"New" v. "Old" benefits (2): Further Issues

Thursday 04 June 2020

A look at further issues of the switch to UC . What does it mean for other benefits drwan into the changes such as Pension Credit or Contributory ESA?  How do changes unrelated to UC such as new mixed age couples rules in PC affect people ? Or simply changes in how to claim Contributory ESA , even if you won't be eligible for any means tested support? And what of this mysterious "severe disability premium"?


Welcome to Part Two of a pair of blogs looking at the impact of the old versus new system issues caused by the way six legacy benefits are slowly merging into Universal Credit (UC) . 

In Part 1 -  New v. Old Benefit Complications -  I put this switchover in context and why policy choices around managing this switchover have made things perhaps needlessly complicated for the four million or so people still receiving legacy benefits.  I looked at: 

  • exactly which benefits are changing over and when is this happening
  • how these changes fit into the overall benefits "system" and the likely benefits mix for people affected by cancer
  • why the "Hows?" and "Whens?"  of any switchover from legacy benefits to UC matter
  • What protections are there or that will appear in future  if you would lose out in the switch to UC

Here in Part 2,  I look at some further issues:

  • the impacts on three other benefits that are not directly involved in the switch-over to UC, but are affected by it
  • even if you are looking at means tested benefits at all, you may notice some odd effects on how you claim Contributory Employment and Support Allowance (C-ESA). 
  • or be puzzled at how Contributory ESA relates to this whole new versus old change,  if you do need some means tested top ups. 
  • how there will be some gentle changes for everyone within Pension Credit as a result of the UC changes 
  • and a potentially more ferocious impact if you are one of a mixed age couple or are thinking of becoming one.
  • the severe disability premium / addition in more detail and the protection it offers right now. 



Impacts on other benefits 

There is an UC impact on some other benefits, even though these are not among the six  "legacy benefits" merging into UC:


Pension Credit

This is a general top-up of income for people over pension age, available in sickness and in health. PC can be very relevant to people affected by cancer, as a session with a Maggie's Benefits Advisor may reveal:

  • that you have been missing out on PC for some time even before new  health issues.; some 40% of people entitled to PC aren't claiming it ; or
  • that extra amounts in the PC sums for "severe disability" and for "carers"  might mean an increase in your current PC claim or that you could now become entitled to PC for the first time. 

The changes for PC that are linked to the roll-out of UC are:  

  • a change for all: Two of the legacy benefits due to disappear into UC are also claimed by people on PC. So,  replacement amounts instead of Child Tax Credit (e.g. for grandchildren living with you) and Housing Benefit (for rent) will be included in PC. However, it may be that HB carries on, but mainly only for people of pension age. 
  • a change for  "mixed age" couples: i.e. when one partner is over pension age and one is under. Most couple will be mixed age for a while and others may be thinking of becoming a couple while in this phase. In the past, only one of you had to be over pension age age to be able to claim PC as a couple, but since 15th May 2019, both partners need to have come of age. 


Mixed age couple issues

The issues for mixed-age couples then are that you really need to avoid UC if you possibly can:

  • What do you claim instead of PC? Normally, that would be UC, with significant  always unprotected losses over what PC would pay. The losses can range from £140 to £280 a week and there is no question of any protection, as you are not migrating from a @legacy benefit" to UC. However, where both partners have health issues, then it may be possible to start a new claim for "legacy benefits" rather than UC, through the severe disability premium protection below. And a legacy benefit does mainly match the rates you would have got had you been able to claim PC.
  • How do I stay on PC if we are already getting it? Mixed age couples who were getting PC before the change came in, can stay on PC so long as they don't comm of it even for a single day. If you do, but also get Housing Benefit for over 65s then you can get your PC back but otherwise you are stuck , until your partner also comes of PC age. So, get advice before e.g. answering a call to return to work e.g. the NHS front line or to try out some interesting paid project.


Contributory Employment and Support Allowance

This important non-means tested benefit for people affected by cancer has got caught up some UC confusions as to how you claim it even if you are not looking at means tested benefits and has adjusted to fit with the old versus new system divide but not exactly in the same way.  


Impacts of the old versus new system.

