Universal Credit (UC) is the UK Government’s new benefit system for working age claimants, replacing six ‘legacy’ benefits – JSA, IS, HB, ESA, Work and Child Tax Credits – with a single monthly payment.

UC Full Service, which is predicated on claimants managing their account online, is being rolled out to all new claims by December. Claimants still receiving the older benefits will be moved over to UC between 2019 and 2023. Ultimately there will well over seven million UC claimants in the UK when managed migration is completed, a significant proportion of whom will be in work.

The SFHA wants a pause to the rollout, to allow five key fixes to be made to UC. These are:

  • Restoration of implicit consent, so that advisors and support workers can help claimants get their proper entitlement
  • Deduction of housing costs from UC and onward payment to the landlord to be simultaneous, to avoid confusion for all parties
  • Reform of Universal Support Delivered Locally, which will be all the more urgent with managed migration, to be capable of supporting the most vulnerable
  • Reversal of the two child limit and benefit cap reduction
  • Restoration of in work allowances so that UC really can make work pay.

These fixes are all the more vital, if serious harm is not to come to many who are currently on legacy benefits but will be expected to move over to UC in a managed migration, due to start in July 2019.

Until now, eligibility for UC has been confined mainly to the more straightforward cases: to new claims and those on existing ‘legacy’ benefits who have had a change of circumstance that has triggered a cessation of their existing benefits. To say that the move to Universal Credit (UC) so far has been fraught would be an understatement. Anyone who has a Google news alert set to “Universal Credit” will have amassed a considerable archive of stories of claimants going without money for months, rent arrears of tenants on UC burgeoning and foodbanks running short trying to cope with a surge in need; interspersed will be stories of human tragedy brought on by maladministration. Come July, the DWP will migrate all who are still on the older ‘legacy’ benefits: among their number will be many very vulnerable claimants who may have been on long term ESA, who will be expected not only to apply anew for Universal Credit but also be able to maintain their claim, through their online journal, thereafter.

The Social Security Advisory Committee, an independent body overseeing the UK Government’s welfare policies, has just closed its consultation on the draft regulations on managed migration. The regulations, as they stand, fail to answer a number of worries: why will claimants have to make a brand new claim and pass verification tests, when the DWP already has much of the information it needs from their existing legacy benefit entitlement? The existing provision of Universal Support Delivered Locally is totally inadequate and will need substantial strengthening, if it is going to provide adequate support for claimants with complex needs, who are expected to comprise a substantial proportion of those caught up in the managed migration. Most worryingly, the DWP will continue with the tried and failed method of engagement – the brown window envelope – to alert claimants that they need to migrate.

The DWP needs to appreciate that, if it is going to get right the exodus of legacy benefit claimants to UC, it needs to partner up with all the agencies that provide support, to agree the timing of the move to ensure minimum disruption to the individual and to work together to acclimatise the individual to Universal Credit – to enable them not only to make their claim but to maintain it as well in the following months. Above all, it needs to listen and heed the warnings of all those agencies that have to pick up the pieces when it goes, all too frequently, wrong.

A copy of the joint SFHA and HSEU submission to the Social Security Advisory Committee can be found here.