Universal Credit Brings Hardship – Work and Pensions Committee.
Damian Green DWP Minister (who?): Still on Holiday.
I, like many of us, am in two minds about posting this: Frank Field is pretty dodgy, and Pretty Dodgy is Frank Field.
But here goes.
This story follows this:
MPs launch investigation into ‘punishing’ Universal Credit rollout
Follows inquiry last year which congratulated Government on ‘revolutionary innovation’ Independent 23rd February.
DWP in denial about Universal Credit hardship, says Work and Pensions Committee.
From Welfare Weekly 16th of March.
Work and Pensions Committee Chair, Frank Field MP, says the DWP have their “head in the sand” about hardship caused by Universal Credit.
The Work and Pensions Committee has accused the government of having their “head in the sand” about problems with the roll-out of Universal Credit, which is replacing a number of existing benefits with one single monthly payment.
The committee says it has heard “compelling evidence” about “serious knock-on effects” caused by the roll-out of Universal Credit around the country, including rising rent arrears and problems resulting from “a built-in six-week delay” between someone applying for the new benefit and receiving th
Recent research warned the government’s flagship Universal Credit scheme is causing significant anxiety and leaving many claimants reliant on the generosity of food banks to get by.
A study commissioned by Community Housing Cymru (CHC) found that rent arrears among Welsh Universal Credit claimants was more than three-times higher than the UK average – £450 compared to £131.
Commenting on the research, Frank Field MP, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee said: “Huge delays in people receiving payments from universal credit have resulted in claimants falling into debt and rent arrears, caused health problems and led to many having to rely on food banks.”
He added: “It is bad enough that UC has a built-in six-week wait between someone applying and receiving their first payment, but we have heard that many have to wait much longer than this.
“The adverse impact on claimants, local authorities, landlords and charities is entirely disproportionate to the small numbers currently claiming UC, yet Lord Freud has told us he thinks it will take decades to optimise the system.
“We have therefore felt compelled to investigate UC yet again. We will examine what its impact is on claimants and those local bodies which deal with them, and what government needs to do to ease the pressure on those worst affected.”
Former Welfare Minister Lord Freud told the Committee in an evidence session that Universal Credit might take “decades to optimise”.
But despite mounting evidence that UC is causing severe hardship for many people, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) continues to claim that rent arrears associated with UC will be short-lived and should not present an insurmountable obstacle to landlords.
Frank Field said: “Despite a growing body of evidence about the very real hardship the rollout of Universal Credit is creating for some, often the most vulnerable, claimants – and the struggles it is creating for local authorities trying to fulfil their responsibilities – it is flabbergasting that the Government continues to keep its head in the sand.
“There is no urgency in the Government’s attempts to solve, for example, the incompatibility between Universal Credit and a council’s duties to those in emergency temporary accommodation.
“This is affecting some of society’s most vulnerable people, at a point of crisis, yet the Government appears unwilling to take the action it could to solve this and simply remove these people from the Universal Credit system.”
The Report cited above:
The first-ever Welsh research report into the impact of Universal Credit (UC) from the tenants’ perspective will be launched in Cardiff today (Thursday, 9th March).
Community Housing Cymru (CHC), the membership body for Welsh housing associations, commissioned Cardiff Metropolitan University to carry out the research with Welsh social housing tenants as part of its Welfare Defence Programme.
Cardiff Metropolitan University worked with tenants by enabling them to design the research question and undertake the research themselves, using focus groups made up of their peers.The independent research, funded by the Oak Foundation, explores tenants’ experiences of UC, barriers to engaging with their landlord and solutions to overcome these barriers.
The report found that:
- There can be 4-8 week delays in payments, causing significant anxiety and forcing several people to access food banks to get by.
- Tenants often rely on their peers for support and information. A huge barrier for some tenants engaging with their landlord and the DWP was due to confidence ,literacy issues and the personal cost of contacting these organisations.
- Generic rent arrears letters were not seen as effective.
- Participants wanted more communication between their landlord and the DWP as they had no way of knowing if rent increase charges had been taken into account as part of their new UC payment.
The UK average for rent arrears is £131. However, this more than trebles in Wales to £450 under UC which emphasises the importance of this piece of research.
Stuart Ropke, Chief Executive of Community Housing Cymru, welcomed the report’s findings. He said: “This report is the first of its kind about the impact of Universal Credit (UC) from tenants’ perspectives, uniquely undertaken by tenants themselves. CHC’s members are actively working to mitigate the impact of UC and, while it’s heartening to read the praise for support staff from tenants, there is a lot we can learn from this research.”
Stuart added: “UC has created a vacuum between tenants and landlords. Under the current system, many landlords do not know if their tenants are on UC and are therefore having to pay their rent themselves. They are often only alerted to the fact that they are on UC when they fall into arrears.
Paul Langley, Head of Business Development for CHC’s Your Benefits are Changing project added:‘We currently do not have automatic access to information about which tenants are on UC and we are working with the DWP on a solution to improve this. The landlord portal, once rolled out, will improve data sharing to enable a personalised approach which is essential to ensure that we support tenants moving on to UC.”
Amanda Protheroe, one of the report’s authors said: “Our hope is that this report reflects the experiences of tenants who are dealing with the issues around Universal Credit. Tenants were clear about issues and barriers to their communicating with both the DWP and their landlords but were most keen to discuss solutions. The overarching message was around the quality of relationships tenants had with these organisations with kindness being mentioned as something the tenants really valued.”
You can read the report here.