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Universal credit not so universal after all, conflicting advice about ESA

People unable to work who try to claim universal credit can receive conflicting advice from different UK government officials. Some say the new benefit includes employment and support allowance (ESA), claimed by many with MS, other diseases and disabilities. However, other advisers maintain that it is separate.

conflicting adviceStrange as it may seem, I can understand both pieces of contradictory information. In fact, universal credit does include income-related ESA. However, it does not contribution-based ESA.

So, if you ask whether universal credit includes ESA, the correct answer is both YES and NO. Confusing, huh?

In fact, universal credit replaces six benefits. These are:

  • Child tax credit
  • Housing benefit
  • Income support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Working tax credit

Confused by conflicting advice

The case of one claimant given conflicting advice was highlighted by the Manchester Evening News. This was its story:

A bereaved dad has told how battling with the ‘chaotic’ Universal Credit system in the wake of his daughter’s death helped push him to the brink of suicide.

Steve Pogson suffered a breakdown a year ago and since then has tried twice to claim benefits designed for people too unwell to work.

But faced with the new Universal Credit roll-out he says confusion, contradictory advice, endless expensive phone calls and repeated delays ultimately contributed to him trying to take his own life.

Steve, 50, from New Islington, has suffered depression and anxiety all his life, but had held down a successful civil service career until tragedy hit.

“When my daughter died in a car accident – my only child – I threw myself into my work rather than address that, but eventually a few years later it just overwhelmed me.

“I lost my job due to having a breakdown and last October just climbed into my bed and used my savings and credit card to get by.”

Official advice

After six weeks he eventually applied for Universal Credit after being advised by an official that Employment Support Allowance (ESA) – which is intended for people unable to work due to illness or disability – had now been rolled into it.

But after being bounced backwards and forwards between the departments and repeatedly ringing the government’s 0345 number, his back-dated ESA claim was eventually rejected, despite a letter from his GP stating that he had been unwell.

Worried about his rising levels of debt, he then forced himself back into work, while also embarking on a frustrating appeals process that is yet to be completed.

Eventually his mental health took another turn for the worse.

“I managed to work through until August but this time I attempted suicide, because of the spiralling debt situation, plus the Department for Work and Pensions situation, plus the bereavement,” he said.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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