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Campaigners call for action to fix 'absurd' universal credit flaws stopping vulnerable people getting help managing benefits

Campaigners have called on the Government to fix "absurd flaws" with the benefits system that prevent vulnerable people from getting help from family and friends to manage their universal credit accounts. Without this help, campaigners warn claimants ultimately risk losing their benefits. founder Martin Lewis - alongside charity the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI), which he also set-up - has issued the call as part of a new campaign called Set Up To Fail. The initiative is backed by eight national charities from across the mental health and advice sectors, including Mind, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Turn2Us, the Money Charity, and Advice UK. 

It comes as new research from the MMHPI found that 100,000s of people experiencing high levels of mental distress may struggle to effectively manage their universal credit accounts without help from family or friends. Yet while over half of those with mental health problems need this support, only one in 10 managed to nominate a regular helper. 

The charity’s research adds that without support, many people dealing with common symptoms of mental health issues, such as struggling to understand complex information and remembering appointments, find it difficult to deal with the ongoing admin and processes required to claim universal credit.

See our Universal Credit guide for full details on who can get it, how much you can get, and how to apply. 

'We're calling on the Government to act now so everyone can get the help they need with universal credit'

Martin Lewis, chair and founder of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, said: “It sounds like a scene from a spoof. People who are entitled to universal credit, sometimes due to mental health problems, which impact their ability to fill in forms or process complex information, are allowed to nominate someone to help them with the admin needed to keep receiving benefits.

"Yet to do that, they must go through a complex process which requires them to do the exact things they need help with in the first place. If they don’t manage it, they ultimately risk being sanctioned or losing all financial help.  

"I don't believe this is a deliberate attempt to set people up to fail. Yet that is the practical outcome for some. This is one universal credit problem the Government can easily fix, by providing people with the right advice on how to nominate a loved one to help them, and by making the process to do it much easier, simpler and user-friendly.

"And with more and more people likely to move on to universal credit when the furlough scheme ends in September, there is no time to waste. We're calling on the Government to act now so that everyone can get the help they need with universal credit."

1.3 million people in mental distress receiving or applying for universal credit

Around 1.3 million people experiencing high levels of mental distress are receiving or applying for universal credit, according to analysis of data by the MMHPI. As such, the Set Up To Fail campaign is calling on the Government to:

  • Provide people with clearer advice on the info they need to share to get support, and the correct process for doing so through the universal credit website.

  • Make this online process more accessible and user-friendly. This could include by adding prompts and drop down menus to guide people.  

  • Give people more flexible options to share information about their universal credit account with loved ones.

Gary, who took part in the charity's research, said: "In the last year I was made redundant after being with a company for more than 23 years, and all the stress and worry has just come to the surface. I found the process of managing universal credit just horrendous and tough to follow, nothing is ever explained to you. At the moment I find it tough to deal with people as it's hard to talk. 

"I can't deal with the messages from the DWP myself, I need my wife's help, but we can't set it up for her to receive notifications about the account. We've filled all the forms in but it feels like a trap door assessment, if you answer something slightly wrong you fall through and that's it, they'll take the money away. It's like the system's designed to trip you up to fail."

What does the Government say?

A Government spokesperson said: "Universal credit is providing a vital safety net for millions and for anyone wishing to nominate someone to help them there are several accessible ways to do so, including by phone, online or using the Help to Claim service. This is balanced with the need to ensure the right level of security and protection is maintained for claimants’ personal information."

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