Contributory ESA then is not a legacy benefit and is not due to disappear into UC. It remains an important benefit for people who are unwell with cancer, but who may not get any means tested help perhaps because of savings or a partner who is working. But a change was needed because until UC came along, Contributory ESA was linked in with Income-related ESA which is most definitely a "legacy benefit" and will merge into UC. As a result there are two versions of Contributory ESA:  

  • most new claims are for the version - often called New-style ESA (Ns-ESA) - that has lost its link with Income-related ESA (Ir-ESA). So, if you needed to make a new claim for a top-up to Ns ESA, this would come from UC rather than Income-related ESA. However, claiming New style ESA does not force a switch of any legacy benefits over to UC.  So, Ns-ESA, can happily co-exist with either UC or  any legacy benefits you already had, except that it is irreconcilably estranged from Income-related ESA
  • many people will still be getting the original version of Contributory ESA (C-ESA), which still retains its  link with Income-related ESA (Ir-ESA), they are different parts of one and the same claim for ESA as a wholeThat means that  if you are getting the older version of C-ESA, you can ask for Income-related ESA to be added on, perhaps after a change in other income or after becoming entitled to a top up after a PIP claim or from your C-ESA having timed out. 
  • And some people - those entitled to a "severe disability premium" within another benefit - can still start a new claim for the old version of Contributory ESA . They are barred from claims for New-style ESA just as much as they are from Universal Credit, because they need to have access to Income-related ESA to protect their "severe disability premium" .


Changes in the way you claim ESA

This has affected people claiming Contributory ESA whether or not they might also qualify for a means tested top up .Claims or changes involving  the old two-tier ESA  of the older version of Contributory ESA and Income-related ESA remained in experienced hands of ESA, but claims for New style ESA were put in the hands of UC for two good and one not so good reason:

  • splitting the previously joined up nature of ESA could open up the risk of people missing out on their means tested top up or even losing out when they found they weren't entitled to any Contributory ESA
  • New style ESA has other connections with UC: it comes with new verification of ID and Claimant Commitments and a claim switches off" any Income related ESA entitlement, all things that UC operates. 
  • DWP thought it would be a good idea to take a main claim for UC and then issue you with a short form to also claim Ns-ESA anyway.

Benefit advisers patiently explained the benefits system. It genuinely had not struck DWP that many people would qualify for Ns-ESA and not be eligible for UC, so all the extra detail of claiming UC was wasted. There needed to be a separate route to just claiming Ns-ESA . A separate phone number was tried but it took a while for call handlers to be trained up and they would often say well meaningly that "You can't claim Ns-ESA without claiming UC"  (oh yes, you can) and "There is no point claiming NS-ESA if you are also claiming UC" (Oh yes, there is).

The latest plan was to offer an online direct claim route for those not claiming UC and an alternative route for those on UC to start a claim via their online journal. Quite understandably with huge pressure on UC from a wave oof new claims for UC since the lockdown, the online route has opened up to all. 

The process will need altering to no longer gently show you the door if you answer "Yes" to the question "Are you claiming UC?" . If you do  find yourself wandering round in circles,  then answer "No" to allow your online ESA claim to continue, but highlight that you are claiming UC  under any other information and/or  via  your UC online Journal. You can also claim by phone, See the latest version of How to Claim ESA. for the latest version of this changing story. 



The "severe disability premium" protection


What is a "severe disability premium (SDP)" ?

An SDP is not a separate benefit, but an extra amount within four of the legacy benefits that can often apply to people affected by cancer. The legacy benefits concerned are: Income SupportIncome-related ESAIncome-based JSA or Housing Benefit. It is also appears as an identical  "severe disability addition" within Pension Credit (PC)

It can apply to single people or couples if both partners meet the conditions. These are that you are: 

  • 1 . You are awarded one of the following "disability benefits":  PIP Daily Living, Attendance Allowance or DLA Care (at the top two rates); or their equivalents in the forthcoming Disability Assistance in Scotland ; and
  • 2.  You are counted as "living alone" (ignoring some people in your household, including a partner also entitled to an SDP); and 
  • 3. No-one actually receives Carer's Allowance - or a UC Carer's element - for helping you. 

