Sir Stephen Sedley says digital benefits system is also failing to meet legal obligations
‘A former high court judge has described universal credit as “Orwellian” because of its tendency to create and exacerbate misery for claimants even while it professes to be rescuing them from hardship.
Sir Stephen Sedley’s comments about the troubled digital benefits system accompanied a report that revealed hundreds of claimants risked falling into debt because the system had miscalculated their monthly benefit payments.
Claimants who were underpaid, or overpaid, sums amounting in some cases to hundreds of pounds a month were routinely unable to work out the correct payment, or how they could challenge the decision, the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) report said.
The charity criticised the “opaque” way in which individuals’ monthly benefits payments were calculated, and said the lack of information provided to claimants who wished to challenge the calculation was in some cases unlawful.
It cited the case of a working mother who was left £400 a month worse off after universal credit neglected to include a child element for her daughter or a work allowance, an error only spotted when she went to a welfare rights adviser.
Universal credit rolls six different working-age benefits into one and CPAG said this means it is difficult for claimants to unpick the different components of the payment or work out whether it is correct.
One in five of 1,110 cases gathered by the charity as part of a universal credit monitoring project involved administrative errors by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which were likely to result in the claimant being paid the wrong amount.
Sedley, a former lord justice of appeal and now a visiting professor at Oxford University, said universal credit was repeatedly failing to meet its legal obligations to make it clear why a particular decision had been made, or how claimants could appeal if they thought it was wrong.’