MPs call for universal credit waiting time to be cut

26 Oct 17

Making claimants wait six weeks for their first universal credit payment is “cruel” and should be cut from six weeks to one month as a matter of urgency, according to a cross-party group of MPs.

The Commons work and pensions committee said in a report today that most low-income families do not have the savings to see them through the six-week waiting period.

It highlighted evidence from parts of the country where universal credit has fully rolled out showing it had “compelling links” to overwhelmed food banks, problem debt and rising rent areas and homeless.

Councils in areas where universal credit has been trialled told PF they were diverting resources to deal with financial hardship cases. They called for the roll out of the benefit to be halted.

Committee chair Frank Field said: “The baked in six-week wait is cruel. No one can give us any real justification for it. Such a long wait bears no relation to anyone’s working life and the terrible hardship it has been proven to cause actually makes it more difficult for people to find work.

“It is not too late for the government to avert a Christmas disaster. They must act now.”

Conservative committee member Heidi Allen, who has been a regular critic of the government’s welfare reforms, added: “Despite the clear support for universal credit, there is cross-party recognition that the six-week wait does not honour the original intentions of the system.

“To truly represent the world of work, the payment cycle must mirror how the majority of people are paid i.e. monthly. Universal credit will only be the success it deserves to be if it works with claimants to find work, and not against them.”

Earlier this month, the government said some claimants would be able to get cash advances if they were struggling financially.

However, the work and pensions committee said today that advance payments did nothing to address the fundamental problems with the system, as they are loans that must be repaid along with other deductions such as rent arrears.

“This will be difficult or impossible for some claimants to afford,” the MPs said.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “The vast majority of claimants are paid in full and on time but no one who needs support has to wait six weeks.

“When people apply for universal credit they are advised about the maximum advance they can receive, and that they can repay over six months. Once we know someone needs an advance, they can get it within five days or on the same day if they are in urgent need.”

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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