Greater flexibility on start dates for assessment periods to claim Universal Credit (UC) would “create uncertainty” for claimants, DWP minister Alok Sharma has said.
Sharma was pressed by Frank Field MP, chair of the work and pensions committee, in a series of written Commons questions and answers relating to the administration of claimant assessment.
Field was probing the possibility of assessing the “potential merits” of moving the start date of a claim to the point when a claimant sets up an account for assessment purposes.
On allowing for such flexibility, Sharma referenced regulations – specifically the Universal Credit, Personal Independence Payment, Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance (Claims and Payments) Regulations 2013 – to stand by a fixed start date.
“It is necessary to have a fixed start date to be able to assess entitlement and determine the amount of payment due – to do otherwise would create uncertainty for claimants and would be impractical to administer,” Sharma said.
The effective start date of a UC claim is normally the date on which the claim is submitted by the claimant and received by the Department.
“However, in certain circumstances, where we have had direct contact with a claimant who has requested assistance in helping them make their claim, for example through requesting a home visit, the date of contact becomes the start date of their claim,” said Sharma.
Field then asked for consideration of enabling claimants to choose a payment schedule that aligns their assessment periods and payment dates with earnings patterns and the payment of housing costs.
Sharma said the amount of UC paid reflects “as closely as possible” the actual circumstances of a household during each monthly assessment period, including any earnings reported by the employer during the assessment period, regardless of when they were paid, or which month they relate to.
He said: “Assessment periods allow for UC awards to be adjusted on a monthly basis, ensuring that if a claimant’s income falls, they do not have to wait several months for a rise in their UC award.
“Claimants can always discuss the implications of this with their case managers and work coaches and can be referred to Personal Budgeting Support to help them manage their budgeting.”
Government, he said, was “working with employers to ensure that they use the most appropriate payment practices and comply with RTI guidelines in order to minimise the incidence of erroneous or late reporting”.
HMRC was also said to have “updated the guidance” to reiterate to employers the importance of reporting accurate dates and the impact on payment cycles.
Field then turned to how many and what proportion of claimants have been informed of, applied successfully for, and applied unsuccessfully for twice monthly payment options.
On this, Sharma stood by the Personal Budgeting Support process with provision for “meaning all claimants are informed of support that includes alternative payment arrangements and more frequent payments”.