Why can’t my son get the benefit money that he is entitled to?

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My son fell ill in September and was put into an induced coma. He was in hospital for two weeks and, as he was unable to work or start his planned masters degree, he applied for universal credit. A fortnight later, he asked if the payment could be backdated to the day of his hospital admission (7 September) when he first became eligible. His admission was exactly a month before he made his original application for the benefit to start on the 8 October.

Legislation allows it to be backdated by a month subject to certain conditions, including illness. This was initially agreed. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) then said it could only backdate for a month from when the request to backdate was made, not from when he originally applied. This means he has been underpaid 12 days of credit, amounting to £142.

We asked for a mandatory reconsideration and were told to expect a response within 10 days; it’s now a month, and we have still not heard anything. I fear that DWP could be misreading the legislation and possibly denying the poorest claimants money when they need it most. I asked DWP, via a freedom of information request, how many people this may affect but was told that obtaining the information would cost more than the £600 spending limit it has for researching and handling a single request.
AC, Coolham, West Sussex

Your son’s records show that a DWP agent promised that the claim would be backdated to 7 September, a month before he officially applied, then apologised the next day for providing incorrect advice and amended the date to 20 September.

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The rules are clear. Claimants must apply on the first day of the period for which they are claiming, ie as soon as they become eligible. If their applications are delayed by exceptional circumstances, their claim can be backdated by a maximum of one month.

The DWP acknowledged this and paid up for the 12 days owed. Curiously, the letter informing you of this only admitted that your appeal had been “partially upheld”.

The department refused to discuss how many others may have been affected. When I asked if checks had been undertaken to ascertain whether other staff were providing the same incorrect information, and how many applications would have been affected, it refused to comment. Nor would it confirm whether the case load of the adviser in question had been investigated to ensure that no other claimant was short-changed, saying I had no business questioning the performance of individuals.

According to government statistics, the DWP overestimates 1.1% of claims while underestimating 0.7%. However, your son’s case was a misunderstanding of the rules, rather than a typo, and I’d like to hear from anyone in that 0.7% who has been penalised for the same reason.

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