The Work and Pensions Committee has accused the government of having their “head in the sand” about problems with the roll-out of Universal Credit, which is replacing a number of existing benefits with one single monthly payment.
The committee says it has heard “compelling evidence” about “serious knock-on effects” caused by the roll-out of Universal Credit around the country, including rising rent arrears and problems resulting from “a built-in six-week delay” between someone applying for the new benefit and receiving their first payment.
Recent research warned the government’s flagship Universal Credit scheme is causing significant anxiety and leaving many claimants reliant on the generosity of food banks to get by.
A study commissioned by Community Housing Cymru (CHC) found that rent arrears among Welsh Universal Credit claimants was more than three-times higher than the UK average – £450 compared to £131.
Commenting on the research, Frank Field MP, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee said: “Huge delays in people receiving payments from universal credit have resulted in claimants falling into debt and rent arrears, caused health problems and led to many having to rely on food banks.”
He added: “It is bad enough that UC has a built-in six-week wait between someone applying and receiving their first payment, but we have heard that many have to wait much longer than this.
“The adverse impact on claimants, local authorities, landlords and charities is entirely disproportionate to the small numbers currently claiming UC, yet Lord Freud has told us he thinks it will take decades to optimise the system.
“We have therefore felt compelled to investigate UC yet again. We will examine what its impact is on claimants and those local bodies which deal with them, and what government needs to do to ease the pressure on those worst affected.”
Former Welfare Minister Lord Freud told the Committee in an evidence session that Universal Credit might take “decades to optimise”.
But despite mounting evidence that UC is causing severe hardship for many people, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) continues to claim that rent arrears associated with UC will be short-lived and should not present an insurmountable obstacle to landlords.
Frank Field said: “Despite a growing body of evidence about the very real hardship the rollout of Universal Credit is creating for some, often the most vulnerable, claimants – and the struggles it is creating for local authorities trying to fulfil their responsibilities – it is flabbergasting that the Government continues to keep its head in the sand.
“There is no urgency in the Government’s attempts to solve, for example, the incompatibility between Universal Credit and a council’s duties to those in emergency temporary accommodation.
“This is affecting some of society’s most vulnerable people, at a point of crisis, yet the Government appears unwilling to take the action it could to solve this and simply remove these people from the Universal Credit system.”