Under 18s and Estrangement

My name is Aidan, I work in an advice service for young people and I posting here with the express permission of my colleague, Sarah.

Though our work with young people we face the regular refusal of entitlement to 16 and 17 year old’s following estrangement and an unwillingness of DWP to follow regulations and their own guidance.  I believe I have some further insight to this issue and would like to canvass further opinion. 

We are unable to set out a test case or a case for judicial review because on intervention and advocacy we have overturned all the cases we have challenged, and the number is significant.  There is a misadministration of the process by DWP that stands in the way of many, many young people and a rightful entitlement to UC.  I believe this must be a national issue, ultimately and profoundly affecting young people who do not have advocacy.

We have tried to ask our local Jon Centre Liaison group to address the issue but progress is like walking through mud.  I have personally worked on this for 10 months now.  I would be delighted if Rightsnet could advise on how to take this matter forward. 

Even a clarification of what ‘acting in place of a parent’ should be taken to mean would be helpful.

The issue:
Young people at the ages of 16 and 17 may have eligibility for UC due to the regulations setting out estrangement at UC regs. reg 8(1)(g); 3(b)(i); and, crucially in the instances we have had to support, the definition at reg 8(4) — “parent” includes any person acting in the place of a parent.

If a young person is under 18 then their initial online claim is looked at by Jobcentre staff and the computer based “UC Build” template is completed.

However, I am reliably informed by Jobcentre staff that the key question asked in the “UC Build template to ascertain UC eligibility is this: ‘Can the claimant return home or move in with an adult who will take responsibility for them without severe risks to the claimant, the responsible adult or others in the household?’

If the answer to this question is ‘Yes’ then estrangement Is considered not established and the claim is refused.
If the answer is “No” then a further “Review” field is opened and completed by the member of staff.

(The level of education may also be explored in the UC Build but this is a secondary matter, and sometimes appears to be a distraction.  The first and key route to entitlement is estrangement in most cases.)

The UC Build question is at issue here. I am of the opinion that a ’person acting in the place of a parent’ means: a step parent, a foster parent, an adoptive parent, a guardian, social services, and others I am sure, but most importantly, collectively these people are accepting parental responsibility.

In the majority of cases we have seen, the UC Build question results in the acceptance of ‘an adult who will take responsibility for them’ as fulfilling the requirement of the regulation.

For example, and what is frequently the case, if a young person has become estranged from their parent(s) and had to, of necessity, move in with a boyfriend’s parents in their house, then DWP/UC argue that the boyfriend’s parents is a ‘person acting in the place of a parent’.  But in fact, should the burgeoning relationship break down, that young person would most likely be asked to leave that household.  This is not the action of someone acting as a parent would.

Other examples include the young person sofa surfing at an extended family member’s house, a grandparent, an uncle and so forth but in each case the route to entitlement via estrangement is denied on the grounds that there is an adult who will take responsibility for them and that is considered someone acting in place of a parent.

We have intervened on many cases like this, sometimes on a weekly basis and, with significant work, we have overturned all of these decisions, which indicates a large number of young people refused a rightful entitlement to UC.  Which begs the question, what must be happening to those who do not have the advocacy and support we offer to our service users.

As I have said, attempts to see this matter addressed at our Job Centre Liaison meetings are moving very slowly.
Are other advice services seeing this issue? I can only imagine the scope of the matter is national.



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