MPs urge government to delay universal credit rollout

MPs’ letter calls for extension of universal credit to be postponed until next year to avoid people suffering Christmas hardship

David Gauke, the work and pensions secretary, has been urged by 30 Labour MPs, and the Green party MP Caroline Lucas, to delay the expansion of the new universal credit benefit system to stop their constituents suffering severe hardship over Christmas.

In a letter to the Guardian the group, led by the Labour MP Laura Pidcock, called on the government to put off the latest rollout of universal credit until the new year, because people would not be able to afford delays to their first benefit payments over the festive period.

Ministers are planning to accelerate the introduction of universal credit, which rolls six benefits into a single monthly payment, to about 50 new areas.

But the 31 MPs, whose constituencies will be affected, said it would cause misery for thousands of new claimants who may not get their first payments for up to seven weeks after applying.

“There is a real worry that the introduction of universal credit, at this time, will cause extreme hardship for many people in vulnerable situations, exacerbated by the financial burdens of the festive period.

“We understand that the proposed changes were designed to make the social security system simpler, more reactive to an individual’s issues and more efficient. However, evidence from other parts of the country where UC has been introduced already shows that it is far from the efficient system trailed,” the MPs

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Rent arrears for Universal Credit tenants remain ‘stubbornly high’

The National Federation of ALMOs and the Association of Retained Council Housing voice strong concerns at government’s plans to accelerate the roll-out of UC.

In a joint report, the NFA and ARCH are calling on government to halt to the roll-out of Universal Credit (UC) and remove the seven day wait period for new claims.

The report, ‘Pause for Thought – Measuring the impact of welfare reform on tenants and landlords 2017 survey results’ has tracked the impact of welfare reforms on landlords and tenants.

The report states that “clearly the problems associated with the UC roll-out identified in previous research remain unresolved.”

Almost four years on from the initial introduction of UC in October 2013 research shows delays in the UC assessment process, poor communications between DWP and landlords, and the seven day wait period continue to cause significant problems to both landlords and their tenants.

Other issues such as digital access also present problems for 50 to 65-year-old claimants.

Key findings include:

  • Tenant rent arrears among UC claimants remain stubbornly high at 73%, a total cost of £6.68m
  • Families with no previous history of rent arrears are being driven into debt, with 40% of households accumulating rent arrears as a consequence of claiming UC
  • Households already struggling with rent payments are being driven deeper into debt as the average arrears amount for UC claimants has increased from £611.73 ( March 2016)  to £772.21 (March 2017).

In general its members support the principles of UC and appreciate the value of encouraging individual responsibility; having introduced a variety of initiatives and projects to support tenants into work.

Councils and landlords are also developing innovative practices including triage systems and employing additional support workers to identify and prioritise those households in greatest need.

However, it is clear that support provided to tenants by landlords alone is not sufficient to resolve the problems being experienced and is not scalable as the roll-out accelerates across the country and many more families and children become a part of the Universal Credit system.

To date, councils and landlords have borne the costs of providing essential support to tenants transitioning onto UC.

Whilst this has been manageable in small numbers (currently roll-out stands at 2.6% of our tenants) the level and intensity of support needed can not be sustained by landlords alone as the roll-out is set to increase rapidly over the course of 2017/18.

Eamon McGoldrick, managing director, NFA says: ‘We are strongly urging government/DWP to halt the roll-out of UC and ‘Pause for thought’ – until the system works properly for both claimants and landlords.

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The rollout of Universal Credit should be paused until significant problems with it are fixed (petition)

Sign the petition here:

We are adding our voice to a growing body of evidence that Universal Credit is causing financial distress, and ask for the further roll out of Universal credit to be paused until existing problems with it are fixed;

Our principal concerns are;
*more than one in three people are waiting in excess of 6 weeks to receive any income, and 11 per cent are waiting more than 10 weeks

*rent arrears among Universal Credit claimants are rising.
*clients on universal credit are nearly one and a half times as likely to seek advice on debt issues compared to those on other benefits.
*foodbanks in areas of full universal credit rollout to single people, couples and families, have seen a 16.85 per cent average increase in referrals for emergency food, more than double the national average of 6.64 per cent.

Why is this important?

Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, said: “Universal Credit is already failing too many people, pushing them into debt and leaving them without the means to make ends meet. Citizens Advice supports the principles of Universal Credit, but pushing ahead with roll out while the system remains beset with problems will put thousands more families at financial risk.
“The current flaws with the system also undermine the very reasons Universal Credit was introduced: to simplify the benefits system and make sure every hour of work pays. As things stand, too many people are finding Universal Credit very complicated, and problems such as long wait for payments or difficulties getting help with an application mean they are less able to focus on getting into work or increasing their hours.”
“The government needs to pause plans to accelerate the roll out of full service Universal Credit this Autumn and devote the time and resource needed to tackle the key problems which mean the system is not working.”

Based on data from a representative survey of people seeking advice in universal credit full service areas as of May 2017, Citizens Advice highlights that –
More than one in three people are waiting in excess of 6 weeks to receive any income, and 11 per cent are waiting more than 10 weeks;.
30 per cent of people have made 10 or more calls to the helpline to sort out their claim at a cost of up to 55p per minute, and often have to wait over 30 minutes to get through;
40 per cent reported they were not aware they could get an advance payment to help with the initial waiting period for their first payment, and more than half borrowed money whilst waiting; and
clients on universal credit are nearly one and a half times as likely to seek advice on debt issues compared to those on other benefits.

Solving problems in the practical operation of universal credit must be an ‘urgent priority’ in the new Parliament, the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee Frank Field has said.

