123 MPs of different parties have signed a letter to David Gauke, Secretary of State for Work & Pensions, to urgently call on him to delay the planned roll out of Universal Credit to 55 new areas a month from next week, to avoid hardship and increased debt for millions of families.
The MPs pointed out how the complicated system of claiming is already struggling to cope with just 5 new areas a month having been rolled out earlier this year.
Gerald Jones MP said,
“The system for claiming Universal Credit is a shambles, even with only 5 new areas a month. According to the government’s own figures, almost a quarter of claimants wait longer than 6 weeks for their payment. Some families wait 12 weeks or more, pushing many into rent arrears or a spiral of debt that is almost impossible to get out of, as their income under Universal Credit is too low to pay off the loan.
“David Gauke must now do the decent thing and delay next week’s planned 11-fold expansion until Universal Credit systems are working properly. If he doesn’t, then hundreds of thousands more families each month will have to suffer weeks with no money, causing them long-term financial problems.
“It would be a huge injustice for so many families to suffer simply because the government will not admit they still can’t get Universal Credit working properly.”
The MPs also pointed out that less than 40% of claimants register successfully with the government’s compulsory online portal, and that the phone ‘helpline’ is simply an automatic message, directing claimants to the website, so they can’t find out what is happening with their claim.
Citizens Advice has already called on the government to delay the programme in light of the evidence from the people they help, of whom over half had to borrow money whilst waiting for their first Universal Credit payment.
Councils and Landlords’ organisations have also called for the roll-out to be delayed as over half of recipients of Universal Credit are in rent arrears. Many tenants are in danger of eviction and some landlords now refuse tenants who are on Universal Credit, making housing problems worse.
Full text of the letter to David Gauke:
Dear Secretary of State
Please delay the planned huge expansion of Universal Credit
We write to ask you to please urgently reconsider the planned huge expansion of the roll-out of Universal Credit next month.
Universal Credit has been rolled out to 57 areas so far this year and has around 500,000 household recipients. As you know, the planned expansion from October is to 55 further areas per month – set to flood the system with almost as many applicants again, every single month.
In light of the mounting evidence of the problems caused by long delays in benefit payments - long-term debt, rent arrears and evictions, and the resulting impact on family relationships, anxiety and depression - we urge you to proceed with continued caution with Universal Credit so as not to endanger the millions of people due to be affected in the next few months.
Last week the DWP Select Committee heard about the current problems with the system and the information released by DWP showed that on the basis of roll-out to only 5 new areas per month:
- Only 77% of claims are currently processed and paid within 6 weeks. The 6 week delay causes considerable hardship, but further delays cause real long-term damage to family finances, with long-term debt, bank problems, and direct debit payment of bills no longer available. The huge influx of new claimants will cause hundreds of thousands more families to suffer such problems.
- Many claimants are unaware of hardship payments and by the time they claim it is too late to prevent debt problems.
- Only around 40% of users successfully log into the Gov.UK ‘Verify’ system to make an online claim. New Universal Credit applicants in the roll-out are from more vulnerable groups, less likely to have IT or be able to use the complicated system.
- The ‘Helpline’ cannot be contacted. We are told that phone waits are down to 3 minutes, but that is because after 3 minutes the caller receives an automated message to look online and is then cut off.
- The Landlord Portal is only at the bare minimum of functionality. It needs to be fully functioning and rolled out to all Councils and large-scale housing providers so they can assist with applicant queries and are aware when claimants have not received their UC payment so we do not see unnecessary evictions.
Please would you ensure that these problems are fully fixed and that the Universal Credit application process is working well for the current small number of applicants before the Full Service is rolled out to so many more as it will otherwise create deep-rooted hardship for families and long-term problems for millions of families that will be far more difficult and costly to resolve.
Gerald Jones MP
Member of Parliament for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney