DWP making it harder to claim crisis loans and DLA

The Department for Work and Pensions is seeking cash savings by making two benefits more difficult to claim, writes Gary Vaux

How many times have you heard the phrase: “Our service would be great if it wasn’t for the clients.” Said as a joke, it illustrates that sometimes we all feel that the constant demand from the public becomes a bit too much for us.

The Department for Work and Pensions is no different – and it is certainly being bombarded by benefit claims from people who are victims of the recession. But its response in two key areas – crisis loans and disability living allowance (DLA) – is to try to siphon off that demand by making it harder to claim and introducing additional filter stages into the claims process.

With DLA for example, the DWP has become agitated by what it terms “nugatory claims” – claims that it says have no chance of success. As a result, it has introduced a “pre-claims” checklist that claimants are being asked to answer when they ring up for a DLA claim form. Since February, this has already led to more than 6% of callers deciding not to make a claim for DLA at all – which represents a considerable saving for DWP in staff time and money. But there is the problem: how does anyone know that the 6% who have been deterred are the ones that would have failed? Are claimants with a real, or at least borderline, chance of success being put off?

Free to decide

The DWP says that the claimant is still free to decide whether to proceed with a claim. But how many claimants will take it at face value when they are told by a DWP official “sorry, we don’t think you’ll qualify…but you can still fill in the 40-page claim form if you like”. With no claim form completed and no record kept of the caller’s identity unless the claim form is issued, there is no right of appeal against this quasi-refusal.

Whatever the well-meaning intentions of the DWP staff who are going through the checklist, it’s inevitable that some genuine claims will be deterred. This could be especially true for people with a mental health condition who dramatically underestimate their care needs or people who are not fluent in English.

Some DLA claims have no chance of success because the claimant doesn’t meet the factual aspects of entitlement (length of residence in UK, date when care needs started and so on). But everything else about DLA is a judgement call – it is simply not possible, on the basis of a few very simple questions, to say that a person has no care or mobility needs.

Equally expensive and labour-intensive for the DWP are crisis loans. The number of loan applications has rocketed in recent years – partly due to failings elsewhere in the benefit system; partly due to the claim process being made more “user-friendly” with the introduction of telephone-based claims. The service over the phone is still actually poor, with long waits and difficulties in getting through, but the DWP has found an even better solution to cut the demand for crisis loans.

As a pilot exercise, claimants in south west England and the East Midlands will usually be limited to three crisis loans within a 12-month rolling period. The only exceptions will be disasters, unforeseeable emergencies and applications made because of delays in benefit payment.

Now if they could only get rid of two million unemployed

Gary Vaux is head of money advice, Hertfordshire Council. He is unable to answer queries direct. If you have a question e-mail natalie.valios@rbi.co.uk

This article is published in the 28 May issue of Community care magazine under the heading Disabled people and those in crisis could miss out on benefits

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