MPs ‘short-changed’ on Universal Credit questions

DWP says written Commons questions too expensive to answer.

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It doesn’t pay to ask questions of the DWP on Universal Credit (UC) – with two MPs left short-changed by ministers saying answers were too expensive.

Labour’s Neil Coyle wanted to know how many new UC claimants received an additional two weeks’ housing benefit each month since April 2018.

DWP minister Will Quince answered: “The information requested is not readily available and to provide it would incur disproportionate cost.”

Quince did qualify, however, that, since it was introduced in April 2018, all Housing Benefit claimants whose Housing Benefit award was ended because of a new claim to UCt have been awarded the two-week Transition to Universal Credit Housing Payment.

Coyle had another go asking what sums the DWP expended on funding the additional two weeks of housing benefit for new UC claimants in each month since April 2018.

Quince answered: “The information requested is not readily available and to provide it would incur disproportionate cost.”

Labour’s Jo Stevens got no further in asking how many claimants had their benefit payments reduced to less than £6 per day, less than £5 per day, and to zero due to the imposition of DWP sanctions since 2010.

This time, it was DWP minister Alok Sharma who got to say: “The information requested is not readily available and to provide it would incur disproportionate cost.”

But Sharma did make some effort with his qualifier to say sanctions are calculated with reference to the claimant’s standard allowance only and not any other elements such as housing or children.

“A sanction will reduce the Universal Credit award by no more than 100% of the standard allowance,” said Sharma.

“We have a well-established system of hardship payments, available as a safeguard if a claimant demonstrates that they cannot meet their immediate and most essential needs – including accommodation, heating, food and hygiene – as a result of their sanction.”

Things weren’t much better in the Lords, where Labour’s Baroness Lister of Burtersett asked whether information provided about deductions in a UC statement includes information about how much debt is left to pay and the recovery rate being applied.

No, said the DWP’s Baroness Buscombe, this information is not currently included on a claimant’s UC statement.

This was because: “Under Universal Credit, there is a structured and simplified approach to deductions from benefit.

“Claimants can view their Universal Credit statement online to see how their award is calculated and a breakdown of what deductions are being made, supporting them to manage their financial obligations.”

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