John and making and managing a Universal Credit claim

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Case Study Five: John Graham

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Is it discrimination?
What’s happened – what’s gone wrong?
Which benefit or process is this example about? Universal Credit (UC):
• making a claim
• maintaining a claim
• problems with understanding the Claimant Commitment.
About John and his situation John is in his late fifties. He has a recently diagnosed heart condition which meant he’s had to leave his job doing manual work. He also has learning difficulties including very low literacy skills

He had to stop the heavy manual work he had done for many years and claimed Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). But has been found fit for work and was told to claim UC. He didn’t get the support he needed to make his claim. As a result, the claim was delayed and he now has significant rent arrears.

He is also having trouble maintaining his claim as he can’t read and has never used a computer.

More about John
He lives an isolated life in a one room bedsit. He had previously lived with his mother but since she died he has had to develop some strategies to cope, such as taking any official letters to the Post Office. When he received the letter stopping his ESA the lady in the Post Office advised to go to the Jobcentre or ring the helpline. He tried ringing the helpline but was confused by all the options.

The nearest Jobcentre is in a different town to where John lives. He’s not used to travelling outside of his own town and becomes very anxious trying to find his way around unfamiliar places. It was another couple of days before John felt able to go to the Jobcentre. He explained to the person he saw at the jobcentre what had happened and was told he would have to claim UC online. John explained that he had never used a computer and couldn’t read. He also explained that he had tried to use the phone but couldn’t understand which options to press so hadn’t managed to speak to anybody. He was then passed on to someone at the Jobcentre to help him to start a claim. However, John didn’t have all the necessary details with him so he was given a list of all the things he would need and told he would have to come back.

When John had difficulty understanding what the Jobcentre staff member was telling him, he said the staff member became very brusque. John didn’t feel able to explain that he didn’t know how to set up a bank account or collect together all the bits of information he would need.

John tried over the next week to gather all the information but he really struggled. He returned to the Jobcentre, feeling desperate because he knew he wouldn’t get any money until he made the claim. His Housing Benefit had stopped when his ESA stopped.

After yet another trip to the Jobcentre, John eventually managed to make the claim. This was 10 days after he had first visited the Jobcentre and two weeks since he received the letter saying his ESA had stopped. He was very anxious about how he would cope and whether he will be evicted because he now has rent arrears.

Once his claim had been made, John had an interview with his job coach and was asked to sign his claimant commitment promising to look for work 35 hours a week. He explained that he had couldn’t read the claimant commitment. The work coach read it to him but didn’t reduce the hours of work or the commitments to search for work and keep a record of what he had done.

What are the flags/alarm bells/lightbulbs that can help you recognise discrimination? Flags
John had his benefit stopped because of delays in getting support.He has poor literacy skills.
What does John want to happen? Support that will help him to make and maintain a UC claim online.

Support that meets his individual needs.

Help with backdating his claim and with getting his benefit payment made to him as soon as possible.


How can equality rights help to solve problems in welfare benefits?
Why did it go wrong?
The welfare benefits perspective John has had problems with making his UC claim, and with maintaining his UC online journal. He has not been given support appropriate to his needs.
The discrimination and Equality Act perspective:
• Reason for the unfairness (the protected characteristic)
• the type of discrimination (the prohibited conduct)
Reason for the unfairness?
John has learning difficulties and a heart condition. He meets the definition of disability in the Equality Act 2010.The type of discrimination?
• A failure to make reasonable adjustments (section 20 Equality Act 2010)
• Breach of public sector equality duty (section 149 Equality Act 2010).What has gone wrong?
(1) The Jobcentre has failed to anticipate the disadvantage the claims procedure would cause this client and to put reasonable adjustments in place.Despite being told that John couldn’t read and was having difficulty in understanding what he was being told, the Jobcentre didn’t record him as ‘vulnerable’, didn’t offer sufficient support, or refer him to another organisation for support.Reasonable adjustments would include:
• referring John to a local agency that could offer the necessary support to gather the information and complete the claim
• helping him to understand how to claim backdating, and assistance to claim
• a note on his file that the client is ‘vulnerable’ and likely to need additional ongoing support to maintain his claim.

(2) Failure to proactively anticipate the disadvantage that the claimant commitment he was asked to sign would cause, and to put reasonable adjustments in place.

Despite being aware of the difficulties John had faced making his claim and understanding some of what is said to him, and being told by John that he couldn’t read, the work coach has made no attempt to adapt the claimant commitment to take these factors into account.

Reasonable adjustments that could be made for John could include:
• a note on his file from when he first made his claim that he is ‘vulnerable’ and likely to need additional ongoing support to maintain his claim
• reducing the ways John is required to look for work (things that can be done without the need to read or write).
• limiting the type of work he is required to look for
• limiting the distance he is required to travel to look for work
• reducing the hours he is required to work, to take into account the limited ways he will be able to search
• providing information and guidance to John, so that he knows he can report the steps he is taking to look for work to the UC helpline
• help to make the entries in his journal and put a note on his file to this effect so he receives the necessary support.

 Top tip The Universal Support 2018/19 guidance was published on 12 March 2018. It states that “Universal Credit full service is also delivered via online self-service and some people will need help with this.” Universal Support (US) consists of Assisted Digital support (AD) and Personal Budgeting Support (PBS).

The guidance says that some UC claimants do not have the digital capability and cannot and may never be able to self-serve online, even with Universal Support / in-depth digital training from Assisted Digital Support. It states that those claimants should be directed to the Universal Credit helpline who will provide the appropriate support. This may be appropriate support for some claimants who need reasonable adjustments to be made for them. As in John’s case above, a reasonable adjustment should be appropriate for an individual claimant. There is no one size fits all reasonable adjustment.

An adviser can help a client to ensure that the appropriate marker is placed on their UC online account (safeguarding, vulnerable customer, needs a reasonable adjustment).


Taking action about discrimination and finding more help
What can you do?
How could you use the Equality Act and other rights to put this right? Use the duty to make reasonable adjustments (section 20 Equality Act 2010) to argue for:
• backdating the benefits claim as soon as possible
• ensuring John is given support and information about UC and the claimant commitment that is suitable for his needs, and avoids him being put at a substantial disadvantage
• that the job-coach should review John’s Claimant commitment to take into account the reasonable adjustments suggested above.
What evidence would be useful here? A note on John’s UC online journal/account that shows:
• he meets the Equality Act definition of disability
• How John’s disability affects his normal day to day activities
• the substantial disadvantage that the UC online processes have caused for John
• the DWP should make reasonable adjustments for him
• the kinds of reasonable adjustments that John needs
• that an appropriate marker should be placed on John’s UC files.
Time limits A claim in the County Court for discrimination has a time limit of six months less one day.
Resources and information that would help in similar cases Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) resources for advisers.
EHRC Code of Practice on services, public functions and associations.
Additional support EHRC Adviser Support Line
Policy or campaigning issues Impact of UC claims being online, and the Government’s digital strategy..

Download Case Study Five (Word doc.)