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Suspension and termination of Universal Credit awards

This article explains how Universal Credit awards can be suspended and terminated.

Suspension and termination is one of the mechanisms the DWP can use to change a Universal Credit (UC) decision. A set procedure needs to be used for the DWP to be able to end a benefit award this way. This article should be read together with related articles on UC decisions, and other mechanisms for changing decisions: revision, and supersession. A revision is a change to the original decision, whereas a supersession is a new decision which replaces the original decision from a later date.

The framework for changing decisions through revisions and supersessions is established by The Social Security Act 1998 (“the 1998 Act”). There are further provisions in secondary legislation, which for the purposes of UC is The Universal Credit, Personal Independence Payment, Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance (Decisions and Appeals) Regulations 2013 (“the DA Regs”). Under the 1998 Act, decisions are final. This means that once it has been made, a decision can only be changed through specific mechanisms if there are grounds to do so: revision, supersession, suspension and termination, being corrected, or being changed or replaced on appeal.¹

The procedure for suspending and terminating a benefit award

The DWP has specific powers to suspend a benefit award to get further information, and can terminate the award if the information isn’t provided. This often leads to clients’ UC awards stopping and clients can be pursued for overpayments. It is important to check that this has been done correctly in order to know what options are available.

The DWP can suspend all or part of a client’s benefit payments in order to check whether an award is correct. There are two routes they can use to do this. Firstly, there is a general requirement to provide information required by the DWP in connection with a claim or award of UC.² If the client fails to provide the information, the DWP can then suspend their payments.³ Alternatively, if an issue arises as to whether the client continues to be entitled to UC, the DWP can suspend their payments and then require information from the client to check the award is correct.⁴ In both cases, the DWP can then terminate the client’s award if the information isn’t provided.

The DWP must notify the client of the requirement to provide information, and must give the client 14 days or whatever longer period is needed. In considering whether to extend the time limit to provide the information, the DWP should take into account the client’s own circumstances, as well as any difficulties obtaining the information itself, for example if they need to get information from another source such as a bank. See the Advice for Decision making (ADM) guidance Chapter A4 at paragraph A46232 for guidance on extending the time limit.

The client must either provide the information, or satisfy the DWP that the information does not exist or it is not possible for them to obtain it, within the time limit (including any extension).⁵

This is an important limitation. If the client can show that they don’t have the information required and they can’t get hold of it, then they will have complied with the information requirement.

If the client fails to provide the information or satisfy the DWP that it can’t be provided, the UC award can be terminated.⁶ The termination can be made a month after the suspension following a failure to provide information, or a month after an information requirement made following a suspension.

The termination can only take effect on the date that the benefit payment was suspended, unless there are alternative grounds to revise or supersede from an earlier date. An example of this might be if following the suspension and failure to provide information, the DWP determines that the client has never been entitled to benefit in the first place, so revises the original decision awarding benefit on the grounds of ignorance or a mistake as to a fact.

What rights does a client have to challenge a suspension and termination?

A decision to suspend a benefit award does not carry an appeal right,⁸ but a termination is a form of supersession, which can therefore be appealed.⁹ However, this appeal right may in practice be limited, as a Tribunal may only have jurisdiction to change a termination decision if the procedure wasn’t followed correctly — and not just because it’s factually wrong. This is because the Tribunal doesn’t have jurisdiction to extend the time limit for providing information when a benefit award is suspended. Taking account of information provided later that sheds light on the decision would only be possible if the time limit for providing that information could be extended. So even if a client later provides the information to show that the termination decision was incorrect, the Tribunal wouldn’t be able to change the decision if that information wasn’t provided within the original time limit.

One thing to look out for, however, is that the DWP may have used other grounds to terminate the benefit award from an earlier date. See the related articles on revision and supersession for grounds that the DWP can use to change decisions. If other grounds have been used, then there is nothing to prevent this decision being revised on any grounds just for being factually incorrect. This means that the decision can be changed by the Tribunal.

