On 23 March the DWP published the statistics as at 21 March on the switch from paying Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI) as a benefit to giving it as a secured loan showing:
- how many people getting SMI have been contacted by letter and phone ;
- what the people who have been successfully contacted are choosing to do – take the loan, decline the loan or are currently undecided.
UPDATE: see SMI watch – 24 April – slow progress & statistics problems for the next set of statistics.
No real progress has been made
I said two weeks ago in DWP chaos? Only 10,000 have agreed to new SMI loan that the take-up rate was extremely low and the decline and no contact rates worryingly high.
Kit Malthouse, the DWP Minister whose brief includes SMI, said on Moneybox last week, that the numbers were changing as more people are signing up with the deadline approaching.
So, with less than two weeks to go before the change happens, it is good that the DWP is publishing detailed statistics, showing numbers for 14 March and the 21 March.
However, there doesn’t appear to have been any significant progress made between these dates as the table below shows – the table comes from the DWP link but the highlights are mine.
There are now 13,000 who have said they will accept the loan, but no progress has been made with the very large number of people who have not been successfully contacted by phone.
The small drop in overall numbers is probably partly caused by a reduction in the number of people claiming JSA and partly by it being discovered that a few people getting SMI at the moment are no longer eligible. UPDATE actually these numbers are simply wrong! See the latest statistics for an explanation of the low total claimant count.
Why is it so hard to contact people?
I don’t think it’s surprising that the DWP’s contact strategy appears to be failing.
There is the obvious problem that the DWP may not have an up-to-date phone number for claimants.
It is often hard to engage with vulnerable people under financial stress. SMI is not a generous benefit – it will not cover all the mortgage payments for most recipients and many will be struggling to pay the shortfall from means-tested benefits. Many will already have some mortgage arrears.
Many people getting SMI are pensioners and many of them may have a standard anti-scam policy of not answering the phone to people they do not know. The DWP has made this even harder by employing Serco to make these calls.
This needs another 6 months
Last week I suggested that the DWP:
- should postpone the start date by 6 months.
- should improve its communications so they are simpler, clearer and try to answer the many questions people have;
- consider making the SMI loan interest free. This would remove a lot of the suspicion people have about “paying interest on interest”.
I think the latest figures support the need for these three changes. The DWP needs to not only contact the 40% where no successful contact has so far been made, but get back in touch with the 27,000 who have said they do not want the new loan – for many of them this will have been a poor decision.
Are you trying to decide about the new loan?
If you are currently getting SMI and you are trying to decide what to do, read SMI will be a loan from April – should you agree to this?
And it’s good news that if you told Serco you don’t want the loan, you can change your mind. See SMI – what happens if you haven’t agreed to take the loan?