MPs launch fresh probe into Universal Credit

Select committee seeks feedback on payment delays, registration errors, and possible tweaks

By Jim Dunton

23 Feb 2017

MPs on the Work and Pensions Select Committee have launched a new inquiry into problems with Universal Credit.

The investigation aims to shine light on reported issue with the combined welfare system being rolled out to people who rely on employment-related benefits.

A call for evidence for the probe suggests a lag of more than one month in payments being made to new claimants is a source of hardship for many and causes problems for landlords, local authorities and charities.

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It seeks details on how long payments take to come through; how recipients are managing and what the knock-on effects are; and requests more details on reported registration errors with new claims.

Committee chair Frank Field said “huge delays” in people receiving payments from Universal Credit had resulted in claimants falling into debt and rent arrears, caused health problems and led to many having to rely on food banks.

“It is bad enough that Universal Credit has a built-in six-week wait between someone applying and them receiving their first payment, but we have heard that many have to wait much longer than this,” he said.

“The adverse impact on claimants, local authorities, landlords and charities is entirely disproportionate to the small numbers currently claiming Universal Credit, yet [former welfare reform minister] Lord Freud has told us he thinks it will take decades to optimise the system.

“We have therefore felt compelled to investigate Universal Credit yet again.

“We will examine what its impact is on claimants and those local bodies which deal with them, and what government needs to do to ease the pressure on those worst affected.”

The brainchild of former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, Universal Credit was once envisaged to have been fully adopted by 2015, but service-specification changes and IT issues have delayed progress. Full implementation is now expected by March 2022.

As of last week DWP said 450,000 claimants now received their benefits via Universal Credit, and that its “full service” – which covers all types of claimants and can be managed online – was available in 46 Jobcentre areas.

In other areas, a version of Universal Credit called the "live service" is available to single people, but managed over the phone rather than online.

From October, the live service is set to be rolled out to 50 new Jobcentre areas every month until there is full coverage.

The select committee probe into Universal Credit also seeks to establish what impact there has been in areas where claimants have been moved from the live service to the full service, whether Universal Credit has improved the accuracy of benefits payments, and how well the system’s Universal Support programme is working.

It is open to submissions until March 20.

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