Delays in processing benefit payments are leaving tens of thousands of vulnerable people in hardship and dependent on the generosity of food banks, official government statistics suggest.
Figures obtained by Labour MP Frank Field through a parliamentary question reveal that 154,309 people have been forced to wait longer than 10 days for a Jobseeker’s Allowance claim to be processed, while thousands of sick and disabled people claiming Employment and Support Allowance are also made to wait for their first payment.
Officials from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) also admitted that it doesn’t keep up to tabs with the number of Universal Credit claimants made to wait longer than average processing times.
More than one million people received three-days-worth of food from Trussell Trust in 2014/15, whose research shows that benefit payment delays are the primary reason people turn to food banks, followed by low-income and benefit changes (welfare reform).
Trussell Trust helped 1,084,604 people in 2014/15 in need of emergency food parcels, with almost 30% of these referred to the charity by professionals due to delays in benefit payments.
But the true extent of hunger in the UK is believed to be much worse, because Trussell Trust is just one of many charities, community groups and other organisations providing emergency food and other support to struggling families and individuals.
MP Frank Field, who also chairs the Commons Work and Pensions Committee and All-Party Parliamentary Group On Hunger, said urgent action is needed to reduce the length of time desperate people are left waiting for benefit payments.
The Birkenhead MP said claimants are facing an “impossible task” of waiting with “no money in the bank” for several days while their claim is processed by the DWP.
A DWP spokesperson said claimants can apply for short-term benefit advances to help “bridge the gap” whilst their claim is being processed, but Mr Field discovered that nearly half of applications made between March 2015 and February of this year (2016) were refused.
171,254 claimants applied for an emergency payment during this period, but only 93,307 applications were successful.
Mr Field said: “The Department for Work and Pensions has made some welcome progress in the time it takes to process new benefit claims. But, for people with little or no money in the bank, to survive even a day, let alone two weeks, without an income is almost an impossible task.
“We therefore need further action to restrict the supply routes into hunger.
“If the department could deliver all new claims more swiftly within five working days it would immediately reduce by a third the numbers of people needing to rely on food banks.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “The fact is the vast majority of benefits are paid on time and there are hardship payments and short-term benefit advances available to those who need it”.
Welfare Weekly insight: Those we have spoken to say they’ve been made to wait between 2-5 days for a decision on a hardship payment from their local council, while others are made to wait even longer – and there is no guarantee of a successful outcome. We often hear the process being described as a “postcode lottery”.