Gauke refuses delay to UC roll-out

Work and pensions secretary leaves desperate claimants dependent on DWP staff to offer advance payments.

universal credit

Work and pensions secretary David Gauke has refused to delay the flawed roll out of Universal Credit.

Instead, Gauke told the Tory conference that more advance payments would be offered as a tide over – with desperate claimants dependent on DWP staff to offer them.

Gauke rejected calls from 12 Tory MPs – including a direct plea to the Prime Minister – to delay the roll-out.

At conference, Gauke praised the “most radical reform to the benefit system since the second world war”

He said: “I understand the concerns that have been raised that, when people first claim, they have to wait six weeks or more before they receive a penny.

“It is the case that what you get in universal credit depends on what you have earned over the previous month, so payments are made in arrears.

“But I am determined to ensure that those who need support earlier in the month will get it. It is already the case that if people need help before the first full benefit payment, they can quickly get an advance to help tide them over.

“Increasing numbers of people now claim this – since June, the majority of claimants did so.

“However, I can announce today that we are refreshing the guidance to DWP staff to ensure that anyone who needs an advance payment will be offered it up-front. Claimants who want an advance payment will not have to wait six weeks. They will receive this advance within five working days.

“And if someone is in immediate need, then we fast track the payment, meaning they will receive it on the same day.

“Universal credit is working. So I can confirm that the roll-out will continue, and to the planned timetable.

“We’re not going to rush things – it is more important to get this right than to do this quickly, and this won’t be completed until 2022.

“But across the country, we will continue to transform our welfare system to further support those who aspire to work.”

Sue Ramsden, policy leader at the National Housing Federation, responded: “David Gauke’s speech today on Universal Credit has done very little to abate the very real concern that we have around the impact of the six-week wait on families on very low incomes.

“We have received some assurances from DWP that the process to assess claims has improved and more people receive the correct money in their first payment – but this still needs to go much further.

“DWP must help people make and manage claims effectively and swiftly. The money should be made available on request rather than be dependent on claimants having to demonstrate need.”

Stuart Ropke, Chief Executive of Community Housing Cymru said: “Although the UK Government has taken note of some of the issues caused by the roll-out of Universal Credit, this latest announcement adds complexity into an already complex system.

“If the government is serious about removing unintended hardship on those accessing benefits, it would reduce significantly the amount of time that people have to wait before receiving their first payment.”

Head of Public Affairs Sarah Boyack said: “There has been ample evidence, not just from our members, but from all across the UK, that the current delivery of Universal Credit, in particular the Full Service, is not sufficiently resilient to cope with the surge in numbers an accelerated rollout will generate.

“Too many individuals are being left with no money for a considerable period of time, leaving them without heat, without light and without food apart from what they can get from food banks.

“Rent arrears build up which will be difficult to clear even when Universal Credit entitlement has eventually been sorted out.

“Full service catches all who would have needed to claim benefits, including families with young children, with the worry that this will only increase child poverty.

“The SFHA will continue to work with the DWP to help improve the processes underpinning Universal Credit and innovations such as the Landlord Portal have potential, but it are far from ready.

“Without the sharing of the necessary data that would enable housing associations to engage with and support individuals, they face an uphill struggle to secure the rental income stream needed to provide services and develop new homes.

“The SFHA would urge the Scottish Government to use its powers to provide a top-up benefit that could help individuals cope with the wait for their Universal Credit payment.”

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