An MP has voiced “serious concerns” about a new benefit system set to roll out across Kirklees.
Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff said the Government needed to “pause and fix” Universal Credit (UC) after hearing how claimants were facing hardship due to the waiting time for payment under the new system.
UC is a new benefit paid to people on a low income or not in work. It combines six benefits, including housing benefit and Working Tax Credit, into a single monthly payment.
But there is concern about the impact on claimants as UC payments are made in arrears once at the end of the month, rather than being paid weekly. Payments also go straight into a claimant’s bank account, which means people may need to set up standing orders for expenses like rent if it was paid directly to their landlord under the old housing benefit system. New UC applications – and any change in circumstances – also have to be made online.
Speaking in the Commons, the Labour MP said concerns had been raised by claimants, landlords, councils and charities about the UC programme and the “cruelty” of forcing families to wait six weeks for financial help and being pushed into debt due to delays.
She said: “When Tory MPs and even the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Ian Duncan Smith, is calling on the Prime Minister to reverse cuts to UC and reduce the waiting time for payment, it is clearly time to press pause on this programme.
“The government need to ‘pause and fix’ UC given the obvious failings associated with its poor implementation. The Department for Work and Pensions is failing to pay one in four new claims within their target six-week period. This is driving debt, arrears and even evictions.
“Whilst I support the original principles of UC; design issues together with the Government cuts have undermined these. The roll-out so far has been nothing short of a disaster with families suffering unnecessarily, often due to administrative errors. With the full roll-out in Kirklees due to start next month, I have grave worries for my constituents and the knock-on effect to other services should these issues not be resolved.”
Nick Whittingham, chief executive of Kirklees Citizens Advice & Law Centre (KCA), echoed concerns, but stressed help was available.
He said: “With most people facing at least a six-week wait for their first UC payment and evidence showing that most claimants have little or no savings, many people are at risk of incurring debts which they will struggle to pay off.
“KCA is encouraging people to apply for an advance payment if they’re concerned about meeting their living costs. If people need help with budgeting or arranging their finances it is important to get help as soon as possible before debts start to increase.”
He said: “We also call on the Government to look again at the hardship caused by the way they are implementing this new benefit and, in particular, to remove the seven ‘waiting days’ during which people get no payment at all and to introduce an additional up-front transition payment for all new claimants to avoid the debt trap this benefit is creating.”