Citizens Advice response to the Social Security Advisory Committee call for evidence on the Claimant Commitment in Universal Credit
The majority of Universal Credit (UC) claimants will need to accept a ‘claimant commitment’ as a condition of their entitlement to the benefit. The claimant commitment sets out a claimant’s responsibilities, including actions they must carry out, in order to receive their UC payment. Failure to carry out the actions required in the commitment may lead to the claimant receiving a reduced UC award, known as a sanction, unless they can give an acceptable justification explaining why they have not complied with the requirements expected of them.
Citizens Advice have seen a consistent volume of clients experiencing problems with their claimant commitment over the past 2 years. Over the last year, our local offices have helped nearly 5,000 clients who are experiencing difficulty with conditionality and the claimant commitment within Universal Credit. The evidence in this submission draws on over 600 individual cases submitted by advisers in the Citizens Advice network, detailing the impact that problems with the claimant commitment can have on the people we help. Most of the issues our advisers report arise from an inappropriate commitment that hasn’t been tailored to meet the claimant’s personal circumstances. In particular, our advisers report that a significant proportion of the people affected by inappropriate commitments have learning disabilities and/or mental health conditions.
We welcome the continued downward trend in the number of sanctions being applied to UC claimants , but remain concerned that people in vulnerable situations sometimes feel they have no choice but to sign up to commitments that don’t appropriately reflect their personal barriers to work, and may place them at unnecessary risk of sanctions as a result.
Our report therefore makes the following recommendations:
Recommendation 1: The DWP should remove all claimants awaiting or appealing a decision on their Work Capability Assessment from the all work-related requirements activity group under Universal Credit.
Recommendation 2: The DWP should look at the time frame for the closing of claims when a commitment hasn’t been accepted, and communicate these clearly with claimants, ensuring reminders are multichannel beyond the online journal.
Recommendation 3: The DWP should consider moving the process of drawing up and agreeing a claimant commitment until after the initial claim has been established. This would allow the claimant commitment to become a more collaborative, supportive and tailored process for the claimant, and set the foundation for a positive ongoing relationship with their work coach.
Recommendation 4: The DWP should regularly review how claimant commitments are being set by work coaches - including how discretion is applied - to assess their effectiveness in supporting people to move into and stay in work.
Recommendation 5: We do not believe that sanctions are appropriate for disabled people and those with health conditions. As part of plans to review how conditionality is set, the Government must test the effectiveness of the wider health and work policy programme in supporting these claimants to move into work (where appropriate), to shape any future approaches in this area.