800,000 claimants ‘could have been’ forced onto UC without transition cash

Work and Pensions Committee hears it’s “hard to estimate” how many joining the system are existing claimants whose circumstances had changed.

universal credit

The DWP boss who said issues with Universal Credit were down to “claimant misunderstandings” came close to confirming around 800,000 benefit claimants had been forced onto Universal Credit without transition cash.

During a tetchy Q&A, Universal Credit Director Neil Couling told the committee “roughly half” of those joining the system were existing benefit claimants whose circumstances have changed.

Asked how many claimants had had a change of circumstances, Couling told the committee it was “hard to give a precise estimate” where the estimate depended on the number of changes of circumstances that occur in a period – and that itself could be determined by economic and other factors.

“But roughly it’s about half and half of caseload growth is through a change in circumstance – and half is through a pure new claim to benefit,” Couling said.

As of January this year 1.6million claimants  were on UC.

Existing benefit claimants moved to UC have a transition fund to ensure their income doesn’t drop, in a trial that starts in July ahead of a full roll out roll out next year.

But this protection does not apply to those whose circumstances change.

The committee heard this “natural migration” could be triggered by factors such as relationship brerak up or a child’s fifth birthday.

Couling clashed with Labour’s Neil Couling over the interpretation of stats cited the National Audit Office (NAO) in its trashing of Universal Credit last year.

Coyle was scathing of a government and DWP still “seeking reassurance” over Universal Credit some five years into the ‘reform’  and with little acknowledgement from Couling as to what could have been done differently.

It was Couling that told a previous meeting of the committee that issues with Universal Credit were down to “claimant misunderstandings”.

Then, he was alongside David Gauke as Work and Pensions Secretary.

Current Secretary Amber Rudd kept up the “change of circumstances” argument in the face of committee questioning as to the extent claimants being left without income.

Coyle asked what message the Harrogate trial sent to claimants who had already moved over.

He told Rudd: “What are we, five years in?

“And you’re beginning a new pilot to see how Universal Credit works?”

Rudd said: “It has always been the case that if you change your circumstances and need to apply for new benefit, you may find that the situation of the benefits that are being proposed have changed.”

Independent MP Heidi Allen said the problem was hitting people who’d moved “two yards down the road”.

Policy in Practice says 40% of UC claimants who move through natural migration lose out by an average of £59 a week compared to the old system, telling the committee that, meanwhile, 30% are expected to gain by £44 a week.

Policy manager Zoe Charlesworth warned the system “has caused some real difficulties for claimants” and is “much tougher” on people forced to move due to a change of circumstances.

“There are some individual circumstances where that test and learn approach should be learning – where people are suffering because of the natural migration,” she said.

  • The committee heard Harrogate would be the first area in Britain to test the concept of managed migration to Universal Credit – with up to 3,000 existing claimants  shifted into the system from July.

Rudd told the committee managed migration would see three million existing claimants will move over to Universal Credit by 2023 where currently only new claimants or those whose circumstances change have joined.

The transfer was meant to start this July, but was pushed back by a year amid fears over flaws in the system.

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