Tuesday, 8 May 2012

More cap claptrap

Following the exposure on Radio 4's Moneybox programme, today saw a DWP press release about the letters being sent out announcing the cap.

"Letters are being sent this week to households who may be affected by the benefit cap, Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Freud has announced..."

Is the use of the word "may" a Whitehall-style attempt to explain why letters have also gone to families of disabled children who should be exempt?

Here is CPAG's statement about the letters.  You decide who is right.

Household Benefit Cap: letters from DWP to claimants
Key points CPAG has discovered from contact by local authorities and advisers:

  • DWP have started sending out letters to claimants warning them that they are likely to be affected by the household benefit cap.
  • DWP have also sent a letter to MPs with a Q & A intended to help them with any constituent queries and casework this generates.
  • Benefits staff and advice staff in local authorities have contacted CPAG to say that they are finding major errors in DWP’s identification of households that stand to be affected and have received the letters (they have contacted us in confidence so we are not currently able to name those authorities).
  • Households with a DLA recipient are due to be exempt from the cap. It appears that DWP screened out adult DLA claimants, but failed to screen out families with a child getting DLA.
  • Several local authorities are saying that this is not the only error. Others errors so far identified by local authorities in the DWP lists  include:
    • claimants whose total entitlement is well below the level of the cap
    • claims that are no longer active
    • claims that are in receipt of working tax credit and would therefore be exempt
  • One local authority told us that of 200 households identified by DWP in their area, they found when they checked that only 78 of them meet the criteria that would see them affected by the cap.
  • In a London local authority, out of 1100 DWP identified households, nearly 300 were found to be well below the level of the cap.
  • Many affected families, especially in London, will see very large losses to entitlement – perhaps of their entire housing benefit, leaving them no funds whatsoever for housing costs. But the letters say nothing to indicate whether the household receiving the letter is due to lose £5 a week, or £200 a week. So it does not help the households with the most serious threat realise the scale of the problem they will face.
CPAG statement:
“There is an astonishing rate of error in the households that DWP has identified as those likely to be subject to the household benefit cap from April 2013. This will cause distress and confusion to families who are not actually threatened by the cap. We are also concerned for those families who are at risk, because the letters offer very little helpful advice about what they can do. The Department must urgently investigate why it has made so many errors to prevent further failures with the implementation of the Universal Credit, which will affect millions of households. It highlights once again the precarious situation we are entering with advice services for claimants subject to severe cuts at a time when the whole welfare system is about to change.”

Added 9 May:
By the way, I did hear right about the DWP's misleading, post-facto excuse for sending out letters to the wrong people.  From the transcript of the Moneybox programme:

"...they want to make sure they include everybody, so they have included more than will actually be subject to the cap."
In which case, why not say so in the letters?  Sorry, but I for one do not beleive this excuse.

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