Our project gave evidence the the Commons Work and Pensions Committee’s inquiry into the rollout of Universal Credit. We told the committee of reports from our interviewees including: frequent financial hardship both in and out of work (one in-work claimant had to use a foodbank), poverty, unmanageable debt, rent arrears and eviction. We found that the long waiting period for an initial payment to be processed (5-6 weeks) in combination with payment delays meant many claimants did not have sufficient income for basic necessities.
Our recommendations include:
- Make the Universal Credit telephone support line a free number, so that claimants do not incur unaffordable financial costs for essential support.
- Adopt a flexible approach in respect of UC payment allowing recipients to be paid fortnightly or monthly in line with their preferred choice.
- Allow the option for the housing element of UC to be paid directly to social and private landlords (with claimant choice to receive the housing element directly).
- Within joint claims routinely make payments of UC the main carer, rather than the main earner (with claimant choice to opt in for main earner to receive the payment on request).
- Introduce entitlement to a basic level of UC from day 1 of new claim payable as a benefit rather than loan. This will incentivise the need for new claims to be processed quickly and help avoid the poverty and increased debt that currently often ensue as UC claimants wait for an initial personalised payment or as when Advanced Payments are deducted from future UC benefit.
- Recalibrate the operation of in-work UC to remove the threat of financial sanction from those already in paid employment and ensure that claimants are not sanctioned for: non-attendance at Jobcentre Plus interviews due to their existing paid or unpaid work (e.g, caring) commitments; or inability to apply for extra employment when that is incompatible with existing employment contracts.
More broadly we urge the UK government to undertake a fundamental review of the appropriateness of applying welfare conditionally.