Is Universal Credit ‘delay’ actually a delay?

Universal Credit is in the news again with press reporting a delay to the planned roll-out, but are the changes so different from the ones announced at the end of 2018? It seems not. Jeremy Hewer, policy advisor at SFHA, gives his opinion. 

vale from the air

Mixed housing along the banks of the River Leven in West Dunbartonshire.

Picture by Bill Heaney

Universal Credit is never far from the headlines, and recent press coverage has not disappointed, with acres of print reporting a delay to the planned roll out to 3m people.  But is this all it seems? Are the changes so very different from those announced at the end of last year?  A closer look suggests maybe not…….

Those recent press reports have highlighted that before managed migration takes place there will be a pilot involving some 10,000 claimants. This was always the plan: originally the pilot was going to take place between January 2019 and July 2019, with the managed migration proper taking place from July 2019 onwards.

mcvey esther The timescales were radically revised when Esther McVey, pictured right, was still Secretary of State and announced in the Government’s response to the Social Security Advisory Committee report stating the managed migration pilot was now going to take place over a year, from July 2019 to July 2020: the managed migration proper would then commence in September 2020.  So while the headlines last weekend were a welcome post-Christmas reminder, they were essentially old news.

What does appear to have changed according to the detail of the reports over the weekend, is that the regulations governing the managed migration are to be delayed  This is likely to have negative consequences for some of those who naturally migrate to Universal Credit, due to a change of circumstance, between now and the eventual managed migration.

The regulations cover the provisions for transitional protection – both for those claimants who will be included in the managed migration and for claimants who may have naturally migrated and lost out financially as a result. It was acknowledged that, for example, ESA claimants were particularly affected in this respect, because of the loss of Severe Disability Premium. The longer the delay before these regulations come into force, the longer some very vulnerable people will see a shortfall.

There is also silence regarding the difficulties being experienced by those already on Universal Credit. Many of these people may be in work but are paid on a weekly or fortnightly basis. Because of the current Universal Credit monthly assessment process, there are months when they are left without a payment. Similarly landlords are facing increasing administrative challenges due to a lack of synchronisation between a claimant getting their Universal Credit with housing costs deducted, and the intervening period before those costs get paid to the landlord. Of the million or more households on Universal Credit, less than 20 have split payments in place.

rudd amber_rudd_mp_2975466bAmber Rudd, the Minister now in charge of UC, pictured left, has been told the assumption that nearly all can manage their Universal Credit account online, does not square with the lack of online access available to those who cannot easily access a device. There are still a significant number of claimants who do not receive their payments on time. All these problems are known; all need to be addressed before many more go onto Universal Credit; further delay to the regulations will not help.

The SFHA has campaigned with its fellow federations in Northern Ireland, England and Wales for key changes to be made to improve Universal Credit and in 2019 the four federations will continue to press for:

  • Better data sharing between housing associations and the DWP in order to support tenants claiming Universal Credit, with a restoration of implicit consent.
  • Aligning claimant payments with direct payment to landlords.
  • Increased support and advice for those making a claim, with longer backdating to ensure no claimant falls through the cracks
  • Restoring inflation linked up-rating to working age benefits from April 2020

If we are to build a country that works for everyone, we need a welfare system that works for everyone.

Jeremy Hewer is Policy Advisor at the SFHA.

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