An estimated 1.3 million people experiencing high levels of mental distress receive or are applying for Universal Credit, according to a charity.
The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, which was founded by consumer champion Martin Lewis, released the figure as it called for urgent action to fix “design flaws” in the Universal Credit system.
It warned that hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people may struggle to get support to effectively manage their Universal Credit accounts.
The charity said that, without support, many people with common symptoms of mental health problems, such as difficulty in understanding complex information and remembering appointments, are struggling with the admin required to receive payments.
People are left at risk of being sanctioned or cut off from payments, causing unnecessary anguish for claimants and their carers, the charity said.
In a survey of more than 230 people with mental health problems who had claimed Universal Credit, over half (57%) needed help from family or friends to manage their Universal Credit account.
Just over a quarter (27%) needed help always or often, but only one in 10 (10%) had managed to give permission for someone to help regularly.
Its “set up to fail” campaign calls for the Universal Credit claims process to be simplified, with clearer advice on what information people need to give to get support from a loved one.
It said people should have more flexible options to share information about their Universal Credit account with loved ones.
The charity’s research found that more than half (54%) of UK adults who have had mental health problems said they have severe difficulties in using the phone, often leading to panic attacks, heart palpitations and spiralling anxiety.
Gary, who took part in the charity’s research, said: “In the last year I was made redundant after being with a company for more than 23 years, and all the stress and worry has just come to the surface.
“I found the process of managing Universal Credit just horrendous and tough to follow, nothing is ever explained to you. At the moment I find it tough to deal with people as it’s hard to talk.”
Mr Lewis, chairman of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, said: “It sounds like a scene from a spoof. People who are entitled to Universal Credit, sometimes due to mental health problems, which impact their ability to fill in forms or process complex information, are allowed to nominate someone to help them with the admin needed to keep receiving benefits.
“Yet to do that, they must go through a complex process which requires them to do the exact things they need help with in the first place. If they don’t manage it, they ultimately risk being sanctioned or losing all financial help.
“I don’t believe this is a deliberate attempt to set people up to fail. Yet that is the practical outcome for some. This is one Universal Credit problem the Government can easily fix, by providing people with the right advice on how to nominate a loved one to help them, and by making the process to do it much easier, simpler and user-friendly.”
Mr Lewis added that, with more and more people likely to move on to Universal Credit when the furlough scheme ends in September, “there is no time to waste”.
Money and Mental Health’s set up to fail campaign has been backed by organisations including Mind, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Turn 2 Us, the Money Charity and Advice UK.