The five-week wait that claimants of Universal Credit (UC) face before receiving their first payment can leave people struggling for food and increase stress, Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) has warned.
In the run-up to the government’s spending review (4th September), the charity has published a new Voices From the Frontline briefing which summarises the impact this delay has on people and calls for a set of changes that will mitigate these problems.
The briefing includes case studies from CAB clients from across Scotland about the impact the waiting time has had – including creating debt or causing existing debt to spiral, leaving people with no money to heat their home or buy food and exacerbating ill health.
Following the report, the charity is calling on the Chancellor to use the upcoming spending review to make a series of changes. These include:
- The UK government should reduce the length of time people have to wait for their first UC payment
- Consideration should be given to a single, additional, non-refundable assessment payment for new UC claimants to reduce hardship caused by having no non-repayable income for at least five weeks
- DWP takes all possible steps to ensure that the processing of UC claims is not delayed;
- In particular, DWP should ensure additional information requested by them, particularly in relation to housing costs, is appropriate and is processed in a timely manner
- Run-ons (extended payments of legacy benefits, aimed at helping claimants through the long wait for their first UC payment) should be extended to everyone with immediate effect – run-ons of Tax Credits should also be introduced
CAS social justice spokesperson, Mhoraig Green, said: “The Citizens Advice network in Scotland sees hundreds of thousands of people every year, and many of these cases are people who have had problems with UC.
“Our evidence has consistently shown the five-week wait to be one of the most problematic features of UC.
“It can cause or exacerbate debt problems, as payment of rent, council tax, utilities, and other priority bills may immediately be put at risk, particularly if someone has no savings or has delayed making a claim.”
She added: “It can also leave people struggling to afford food and other essentials. Indeed, clients have had to resort to foodbanks, Crisis Grants, and high cost credit such as payday loans just to get by.
“Many clients have also reported increased stress and negative impacts on their mental and physical health because of the wait.”
The charity also urges anyone who is currently struggling with UC to seek advice from their local Citizens Advice Bureau.