Many people undergoing cancer treatment might become entitled to an SDP then, as successful claim for PIP or AA. By no means all though, as the second and third condition might rule out many.  The SDP is by no means the simplest of premiums to make sense of so many people: 

  • may not even realise they are getting one without looking back an award or annual increase letter
  • could be getting one but never looked into it. The idea of getting more in means tested benefits because of an award of PIP or AA seems counter to what people expect . They may just be relieved to know that extra income isn't taken away.
  • And as you have to take a small but pro-active step to get the SDP added on you might not have done so, especially if you had never imagined there was such a thing. 
  • it may be that you didn't qualify for a means tested benefit before, and not unreasonably think that it is even less likely added income from AA and PIP. But looking at the sums again with the extra yoiu may now be entitled for the first time. 

Sometimes a Maggie's Benefits Advisor can perform a magic trick before your very eyes if they uncover you have been missing out on an SDP all along, and get it added with some backpay. Or it may be a slightly more involved business of making a claim where possible. Or of applying for a missed disability benefit for you or a partner.

Why does an SDP stop a claim for UC or New-style ESA ?

The problem is that UC doesn't have any equivalent to the SDP, nor the other two disability premiums within legacy benefits, whether from confusion or a deliberate cut. . That' may be partly UC's confusion between "sickness" and "disability" and partly a deliberate cut. 

The losses for a single person in an unprotected switch over to UC can vary from £190 to £290 a month for a single person, while a couple could lose as much as £580 a month. About 500,000 people stood to potentially lose out under UC, but a million others - who couldn't get an SDP stood to gain. Some brave people, including someone forced to switch to UC as he moved in order to participate in cancer trials took the DWP to Court.

The Courts ruled  that unprotected losses amounted to "unlawful disability discrimination"  which required UC to think again. So it was decided - with effect from 16th January 2019 - to put a ban on claims for UC and New-style ESA, for anyone with receiving an SDP within any legacy benefit or a severe disability addition within Pension Credit. If someone slips through onto UC by mistake, then this is the one instance when you can return to legacy benefits. Those who had already switched will get compensation instead.

This bar is only lifted when UC are ready to offer you a protected managed migration to UC. Th e effect of this ban, so as to protect your SDP is that: 

  • people of working age who have a change in circumstance requiring a new claim for a legacy benefits, can make that claim, rather than have to switch to UC and lose their SDP. 
  • new claims for mixed age couples where both are entitled to an SD premium or addition, can be for "legacy benefits" rather than UC. Or if they can sort out the premiums/additions before they move in together. This protects them from losing both the severe disability amounts and to avoid the gap left by the absence of a  £645 UC pensioner element.

If you are on legacy benefits or becoming a mixed age couple, then it is well worth checking if you are missing out on an SDP  to which you are already entitled or could potentially become entitled to one. This is both to get your full entitlement under "legacy benefits" - and possibly some sizeable backdating -  and to protect you from losing this in an unprotected switch to UC. 

If nothing else, the moral is check this out with a Maggie's Benefits Advisor before claiming UC, as there is nothing to be done after

Stop Press: UC has been back in Court again in May 2020, concerning  unlawful disability discrimination against children and young people. It is too early to say what measures will be taken to correct this; whether to offer a similar protection , reverse the cut or do something else. This blog will update accordingly. 



Summary: of benefits, changes, cancer and work 


In Part One, we saw how:

  • old versus new benefits refers to a change in just part of the benefits "system" - that Step 2 of means tested benefits.
  • UC is slowly taking over from six legacy benefits, but with some important knock on effects on three others. 
  • UC is not necessarily to be avoided. Many will win under UC sums, but more will lose. There are also big changes in how the benefit works which some like and others struggle with.
  • If you are new to means tested benefits it's simpler - you will claim UC, which can often be for better not just for worse. 
  • For those receiving the legacy benefits, there is the added complication of whether UC would be better or worse as you can always switch now if you wish. But do get advice first.
  • If you lose out , then it gets more complicated mainly because UC is not following the usual principle that"no-one loses out at the point of change"  - or at least not for now
  • There are protections from losses: the transitional protections in managed migrations and the ban on those who receive the severe disability premium from switching in unprotected ways. Some new form of protection may extend to families with children or young people losing out in the switch to UC
  • So if you stand to lose lose out in a switch to UC, you may want to try to stay with legacy benefits, until you can either sort out an SDP protection now are offered a protected "managed  migration"  in the future

Here in Part Two we looked at:  

  • UC is also having important knock on effects on three benefits not involved in the switch to UC: Pension Credit , Contributory ESA and Contribution based JSA 
  • For Pension Credit there is a gentler change that mostly just re-arranges the furniture to  bring replacements within PC for Child Tax Credit and Housing Benefit
  • But changes within PC for mixed age couples has a potentially more ferocious implication if they were forced on to UC instead. UC does not have the same additions as PC has for carers and severe disability, nor does it have a pensioner element to make up the rates for mixed age couples without health issues. However, some mixed age couples barred from UC may be able to still claim legacy benefits which do match PC rates.  
  • Contributory ESA is a non-means tested benefit and also not involved in the switchover to UC directly. However, it is drawn in by breaking its link with Income-related ESA and by some administrative changes around claiming New Style ESA. But while New-style ESA,  is often thought of as "new system", it can get on quite happily with either UC or legacy benefits, and claiming New-style ESA does not force a switch of any legacy benefits over to UC 
  • The severe disability premium is complicated and a bit counter intuitive. Many people are entitled to it ,but are either not aware that they get it or don't take the small steps to claim it  (as who could have known there might be such a thing !). With many people with cancer getting part of the way to an SDP  after an award of AA or PIP Daily Living, it is well worth checking out, both for the extra income it involves and the protection it can offer against bad switches to UC . This might be ones that could lose your SDP  if you are of "working age" or even more so if you are part of a "mixed age" couple. 

Switching from new to old benefit systems should not be anything like as complicated as this switch over is being, and certainly haven't been in the past. Delays and a bit of early administrative chaos are the norm. There will always be features that Advisors will grumpily miss, but some real positives to be discovered in the new. There will also always be "winners" and "losers" in the sums between old and new, but a simple adherence to the principle that "no one loses at the point of change" at least offers simple protection for losses, which are often not that large anyway. 

The reason why things are so much more complicated this time around seem to be that :  some losses can be quite dramatic, the protection hasn't started yet and most will switch to UC without it and the length of the switchover process is far greater than in the past. UC has also had a few reality checks, trips to Court and come up against other pressures to do things a bit differently. 

None of that is to say, that UC is either necessarily worse than legacy benefits or needs to avoided. For many people it could be a better benefit than the old, in particular it can be more flexible and adjustable through a cancer journey. And for a significant minority, it could be a more generous benefit too. If you are new to means tested benefits and have no alternative but to claim UC,  by no means think that you are always worse off or short changed. 

It's just that UC has rather gone its own way in its plans to bring people over, doing itself a bit of reputational damage along the way, and just making things rather more complicated and worrying than they need be. 


Changes through time with cancer

Even without all these changes from old to new benefits, your benefits entitlements  often changes over a year after a cancer diagnosis, as you go through that  roller coaster ride.  Different benefits may kick in at different times, particularly if you are of "working age" . Earnings and income from work and financial support when off sick - may taper off and new benefits kick in and partly fill the gap. Matters may then settle in benefits terms for a bit as you go through treatments. 

Do keep talking to Maggie's benefits advisors as you go through all of this. It is not a case of a one-off of sorting out your benefits, but more of doing that for now, while planning ahead,  as to when benefits might change or kick in , whether because of their own timetables or because of where things stand in your circumstances, support from work and treatment plans. And an added factor may whether those changes might mean switching to UC, avoiding where you need to or making a switch easier if it may be beneficial or there is no option.


Easing back into work?

For some looking ahead may feel like a change in priorities and a completely different new normal, doing rather different things and leaving work aside. For others the aim might be to plot a gentle easing back into work. While benefits might often be seen as being there, when work is out of the question, they can also be there for you both as you ease out of work following a diagnosis and as you explore ways of gently returning to it in recovery.

So in a future pair of blogs  looking at Benefits, Cancer and Work, I will look specifically at how the benefits systems can help when you are in work, with income dropping a little as you ease out or slowly rising as you ease back in.  There will be a touch of old and new, simply because much of that "in work" help comes from either Universal Credit or "legacy benefits" . Both offer some real support, but in very different ways. But there is also important help from Contributory ESA and Personal Independence Payment that transcends old and new.  



Useful links and further reading:


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