if they don’t claim successfully. 

Recently published figures show that 39% of people receiving Tax Credits – one of the first cohorts to be moved onto UC – have not made a successful claim for UC. Tax Credits are paid to people who are in work and on a low income, and are therefore less likely to be struggling with health conditions and disabilities compared to those receiving ESA. As a result, people on Tax Credits will arguably face fewer challenges migrating to UC. But the low levels of Tax Credit recipients making a successful UC claim sets a very concerning precedent ahead of those on ESA being moved across – many of whom are in more vulnerable situations.

In welcome recognition of the additional challenges that people on ESA might face with the migration process, the government has introduced the Enhanced Support Journey. This means that when people fail to make a claim after their initial migration notice and reminders, DWP will take steps to find out why. This may include checking for evidence, calling the individual to ask about any barriers they are facing, and arranging a home visit where needed. While these steps demonstrate a willingness to find out why someone hasn’t made a claim, they fail to provide a guarantee that someone’s income won’t be cut if they fail to respond to or engage with these steps.

Steps the government must take

We want to see the government take further steps to make sure the managed migration process is both more accessible to, and supportive of, people with mental health problems. In particular, we’re calling on the DWP to: 

  • deliver migration notices in a way that optimises individuals’ ability to respond to them
  • reinstate face-to-face delivery of the Help to Claim service in the next round of commissioning
  • make it easier for someone to get help from a loved one, or third party, to manage UC. 

These steps would help make the managed migration process easier for people with mental health problems to understand and engage with, and remove the existing barriers to support. 

We also need the DWP to explicitly guarantee that they will not stop anyone’s legacy benefits until they have successfully made a claim for UC.

Failing this, they must at least guarantee that they will not stop the benefits of anyone they know is vulnerable during the migration process.