As a result it is worth checking which provisions have been used. If the benefit award has only been terminated from the date of the suspension, the client may not be able to appeal this decision unless the termination wasn’t carried out incorrectly (although the DWP may agree to revise the decision if the client provides the information late). In this situation the client may need to make a new claim for UC. However, if the benefit award has been terminated from an earlier date, the client should provide the information and challenge the termination through a Mandatory Reconsideration (MR) and appeal.

Retrospective verification

The DWP may carry out retrospective verification of an award made during the initial phase of the covid-19 pandemic, when verification checks were more limited. In these cases, check that the DWP has correctly suspended and terminated the award. If the DWP hasn’t correctly notified the client and given them sufficient time to provide the information, the decision to terminate would be wrong so should be challenged. If the client has been asked to provide information that they can’t provide, and has shown the DWP that is the case, then they may have satisfied the information requirement. In this case it would also be wrong to terminate and the decision should be challenged. And if the DWP has terminated the award from the beginning, rather than from the date it was suspended, then this is a revision on a different ground and should be challenged by the client. The client should provide all the information needed and even if the DWP doesn’t reinstate the benefit award, a Tribunal will be able to.

Examples

Jane

Jane claimed UC in April 2020. In July 2021, the DWP carried out a retrospective verification check. Jane was unable to provide information requested, so the DWP terminated Jane’s award with effect from April 2020. Jane has requested a MR and provided the required information late, but the DWP has refused to carry out the MR.

The termination has taken place with effect from April 2020, rather than just from the date of the suspension. This means the DWP needs to have had other grounds for terminating the benefit award. It may be that they have revised the original decision as they believe it was made in ignorance of or based on a mistake as to a material fact. Jane can appeal the new decision. The Tribunal can use the information provided by Jane to change the termination decision and reinstate Jane’s UC.

Alan

Alan has an award of UC. The DWP comes to believe that Alan may have capital over £16,000, so suspends the award and asks for further evidence from Alan. Alan fails to provide the information in time, and the DWP terminates Alan’s award with effect from the date of the suspension.

Alan can provide the information late to the DWP, and ask that the DWP extends the time limit for providing the information. If the DWP agrees to do so, it can revise the termination decision. However, if the DWP declines to do so, Alan will have limited options as the Tribunal can’t extend the time limit, so can’t change the termination decision on the basis of the information Alan has provided late. Alan may need to make a new claim for UC.

Summary

The power to suspend and then terminate an award is a specific way that the DWP can change decisions and stop a client’s UC. A decision to terminate a UC award is a decision to supersede, so can be appealed. However, the ability of a Tribunal to change termination decisions is limited as they are unable to extend the time limit for providing information. A client should always check whether the DWP has actually used a different ground for revising or superseding the UC award, in which case there will be full appeal rights. This will be the case if the UC has been stopped from a date before the date of the suspension.

Josh Gilbert works as a Welfare Benefit expert in the Expert Advice team at Citizens Advice.

The information in this article is correct as of the date of publication.

Unfortunately, we are unable to respond to comments left on the medium site — please contact expertadvicesupport@citizensadvice.org.uk if you wish to give feedback on an article.

References

[1] Section 17, Social Security Act 1998

[2] Regulation 38(2), The UC, PIP, JSA and ESA (Claims and Payments) Regulations 2013

[3] Regulation 45(2) and (6), The UC, PIP, JSA and ESA (Decisions and Appeals) Regulations 2013

[4] Regulations 42 and 45(2)(a), The UC, PIP, JSA and ESA (Decisions and Appeals) Regulations 2013

[5] Regulation 45(4), The UC, PIP, JSA and ESA (Decisions and Appeals) Regulations 2013

[6] Regulation 47, The UC, PIP, JSA and ESA (Decisions and Appeals) Regulations 2013

[7] Regulation 47(2), The UC, PIP, JSA and ESA (Decisions and Appeals) Regulations 2013; CH/2995/2006

[8] Schedule 3, paragraph 7, The UC, PIP, JSA and ESA (Decisions and Appeals) Regulations 2013

[9] R(H) 4/08

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