Poorly drafted online gateway questions do not allow backdating of UC or allow client to be treated as claiming a legacy benefit

Wednesday 31 May 2017

AM v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (UC) [2017] UKUT 131 (AAC)

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In decision AM v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (UC) [2017] UKUT 131 (AAC) (Judge Rowland) the claimant's job came to an end on 17 July 2015. On Saturday 18 July 2015, he tried to claim Universal Credit (‘UC’) online.

As he was in a live UC area he had to satisfy gateway conditions. He had to answer a question: ‘Are you expecting take-home pay of £330 or more in the next month?’ As the claimant was expecting a payment but was unsure how much it would be, he answered ‘yes'. Consequently the computer system told him he could not claim UC but must make a claim for old style JSA by telephone. It was not possible to make a telephone claim on a Saturday so the claimant therefore telephoned on Monday 20 July 2015.

He was told that as he was unsure about the answer to the question he should have answered ‘no’ and he was redirected to claim UC which he did, with 20 July 2015 being accepted as his date of claim. The claimant appealed the decision arguing that he should have been treated as having claimed old style JSA on 18 July 2015, or that his UC claim should be backdated to that date.

A First-tier Tribunal dismissed the appeal and the claimant appealed to the Upper Tribunal.

Held: UTJ Rowland decided that there was no valid claim for old style JSA on 18 July 2015. An instruction to claim JSA by telephone if the gateway conditions were not satisfied was then entirely appropriate, and there was no unfairness or illegality in that. The only backdating provision that applied to his UC claim was if the computer system could be regarded as “inoperative” under reg 26(3)(d) of the Universal Credit Regulations 2013 SI no 376.

The UT decided that while the lack of guidance given by the official computer system on 18 July 2015 might be regarded as a defect, it did not render the system 'inoperative'. It may have prevented the claimant from claiming old style JSA, but that was not a ground for backdating a claim for UC as the words ‘the claim’ in reg 26(2)(b) of the backdating provision clearly refer to the claim for UC.

The UT Judge added that he agreed that the universal credit claim form is badly designed and he recommended that the Secretary of State may wish to consider whether either that wording or the gateway condition or both should be amended.

 

 

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