Mr Field highlights that, while many respondents supported in principle the objectives of universal credit, there was a near unanimous set of concerns about its implementation, including –
claimants waiting 12 weeks or more for their first payment, resulting in hardship and distress;
vulnerable claimants struggling to adapt to receiving universal credit as a single monthly payment;
the seven waiting days at the start of a claim, for which claimants receive no benefit, adding to claimants’ financial difficulty;
rent arrears amongst universal credit claimants rising;
poor communications between landlords, support organisations and the Department where universal credit ‘full service’ is operating; and
universal credit inadequately supporting claimants in emergency temporary accommodation.

Referrals to food banks have increased by more than 16 per cent in universal credit full service areas, according to a new report from the Trussell Trust.
the Trussell Trust highlights that, between 1 April 2016 and 31 March 2017, it provided 1,183,954 three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis, of which 436,938 went to children. Other key findings include –
foodbanks in areas of full universal credit rollout to single people, couples and families, have seen a 16.85 per cent average increase in referrals for emergency food, more than double the national average of 6.64 per cent;
the effect of a 6+ week waiting period for a first universal credit payment can be serious, leading to foodbank referrals, debt, mental health issues, rent arrears and eviction, and these effects can last even after people receive their universal credit payments, as bills and debts pile up;
people in insecure or seasonal work are particularly affected, suggesting the work incentives in universal credit are not yet helping everyone; and
navigating the online system can be difficult for people struggling with computers or unable to afford telephone helplines – in some cases, the system does not register people’s claims correctly, invalidating it.


If you are on Universal Credit you’d better not get ill

A recent phone query revealed yet another serious problem with Universal Credit. Frank rang us on behalf of his daughter, Jen, who suffers from anxiety and panic attacks. Jen is on Universal Credit and was caught by the last throws of the Work Programme, so she can look forward to two years of being given useless things to do. However, going to the Work Programme provider was making her conditions worse – especially when they shut her in the computer room – so she has had to ask her doctor for help. When Frank contacted us Jen had just handed in her second six-week ‘fit note’, and was worried about being sanctioned if she didn’t go to her Work Programme appointment.

Read more of this article from here: If you are on Universal Credit you’d better not get ill


Universal Credit is ‘failing thousands of people’, says head of Citizens Advice

The charity’s chief executive Gillian Guy says there are problems with the delivery of the scheme and is asking the Government to delay its rollout

The Government is being urged to delay the rollout of the new Universal Credit system as it is “failing thousands of people”.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of the charity Citizens Advice, says there are problems with both the design and delivery of the scheme. She added: “By 2022, seven million families in the UK will receive Universal Credit, which is replacing six existing means-tested benefits. We welcome efforts to simplify our benefits system. But Universal Credit is already failing thousands of people.

“Every day at Citizens Advice we see people being pushed into desperate circumstances by problems with the new system. Despite this, a dramatic increase in the number of people affected is planned for October. The Government’s ‘test and learn’ approach can’t end up being an experiment with people’s lives. When they see problems with the new system, they need to stop and fix them.”

“That’s why we’re calling on the Government to pause the Universal Credit rollout and fix the problems with both design and delivery.

“We already see people who are struggling to make ends meet, falling into serious debt and on the verge of eviction because of problems with Universal Credit.”

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Activists ‘horrified’ by universal credit rules forcing sick claimants into work activity

“Very dangerous” rules are forcing severely-ill people applying for the government’s new universal credit to look for jobs and take part in training, even though their GPs have said they are not fit for work, “horrified” disabled activists have warned.

The rules – which have never been announced or publicised by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – apply to new universal credit claimants who are waiting for an assessment of their “fitness for work”.

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Another Universal Credit fiasco

This appeared on my Facebook feed today:

“I asked to join this group to find out if my experience with UC is normal, I would be grateful of any advice offered.
I was made redundant at the end of February I phoned the helpline and was told I would be entitled to UC I had an appointment come through and followed every single patronising, degrading judgemental rule in the UC book, I attended every appointment with my “work coach” who although pleasant enough robotically told me how wonderful UC is for the likes of me.
I applied for so many jobs I lost count and despite not spending the ridiculous 30 hours per week job searching I had at least an interview a week, I received a payment for April eventually but this did not include a rent payment, although I had paid my rent for March obviously my last wage packet wasn’t enough to cover April, I hadn’t been on any benefits before I lost my job.
My landlord was less than sympathetic and it was a case of pay your rent or you will be evicted, I phoned UC they blamed the landlord for not returning verification of the rent, the landlord blamed me for losing my job. after 6 weeks I found a job and notified UC I am now in full time employment, I still had not received a payment towards my rent although I had a notification I would have a rent payment sent to my landlord on May 9th, this was for roughly 3 weeks rent, apparently this is all I am entitled to, however this still hasn’t been paid, I phoned to ask why and they told me I havnt attended my interview at the job centre!!!!
I once again explained I am now working full time and no longer need UC but I owe 6 weeks rent and will soon be evicted from my home if I do not pay it.
I had to take out a high interest credit card to pay as much as the limit would allow which still doesn’t cover the amount I am now in arrears, I am paid weekly and am having to pay the majority of my wages to my landlord and so my other bills are slipping.
I have now been told I have to attend a gateway interview at the job centre, I explained I work from 7.30am – 5pm 5 days a week, however they have said if I do not attend this interview they will not pay the rent that is owed.
I really cannot express my complete contempt for these people who now expect me to take time off from my new job to have an interview for what?? to hold my rent payment to ransom is despicable behaviour, no rent payment for 10 weeks is disgusting, I am at a loss to work this out.

From the Facebook page “Universal Credit Survival”