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Addressing Systemic Issues in Universal Credit

Warwick Law in the Community (LinC) is pleased to offer a new project opportunity to volunteer with the Strategic Public Law Clinic in partnership with the Central England Law Centre (CELC) for Spring Term 2021. The project will operate remotely and should appeal to students who have an interest in social justice and are considering pursuing a career in these areas of practice.


Addressing Systemic Issues in Universal Credit

Universal Credit was introduced in 2012 as a new, comprehensive welfare benefits system intended to make the process of applying for benefits and maintaining claims easier and more accessible, while also reducing costs to the taxpayer and enabling claimants to more readily engage in work. It incorporates a range of previously separate benefits into one claim and payment process. However, since its introduction, the Universal Credit system has been subject to significant criticism, including growing concerns about the role of automated decision-making.

This project will look at one aspect of the decision-making process in which the Central England Law Centre has observed irregularities in more depth.

The benefit cap limits the amount of benefit that many working age people can claim. It can make it difficult to pay rent or meet other living costs. The cap cuts universal credit until the overall benefit entitlement is within the cap. Most people affected by the benefit cap are families with children. Some single people and couples without children are also affected, usually in areas with high private rents.

A benefit claimant who is assessed as being unable to engage in work-related activity should be exempt from the benefit cap. If a claimant sends in a sick note from a GP, they should be sent a specific form to complete and submit, which is then used to decide if they should be offered a Work Capability Assessment. However, it seems that this form is not being sent out when it should, meaning that there is no referral for assessment or opportunity to establish the basis for an exemption.

The claimant may never know there is such an exemption unless they have an adviser and even then, the appeals process can take time. Meanwhile, the claimant may be struggling to pay for basic necessities.

We anticipate that this project will involve:

  • A half-day training on Universal Credit and the relevant parts of the decision-making process
  • A detailed review of cases where this problem has arisen
  • Mapping the decision-making process
  • Conducting research amongst the adviser networks to identify how widespread the issue may be
  • Developing FOIA questions to send to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)
  • Producing a report of findings

Students involved in the project will gain an in-depth appreciation of how the Universal Credit system works, key legal research skills, including the ability to draft FOIA questions, as well as communication and strategic project management skills.


Opportunities with the Strategic Public Law Clinic are open to Warwick law students. Student volunteers are expected to commit 3-5 hours per week during term time, including regular team meetings. Students must take the work seriously and maintain their commitment for the duration of the project or agreed timeframe.

We anticipate the project will run for one term. However, given the nature of the work, projects may extend into an additional term and student volunteers will be offered the option to continue should that happen.

How to apply

Via the form below, applicants should submit a short C.V. and a covering letter (no more than 300 words for the letter) explaining what they believe they would contribute to the clinic and what they hope to learn from the experience that will help them in their future endeavours.

  • Submit your application by Wednesday, 9 December at 7pm
  • Shortlisted students will be notified on Friday, 11 December 2020
  • Group interviews - Wednesday, 13 January with Dr Tara Mulqueen and Karen Ashton, Head of Public Law and Human Rights CELC.
  • Strategic Public Law Clinic induction provisionally scheduled for Friday 15 January following successful interview and availability of group
  • Universal Credit project training - during w/c 18 January 2021

If you have any questions about this opportunity, please email Dr Tara Mulqueen or Jan Arnell

This form is closed and is no longer accepting any submissions. Thank you for your time.