MEAM responds to Universal Credit inquiry

March 30, 2017

MEAM has responded to the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s Universal Credit inquiry. Chris Brill, Policy Manager at Homeless Link, shares evidence from our local partners on the impact that Universal Credit rollout is having on people they support.

People with multiple needs face a combination of problems including homelessness, substance misuse, contact with the criminal justice system and mental ill health. We have heard from people with lived experience, and staff working in Homeless Link member organisations and the Fulfilling Lives programme, of how people facing multiple needs are already being failed by Universal Credit both at a policy and an operational level.

The three key issues raised in our submission are:

Long waiting times

Current waiting times of 6-8 weeks for initial payments, including a one week waiting day’s penalty, has led some people to spend money on their most immediate needs, such as food and fuel, rather than rent.

Delays in processing payments have meant that many people in supported accommodation are unable to move on, as many of the housing options organisations such as emergency night shelters require someone to have a processed benefit claim to secure a tenancy agreement.

Current safeguards, such as Short Term Advances, are not being sufficiently publicised or implemented, and even when implemented have left people in long-term financial destitution due to unmanageable repayment schedules.

Changes need to be made to reduce the processing time, remove the waiting’s day penalty, and provide realistic repayment schedules, to prevent people falling into further hardship as Universal Credit rolls out to more areas.

Monthly payment schedules direct to the claimant

Universal Credit is paid in arrears in a monthly lump sum. Receiving large sums can lead to situations where the money is being used for substances and there is a risk of relapse for some people, and there have been instances reported where vulnerable people are taken advantage of by others who realise they currently have an influx of cash. Claimants are not routinely given the choice of having payments less frequently, or directly to landlords, leading to landlords expressing concerns in providing tenancies for anyone in receipt of Universal Credit

Alternative Payment Arrangements procedures, which would allow claimants to be paid fortnightly and landlords to be paid directly, need to be offered at the start of a claim and publicised nationally within DWP, local authorities, housing associations and other relevant agencies.

Barriers to setting up claims

The digital by default process presents barriers for people, particularly due to lack of access to IT facilities. People with multiple needs will not always possess the requisite skills to undertake the process of claiming Universal Credit online. How people facing multiple needs access the digital by default process needs to be reconsidered, using insight from people who have lived experience and the practitioners supporting them. Although Universal Support aims, in some ways, to mitigate the digital by default process, it is not clear from the current trials that it is doing this adequately, and it can be counterproductive in requiring more engagement with services for a group that are making many appointments with other agencies.

We would like to thank the many members who provided evidence for this inquiry. Read the full MEAM response, including details of issues around Universal Support and our recommendations for change.