The DWP Universal Credit Report: What do the Stats Mean to You?

There have been many stories in the news recently about the Universal Credit reform and what it means for the millions of families across Britain. Here at Hylton-Potts, we’ve written numerous posts too, to try to help you understand the facts and guide you through the claims process.

However, recently the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has published its first annual fraud and error findings for its Universal Credit programme. This critique forms part of their more general report on the benefits system across the 2015/16 period.

We thought, given the attention that this reform has received, that we’d better strip down the facts of the matter for you, and deliver the most telling statistics in a straightforward manner. At Hylton-Potts, we pride ourselves on being able to help you reach an informed decision with professionalism and guidance. We hope that this post helps to do just that.

What’s the report for?

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll remember from our previous posts that the Universal Credit system was introduced as a way to bring together the six previous benefit systems into one single payment. This is currently available at eight UK job centers as part of ongoing trials.

At the same time, the DWP is also trialing a new IT system currently under development, which should serve to improve the administration and management side of payments. The “full service” (i.e. when the Universal Credit system is rolled out nationwide) is expected to take place gradually. So, why is there a need for a fraud and error report when the trial seems to be in its infancy?

Last year, the DWP came under fire from the National Audit Office (NAO), over concerns about its ability to meet key fraud and error improvement targets for benefit expenditure, for the 2014/15 period. In July of 2015, Auditor General Amyas Morse cited on-going concerns about the “unacceptably high level” of fraud and error surrounding benefit provision. However, the DWP defended its case by stating that efforts to improve the system were being held back by the delayed roll-out of the system, which is still not scheduled for completion until 2020.

A need for the stronger management of data by departments was sorely needed, and this report was supposed to serve as a guide for the improvements that have been made thanks to the new system. However, instead, comparisons are being drawn between Universal Credits and the former Job Seeker’s Allowance.

What are the key facts?

The full report states clearly that its purpose is to estimate overpayments (i.e., the total amount of money lost to the department because claimants are paid too much) and underpayments (i.e., the total amount of money lost to claimants who are not paid enough).

According to their figures, overpayment rates for the programme were recorded at 7.3% during the financial year 2015/16, amounting to £36million. Of this figure, 5.4 percentage points were attributed to fraud, while it was stated that the remaining overspend was due to claimant or official error.

Over the same period, total underpayment to claimants was recorded at 2.6%, with official error attributed to 2.3 percentage points of the underpayment figures. As a comparison, the DWP highlighted the 7.3% overpayment via Universal Credit, against the 5% figure from Jobseeker’s Allowance, but noted that the comparison was not “statistically significant”.

They claimed that: “As Universal Credit is still being rolled out across Great Britain, expenditure on this benefit of £477million in 2015/16, is much lower than on Job Seeker’s Allowance at £2.4billion in 2015/16.” In monetary terms, this basically means that the value of overpayments on Universal Credit is correspondingly lower, at £35million, when compared with £120million under the old system, but it may not necessarily be due to a more efficient system.

The DWP were quick to warn that any comparisons made with old benefit systems should be treated with caution, as they are simply not alike enough for any real conclusions to be drawn. Plus, they noted how: “Although the majority of Universal Credit claims start out as the equivalent of a simple JSA claim, such as a single person without children or housing costs, they can change their circumstances over time and remain on Universal Credit. We estimate that 35% of the Universal Credit caseload was in employment, and 36% of the caseload had housing costs, making these cases more complex to administer.”

In other words, the caseloads for Universal Credit are becoming far more complex, as the new benefit’s roll out is expanded to cover far more claimant types than ever before. So, the likelihood of error could increase during the initial periods.

What does all of this mean for me?

These statistics show that error is still prevalent within the DWP system, and no real improvements will be made while this system remains in its infancy. As the Universal Credit system rolls out across the UK, it’s important to remember that mistakes are likely to happen. Whether these are simple errors made or miscalculations, if you feel you’ve been treated unfairly then you should always seek legal advice.

Plus, as part of this process, the DWP has already stated its intention to change identity assurance practices. A Departmental spokesperson told the media: “Claimants prove their identity by showing ID to their work coach. We are evaluating the Verify system and will announce any plans in due course.” Currently, the DWP uses a system called the legacy Government Gateway ID service, but it has partnered with Dell to support them in decommissioning the technology.

With all things considered, it seems like now has never been a better time to put your benefit affairs in order. Many locations still do not use the Universal Credits system, and you could be losing out on your income supplement as a result. If you’re wondering where your own benefit claims stand, or if you’re concerned that a false claim has been made against you due to error or otherwise, then you’re not alone.

At Hylton-Potts, we help people just like you every day, and we understand just how hard this is to take in and separate the facts from the complex government terminology. That’s why our experts are always on hand to give you the advice you need, so don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can call us on 020 7381 8111, or via email at [email protected].

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