Benefit delays “plunging families into hunger”, say MPs

21 Dec 15

Delays and errors in delivering benefits are “plunging families into hunger”, a report by the Work and Pensions Select Committee has found.

In a report today, the committee urged the Department for Work and Pensions to act now to remedy mistakes and hold ups in benefits payments, which were impacting claimant’s ability to pay for the basic essentials, rather than waiting until the government’s Universal Credit reform had been completed.

The government’s plan to consolidate six benefits into a single payment has already been subject to repeated delays and will not be fully implemented for several years, committee chair Frank Field said.

“The government is betting the farm on Universal Credit, but that will not be fully implemented for several years and has already been subject to repeated delays,” he highlighted.

“The department must not neglect the existing system in the hope that Universal Credit will save the day. On the contrary, it must do more to improve delivery now.”

Field noted that delays and mistakes are not just administrative errors but are “putting their homes at risk” as well as making families go hungry. Particularly vulnerable claimants are also falling into debt as the processes and guidance designed to help them fail to work as they should.

The report urged the department to immediately set a target for reducing benefit underpayments, especially since it has had a target for cutting down on overpayments since 2010.

Delays must also be dealt with, Field highlighted. “As MPs we see every week in our surgeries the real hardship that is caused.”

The committee called on the department immediately publish any data it has on application times for benefits.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “The reality is that the vast majority of benefits are paid on time and we have made huge improvements to the service we provide, meaning that benefits are now paid faster than ever before. It is disappointing that the committee failed to recognise this.

“Universal Credit, which will be in all job centres by April, is revolutionising the benefits system. It simplifies the system by combining six benefits into one, adjusts automatically as people’s circumstances change, and ensures people are better off in work.”

It would be “totally incorrect” to suggest that benefit delays are widespread or increasing. This was made clear to the committee, so it is odd that it wasn’t reflected in their comments, they added.

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