Government has ‘head in sand’ over universal credit

17 Mar 17

The government has its “head in the sand” over issues with universal credit, according to the chair of the work and pensions committee.

Frank Field said the government was still not attempting to solve the problems with the benefit as it was being rolled out across the country.

The Department for Work & Pensions, in a response to the select committee reopening its inquiry into the major welfare reform, said that rent arrears associated with universal credit were “likely to be of a short duration”.

It also said it "should not present an insurmountable obstacle to landlords".

Field said: "Despite a growing body of evidence about the very real hardship that the rollout of universal credit is creating for some, often the most vulnerable, claimants – and the struggles it is creating for local authorities trying to fulfil their responsibilities – it is flabbergasting that the government continues to keep its head in the sand.

“There is no urgency in the government’s attempts to solve, for example, the incompatibility between universal credit and a council’s duties to those in emergency temporary accommodation.”

Universal credit combines six means-tested benefits and tax credits into one. Implementation began in April 2013 and is expected to be completed by July 2019.

The select committee says it heard “compelling evidence” of problems as universal credit was rolled out, “with serious knock-on effects on housing and rent payments”.

The group of MPs were particularly concerned about the impact of universal credit on rent areas, “having heard much evidence that this is a significant and growing problem for universal credit claimants”.

There is a built-in six-week period between someone applying for the monthly benefit and receiving it, but the welfare watchdog heard evidence that people were waiting much longer than this.

Although it played down the rent arrears associated with universal credit, the DWP has accepted it “must improve how it communicates with landlords and welfare advisers about individual cases”.

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