MSPs call for action to address ‘systematic problems’ with Universal Credit

Sandra White MSP
Sandra White MSP

Serious systematic problems exist with the new Universal Credit system which will only get worse as a result of the UK government’s planned closure of job centres in Scotland, according to a letter issued by a committee of MSPs.

With the roll-out of Universal Credit in its early stages, the Scottish Parliament’s social security committee met with those responsible for administering the system and claimants to hear how this is working in practice.

The committee is concerned about “unacceptable delays” in people receiving the money they are entitled to leading to anxiety, hardship and pushing people into rent arrears.

The committee has now written to the secretary of state for work and pensions, Damian Green MP, highlighting the evidence and urging him to address” the problems inherent in the system” before Universal Credit is rolled-out further in Scotland.

These problems include long waiting times for the Universal Credit helpline, with claimants being charged for calls, these result in extra costs at a time when people are already struggling.

The committee’s letter makes clear that all calls to this helpline should be free.

The committee also heard that third sector organisations are struggling with increasing, more complex caseloads caused by the change to Universal Credit because local job centres are ill-equipped to effectively support claimants.

Universal Credit replaces six benefits - income support, jobseeker’s allowance, employment support allowance, housing benefit, child tax credit and working tax credit - with a single payment. The committee’s work in finding out how the roll-out of Universal Credit was being developed focused on Musselburgh, one of the first areas in Scotland to roll out Universal Credit.

Convener of the social security committee, Sandra White MSP, said: “The whole purpose of Universal Credit was to simplify the process of claiming for social security by rolling six benefits into the one payment. We heard some shocking stories of people whose are being driven to breaking point because this system simply doesn’t work for them.

“We hope that the evidence we heard directly from people using the system will be a wake-up call to the Secretary of State that changes need to be made before Universal Credit is rolled-out any further.

“We recognise any new system is always going to have some issues but most of the Committee agree that if these fundamental, systemic issues are not addressed then Universal Credit is not a workable system.

“Even more concerning is that some of the problems we encountered are likely to be made worse by the closure of job centres across Scotland with more pressure being put on the third sector to help some of our most vulnerable people in Scotland.”

A copy of the full letter to the secretary of state for work and pensions and a copy of the informal meeting with claimants are available here.

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