SFHA: More than money required to make Universal Credit fit for purpose

Sally Thomas

Increased funding will not fix the fundamental problems of Universal Credit delivery as the processes need to be fit for purpose as much as policy, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) has said.

The warning comes amid reports that the UK Government is preparing for a further delay in the roll-out of the policy.

According to leaked papers made public by the BBC, the system originally supposed to be up and running by April 2017 is now not expected to be fully operational until December 2023.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has yet to confirm the delay.

The report also claims tentative plans, which could cost hundreds of millions of pounds, are being drawn up to prevent claimants moving onto benefit from suffering hardship.

The full Universal Credit service has been rolled out in 29 local authorities across Scotland so far and is currently being rolled out in Glasgow.

The impact of the UK Government’s welfare cuts was outlined in the annual Welfare Reform Report which estimated that the cuts will lead to a £3.7 billion fall in social security spending by 2021 in Scotland.

Ahead of yesterday’s House of Commons Opposition Day debate on Universal Credit, the SFHA warned that the current system of payments is not fit for purpose.

SFHA chief executive, Sally Thomas, said: “We hope recent speculation that the in-work allowances cut back in 2015 by then Chancellor George Osborne may be restored. But in order for individual claimants to benefit from these changes, there needs to be an efficient and accurate payment system.

“The current system of payments is not fit for purpose. By the Government’s own admission, one in six claimants do not receive their payment on time. Of the 880,000 households on UC, only 20 are receiving split payments, which raises concerns over women trapped in abusive relationships. With the managed migration of Universal Credit due to start next year, we expect many, including the most vulnerable, will need to make a fresh claim with all the requirements around verification and medical evidence, when what should happen is the DWP transferring the information they have on the legacy systems to Universal Credit. In the absence of this, people will need help from support workers, who in turn will need to discuss cases with the DWP.

“One of the safeguards for claimants on Universal Credit is the option to have their rent costs paid direct to the landlord, but the payment system used by the DWP is wholly unsuitable for the task, as it involves the DWP delaying payment until it runs its next creditor payment cycle. The end result is that landlords do not know if they are going to get any direct payment for the tenant until weeks after the money was due and when payments do eventually arrive, in the form of a bulk payment, this has to be unravelled and allocated to the correct rent accounts, making misreporting more likely.”

Ms Thomas also called on housing associations to do all they can to assist their tenants through the transition.

She added: “Housing associations and their tenants need the DWP to do two things: the first is to have a system of implicit consent, which exists in the older benefits, so that support workers can effectively intercede on behalf of claimants. The second is to replace the bulk payment system with one that matches payments with the individual – one claimant, one payment.”

The SNP pointed out that even if this further delay took place, it would not help people in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen - where the new welfare system is being rolled out this year.

SNP social justice spokesperson Neil Gray said only a full halt and fundamental change would address the deep-rooted problems with the system and help those already suffering under it.

Neil Gray MP said: “The UK government must use the Budget to make immediate changes - including ending and reversing the benefits freeze, reinstating the work allowance, scrapping the two-child cap, reintroducing the ESA WRAC and enhanced disability support, abolishing unfair sanctions, and fixing the payment delays and errors.

“The Tories must also instigate a fundamental review of the entire flawed system, and deliver support for families who have been plunged into debt and rent arrears in areas where Universal Credit has already been rolled-out.

“Tory plans for a further delay will not help those families in Glasgow, Edinburgh or Aberdeen where Universal Credit is being rolled-out this year - and will do nothing for those people already suffering in the 29 council areas across Scotland where the policy has already been imposed.”

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