New benefits change causing ‘serious detriment’ to vulnerable Scots

CAS UC reportThe UK government’s much-heralded change to the social security system contains a number of inherent flaws which are causing serious problems for people in need, according to a detailed new report from Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS).

The new Universal Credit (UC) policy is a massive reform to social security, replacing many of the existing benefits with just one which is more efficient and easier to understand. UC has been rolled out gradually across the country over the last year and is currently only available to a small number of claimants, but will gradually be in place for all claimants – including jobseekers, low-income workers, and those unable to work due to illness or disability.

CAS has spent the year analysing the impact of the new system on Scottish CAB clients, and has concluded that it contains problems which must be fixed before it is expanded to all claimants. These include delays in payment, unfair sanctions and glitches in technology. CAS also identified possible complications due to the transfer of powers to Holyrood.

Publishing the ‘Learning from Testing Times’ report today, CAS spokesman Rob Gowans, said: “The principles behind Universal Credit are good. Anything that seeks to simplify the system and make it easier and more efficient has to be welcomed. So we have always supported the policy and we want it to work. We also understand that any new system is bound to have teething problems, and the government was right to roll out it slowly so that these could be identified. Our report today is published in that spirit. We are presenting the problems we have seen, so that they can be fixed.

“However, it is very important now that the government responds to this evidence with practical measures to improve the system. In the past Ministers have been slow to act in fixing such flaws, and often deny their existence, despite overwhelming evidence. Universal Credit has a lot of goodwill, and really could make life easier for many struggling households. But if the problems we have identified are not addressed, then the system really could cause serious detriment to some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

“As always, the evidence we present here is based on real-life experience of real people. For those who rely on the system, the impact of its failures is very real. Sick, disabled, unemployed and low-income families deserve a social security system that is worthy of the name. Universal Credit could be a step towards that. But first its inherent flaws need to be corrected.”

The CAS report lists the flaws in three categories: problems in the design of the system, problems in its administration and possible future challenges.

Design challenges include:

  • A six-week wait to receive a first payment
  • Challenges caused to claimants by a single monthly payment
  • The effect of UC sanctions
  • A primarily online system, when around 20 per cent of users struggle to use the internet
  • Administrative and transitional challenges include:

    • Confusion caused by running UC in parallel with an existing legacy benefits system
    • Issues with the Universal Credit Helpline, including no Freephone number being available
    • Early administrative issues causing delays in claims being processed
    • Teething problems with the Real Time Information system from employers
    • Future Challenges include:

      • The impact of numerous changes made to elements of UC by the UK government’s 2015 Budget and Autumn Statement
      • The unknown impact of ‘in-work conditionality’ for claimants
      • The devolution of some administrative functions to the Scottish Government.
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