6 March 2017

Consent for advisers and MPs dealing with Universal Credit full service cases (Updated 13 March)

Last month, Neil Couling (Director General, Universal Credit Programme) wrote to welfare rights advisers about explicit consent in the UC full service.

The arrangements for the UC full service are different to those in place for other DWP benefits (which relied on a model of implicit consent) and as a result advisers had raised queries with DWP as to the current position.

According to the letter - that is available via the rightsnet adviser discussion forum - in the case of a person who cannot manage their own affairs because of incapacity, the existing appointee process will continue to be used. Appointees are treated as though they are the claimant and so the issue of disclosure is not relevant. The same applies if other legal instruments, such as enduring power of attorney, are in place.

Most DWP benefits currently operate a model of implicit consent that allows advisers to help claimants without needing to have written consent. This model is set out in DWP’s guide ‘working with representatives’ (last updated September 2015).

However, Neil Couling’s letter states that allowing implicit consent in UC full service would run the risk of disclosure of material to third parties and this would be unacceptable under data protection rules. This stems from the fact that claimant’s in UC full service deal with their benefit through an online digital account which allows access to all claimant data.

DWP have therefore put in place a system of explicit consent for UC full service. This means that the claimant must give their explicit consent for an adviser to act on their behalf. This can be done via their online account, by phone with the third party or in person with the third party at a Jobcentre. The claimant must be clear about the information they want to disclose, so it seems a general consent will not be enough and the consent will only last for that particular query or piece of business.

Members of Parliament

The working with representatives guide currently states that MPs are assumed to have consent to act and information can be disclosed in response to their enquiries. However, DWP have also written to MPs to state that in UC full service areas explicit consent will need to be in placefor an MP to assist their constituent. This was confirmed in a recent commons debate on Universal Credit.

UPDATE 10 MARCH 2017: According to an article published in the Guardian, DWP are expected to issue guidance reversing this change for elected officials. This means that they will continue to be able to help claimants without the need for explicit consent. 

UPDATE 13 MARCH 2017: The Secretary of State has confirmed, via a written statement, that implicit consent will be introduced for MPs dealing with Universal Credit claims.