DWP urged to fix Universal Credit and legacy benefit issues as committee left ‘astonished’

Universal Credit and other legacy benefits have seen unprecedented demand in recent weeks. Because of the sheer amount of people applying for support, certain problems with the social security system have come to light.

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The report from the Work and Pensions committee focused primarily on Universal Credit and found some “astonishing” things.

On Universal Credit, the report highlighted the following worrying issues:

  • The minimum five week wait for a first payment leads to many people taking out a repayable Advance, which can often be an additional financial burden.
  • The Committee was “astonished” to hear that the system lacked the flexibility to suspend repayments of Advances and calls for the system to be changed to allow it to react more quickly during a crisis.

  • Claiming UC has been detrimental for some people already on legacy benefits and recommends that anyone who has been left worse off by making a new claim during the pandemic should be allowed to return to their pre-existing benefits or an equivalent financial position.

Stephen Timms, the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, provided the following comments with the report’s release: “DWP’s frontline staff have worked hard to get support to millions of people. Without their actions, the impact of the pandemic could have been much worse.

“But the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted weaknesses in a social security system which at times is too inflexible and slow to adapt to support people in times of crisis.

“The focus has mostly been on the unprecedented numbers of new claims for Universal Credit.

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“But in the background, people on legacy benefits—including disabled people, carers and people with young families—have slipped down the list of priorities.

“It’s now time for the government to redress that balance and increase legacy benefits too.

“It’s simply not right for people to miss out on support just because they happen, through no fault of their own, to be claiming the wrong kind of benefit.”

As the comments suggest the Work and Pensions Committee were critical of the government’s handling of legacy benefits.

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They pointed out that while the government has raised the rates of standard Universal Credit and basic Working Tax Credits by £20 a week for 12 months, people on benefits yet to be replaced by Universal Credit, including Jobseekers Allowance, Employment Support Allowance and Child Tax Credits, have not been similarly helped.

The DWP apparently blamed operational difficulties for this disparity.

The committee argued that this is unacceptable that people have been left facing hardship through no fault of their own, simply because of the outdated and complex way in which so-called legacy benefits are administered.

It called on the DWP to boost the rates by an equivalent amount to the rise in Universal Credit, backdated to April.

The entire report itself is very long and it made recommendations for a number of areas.

The full report can be found online and on top of Universal Credit and legacy benefits, it also made recommendations for:

  • The benefit cap
  • Health assessments for benefit claims
  • Special Rules for Terminal Illness
  • Self-employment
  • Pensions and
  • Employment support

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