Call for Universal Credit overhaul as claimants struggle to meet housing costs

Feeding Camden February 2019 Number One

Jean Kilshaw, on behalf of Feeding Camden

Citizens Advice Website
Citizens Advice Website

In October 2018 the government announced funding for Citizens Advice to help support people with Universal Credit (UC). 1 The organisation is now calling on the government for UC to continue to be reformed so it works for all claimants.  2

On 6 February 2019 Citizens Advice reported the results of a survey of 1,193 people who had been supported with UC by its advisers.  The findings are concerning in that half of claimants helped were in rent arrears or fell behind with their mortgage payments.  Also they found that debt problems were more common among people being helped with UC compared with those claiming benefits under the previous system.  (Data from 21,085 debt advice clients were also studied.)  2

Some aspects had improved with fewer people going without essential items or falling behind with other household bills and the proportion of claimants who are not paid in full and on time had also dropped from one in four to one in six.  However, one of the big criticisms of UC has been the waiting period for first payment.  On this aspect Citizens Advice says that changes to the waiting period have improved things for many people but “our evidence shows they don’t go far enough.” 2

The aim is for people to have enough money to live on

Citizens Advice has also called for changes to make UC more flexible to enable recipients to pay monthly rent or mortgage bills while having enough to live on.

The organisation was quoted in The Guardian on 6 February 2019:  “The people we see on universal credit often struggle because the level of income they live on leaves no budget for any unexpected expenses or income shocks. Some simply do not have enough money to live on.”  3

In The Times of 6 February 2019 Gillian Guy, the Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, highlighted the challenge for the future:  “With 1.6 million more people due to move on to universal credit this year, and seven million receiving it by the time it’s fully rolled out, it’s essential the government gets it right – and fast.”  4

1https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/about-us/how-citizens-advice-works/media/press-releases/citizens-advice-to-provide-support-to-universal-support-claimants/

2https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/about-us/how-citizens-advice-works/media/press-releases/one-in-two-people-citizens-advice-helps-with-universal-credit-struggle-to-pay-for-housing-as-they-wait-for-payment/

3https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/feb/06/call-for-universal-credit-overhaul-amid-fears-of-looming-evictions-crisis

4https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/universal-credit-claimants-struggling-to-pay-rent-wlr9w5gfr

What do people think of UC?  DWP reports 80% service satisfaction 

An official survey published on 31 January 2019 by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP Claimant Service and Experience Survey 2017/2018) has revealed that four in five (80%) of UC claimants in 2017/2018 were satisfied with the service they received. This was the lowest level of satisfaction for 10 benefits with the highest level of satisfaction of 93% being recorded by state pension recipients.  Just over a third (34%) of UC claimants reported that they were “very satisfied” whilst one in 10 claimants were “very dissatisfied” with their experience. 1

The chief executive of the The Child Action Poverty Group, Alison Garnham, commented in The Guardian of 1 February 2019 as follows:

“The ministerial refrain is that universal credit is a force for good but the DWP’s own survey shows in reality there are still fundamental problems.  Overall, satisfaction rates among universal credit claimants are worse than for any other DWP benefit.  That is not where universal credit should be.”  2

 A DWP spokesperson is also quoted referring to the 80% level of satisfaction and commenting that the overall level of satisfaction among claimants has remained consistently high over the last three years.  2

1https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/774560/dwp-claimant-service-and-experience-survey-2017-2018.pdf

2https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/feb/01/universal-credit-scores-lowest-for-satisfaction-in-benefits-survey

Government faces High Court challenge over impact of UC on disabled households

According to The Independent 23 January 2019 The Child Poverty Action Group is bringing an action on behalf of a single mother with a severely disabled 12-year old child and a disabled woman who lives alone claiming that the women were left worse off after being “forced” to move to UC from previous benefits following incorrect decisions by the DWP.  They are also challenging the “lack of protection against cash losses” for people affected in this way.  1

The charity claims that in the case of the single mother she received £140 a month less for more than 18 months after switching to UC.  The disabled woman continues to receive about £180 a month less than she did previously. The women were not entitled to cash top-ups to protect against loss of income because they were not part of the planned “mass managed migration” from existing benefits to UC.  The women are bringing the case to stop any more claimants from having to take the fall-out of the DWP’s poor decision making.

1https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/universal-credit-high-court-disabled-dwp-child-poverty-action-group-amber-rudd-a8741941.html

Severely disabled people will not be forced onto UC

Work and Pensions Secretary, Amber Rudd, has halted anyone who gets the Severe Disability Premium Benefit from being automatically put on to UC according to the Sun on 23 January 20191

In a letter dated 14 January 2019 to the Work and Pensions Select Committee Chairman, Frank Field, (released on 22 January 2019 and published in full on 23 January by The Sun) Ms Rudd revealed that she had pushed through emergency powers to make sure that people in receipt of the Disability Benefit will be allowed to continue to claim it until they are migrated over to UC.  The change came into force on 16 January 2019. 2

https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/8260853/universal-credit-disabled-brits-wont-be-forced-over/

2https://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/work-and-pensions/Correspondence/190114%20SoS%20to%20FF%20HA%20on%20UC.PDF

MPs Frank Field and Heidi Allen embark on a food bank tour

The Chairman of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, Frank Field, has been in the news again in relation to his concern about poverty. 

In 2017 a passionate address of Mr Field’s to the House of Commons about his experience of people in desperate need in his constituency moved the Conservative MP, Heidi Allen, to tears. (1)  Now Mr Field and Ms Allen, who is also a member of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, have joined forces across the political “divide” to undertake a tour of food banks in the UK to gauge the extent, causes and effects of chronic poverty in the UK.  2,3

Their first three visits were in London (Poplar, Waterloo), and Leicester.  They met a man who has to survive on £40 a month, a graduate trained in chemistry and an electrical engineer both of whom suffered from depression and hunger after they lost their jobs.  The latter could not navigate their way through the UC system to establish an adequate income.  Mr Field and Ms Allen met local advice agencies who are having to add to their traditional roles with providing emergency supplies of food, gas and electricity.  Volunteers at food banks are wondering how they will continue to cope.  Part of the MPs’ mission is to magnify these local experiences in Parliament and build a cross-party campaign that achieves change. 3 

1https://www.theguardian.com/society/video/2017/dec/06/heidi-allen-mp-tears-frank-field-impact-of-universal-credit-video

2https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jan/24/ive-absolutely-had-enough-tory-mp-embarks-on-anti-austerity-tour

3https://inews.co.uk/opinion/comment/why-ive-teamed-up-with-a-tory-mp-to-launch-an-anti-austerity-tour-of-the-uk/

Call for Universal Credit overhaul as claimants struggle to meet housing costs