MP Gwynne critical of Universal Credit roll-out
Thursday 12th October 2017 @ 09:16 by Adam Higgins
Denton & Audenshaw News

Denton and Reddish MP, Andrew Gwynne, has joined 122 MPs of different parties to sign 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. 

The MPs said a quarter of claimants are waiting over six weeks for payments and there is evidence of some families waiting 12 weeks.

They also pointed out how the complicated system is already struggling to cope, with just five new areas a month having been rolled out earlier this year.

Universal Credit, which combines out-of-work benefits and tax credits, will be paid to claimants directly as a single monthly payment for all household bills, including rent. The MPs argue that this will put claimants under pressure to manage a lump sum of money while ensuring that rent and other priority debts are paid.

Tameside Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) was one of the first Universal Credit pilot areas. The CAB found many families that are about to be moved onto the new benefit are already struggling and will need emergency financial support to help pay for basics.

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.

Mr Gwynne said: “The system for claiming Universal Credit is a shambles, even with only five new areas a month. According to the government’s own figures, almost a quarter of claimants wait longer than six 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.

“Less than 40 per cent 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.

“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.”

But, during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Theresa May said: “I’ve made very clear that we continue to look at how we are dealing with this and ensuring that we get this system out in a way that is actually working for people.

“The performance is increasing and it is working because more people are getting into work on UC than were on Job Seekers Allowance.”

Mrs May also said that Department for Work and Pensions officials were continuing to examine the performance and operation of Universal Credit.