Request to Government for applications for “split payments” to be automatically approved

The Secretary of our Local Labour CLP here in Torbay has written a letter to MP’s Ester McVey copies have also gone off to Margaret Greenwood, Penny Mordaunt Dawn Butler, Luke Pollard and our local Tory MP here in the Bay Kevin Foster … A copy has also been sent to the ‘Letter’s section of the Guardian ….

I write to request that one specific aspect of the Universal Credit system is changed to better protect the rights of individuals in a family or other relationship.

The change I request is that applications for “split payments” are automatically approved, with no requirement that any conditions are met. If a person feels uncomfortable with losing control of their personal finances to a partner, they should have the right to have their benefit paid directly to them. They should not have to either separate from their partner or prove domestic abuse or financial mismanagement in order to have the same rights as any other individual.

My concerns about this issue are based on the information contained in the government guidance with regard to Universal Credit in terms of Personal Budgeting Support and Alternative Payment Arrangements The arguments that follow are, in brief:
1. The limited conditions under which split payments are considered are far too restrictive, creating a poorer domestic situation and possibly denying the unpaid partner their human rights.
2. The process of reviewing applications is too prone to error, as DWP agents will be forced to make decisions that they are not sufficiently skilled or given sufficient time to make. There is no mechanism for correcting these errors.

The conclusion that I draw is:
· Automatically granting split payments to claimants who request them will simplify the work of the DWP agents and protect the rights of the claimants. Ideally people will be asked whether they want split or combined payments, rather than having to initiate a request.

Two adults in a household frequently maintain separate finances. This arrangement provides some protection for each party and a degree of independence. In this situation one person is not dependent upon the good will of the other person for access to necessary finances.

Although it is possible to request split payments of benefits between partners, the guidance severely limits the conditions under which the request will be considered to situations of domestic violence and mismanagement of funds. On page 6, the guidance specifically states that this arrangement “. . . should only be considered in certain circumstances, for example:

· financial abuse where one partner mismanages the Universal Credit payment
· where domestic violence is an issue and the couple decide to remain together in the same household, but only one claim to Universal Credit is made” (p. 6)
Again, later on p.10, it states:
“. . . Split Payments should be considered when:
· the claimant notifies DWP of financial mismanagement and/or financial abuse
· the claimant notifies DWP that there are domestic violence issues
· the claimant cannot or will not budget for their own or their family’s basic day to day needs”

I argue that these conditions are too restrictive. Domestic violence or other abuse might not exist in the first instance, but when one party is made dependent upon the good will of the other party and funds are scarce, these issues are more likely to arise. Surely the government does not want to implement a system that actively fosters domestic abuse, but denying people the right to receive their own benefits directly, rather than through a partner, does exactly this.

I would also question whether the human rights of the partner not receiving payment are being violated. The situation seems likely to create a state of servitude for the unpaid partner, violating Article 4 of the Human Rights Act. It also seems counter to Article 8, the right to respect for your private and family life.

The guidance goes on to state: “The decision to award an APA is made by the Universal Credit Agent, normally a decision maker/work coach, or account developer acting on behalf of the Secretary of State.” (p.10) It is not at all clear that the agent will have the time or the necessary clinical skills to evaluate the applicant for signs of abuse, nor the time and financial skills to disentangle financial matters sufficiently to determine mismanagement. Thus, it appears likely that some wrong decisions about these matters will be made. That situation is aggravated by the explicit policy that “There is no right of appeal against the decision . . .” (p.10). An error prone system with no means of correcting the errors is foolish and doomed to failure. Sadly, in the process it is likely to diminish the quality of life for the claimants, putting them in a hopeless, helpless position and damaging their mental health.

I look forward to your response to my request and the arguments and evidence provided to support it.

Sincerely yours,

Dr Catherine Fritz
Sent: Thu, 9 Aug 2018 10:01
Subject: Fwd: Split payments in Universal Credit