- Welfare Rights Newsletter
08 Nov 2023
The year did not end as expected. Throughout most of 2019/20 we were grappling with rising Universal Credit enquiries, and in particular, the emergence of specific issues relating to earnings, reclaims, accessing work capability assessments and partners who had no recourse to public funds. The queries were far more complex, reflected in the number of issues per client that we advised on. A number of lead higher court judgements also meant that throughout the year, UC guidance and systems were frequently having to change to remain lawful.
By the end of the year we found ourselves speed learning about furlough, the job-retention scheme and having to keep up with almost monthly changes to sickness benefit rules. We became experts in writing website content so that advisers and local residents could access the information they needed quickly, rather than trying to piece it together from across the multiple websites. Several partners helped us promote the new Covid-19 webpages including the County Council, Surrey Coalition of Disabled People and Surrey Heartlands.
Once again, we dealt with some harrowing cases where local residents had lost all benefit payments through no fault of their own, or clients who had gone years with incorrectly paid benefits. It is misleading to think that social security is being simplified as we are heading into a legislative unknown for thousands of EEA nationals who live in Surrey, huge backlogs of assessments for ill and disabled people, and still the huge migration project of moving legacy benefit claimants onto Universal Credit, which still has significant flaws in its design.
Face to face training was delivered for most of the year until March, focussing on training new advisers, and keeping experienced advisers up to date with changes in law and practice. We are now delivering e-training online which has been well received. Once again, we are focussing on the immediate issues that the local advice services need, such as social security changes as a result of Covid-19.
We are also still finding time to work with policy makers and both local and national partners, in the hope that we can make the experience for future benefit claimants a bit better.
Our Impact Report 2019/20 can be downloaded here