factchecking myths and misconceptions about universal credit

“Someone else can’t ring on my behalf to help with my claim”

The short answer:

That’s a myth … you can provide the DWP with permission for someone else to act for you

You can ask another person or organisation to help you deal with your claim - maybe if you don’t understand something, need help to challenge a decision or just want someone to ring on your behalf - but you have to inform the DWP that you give permission for them to act for you (known as explicit consent).

NB - You can also have a more formal, legally based appointment enabling someone else to act for you - such as where you are unable to make decisions for yourself - known as an appointee (which can be an organisation or an individual).

Explicit Consent

Explicit consent can be provided by you in writing, by making a note on your journal, through the universal credit helpline or face to face and usually lasts until either the specific request is completed or the end of the assessment period after the one in which the consent was given.

Tip: If the requirement to provide the DWP with up-to-date explicit consent is causing problems - maybe because you need help to manage long-running issues so that you have to repeatedly renew consent - you or your representative should complain. The practice should be applied flexibly and should not put you at a disadvantage if your circumstances make it difficult for you to provide consent repeatedly. You could highlight DWP guidance, that says when an issue remains unresolved at the consent expiry date, the date should be reviewed and extended to the end of the next assessment period if necessary.

When explicit consent may not be needed

Some information can be provided to third parties without your explicit consent, for example -

  • when MPs are helping their constituents with universal credit issues do not need explicit consent from the individual (although it is common practice for MPs to include explicit consent where possible);
  • the DWP can share a claimant’s information with a local authority (and its welfare rights representative) if they are helping with Personal Budgeting Support and Universal Support;
  • certain details of a claimant’s award and housing costs can be shared with their landlord (social or private) if there is an alternative payment arrangement for housing costs;
  • the DWP can share information proactively where it is clear that a claimant with complex needs or a child faces clear and significant risks to their welfare or safety; DWP guidance says that work coaches are expected to take action to volunteer to disclose information; in these cases; and
  • the system of consent used for legacy benefits (known as implicit consent) - whereby the DWP uses judgment and experience to decide whether to work with a representative where explicit consent is not held) is not applied to universal credit; however, DWP Minister Justin Tomlinson has said to the House of Commons (19 November 2018) that there is merit in introducing implicit consent ‘to connect up stakeholders, including the most vulnerable claimants’, so it may be available in future.

Official guidance:

Consent and Disclosure (last updated 16 August 2018) from the House of Commons library

Universal Credit consent and disclosure of information from gov.uk

Guidance on consent processes for legacy benefits from gov.uk

Becoming an appointee for someone on benefits from gov.uk

Need more help?

If you need help in finding out more about your rights and the options available to you, do consider contacting a local independent advice organisation. 

Enter a postcode on our advicelocal site to find details of advice organisations in your area. They will usually be able to offer free advice and support, and help to answer any questions you have.

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