DWP HQ, Caxton House, London. Photo: Paul Billanie for Welfare Weekly.

MPs will today (Wednesday, 13th September 2017) hear evidence from food banks, housing groups, and others, on how the roll-out of Universal Credit is progressing and which elements of the new benefits system still require improvement.

Universal Credit is replacing a number of existing social security benefits and tax credits with one single monthly payments.

The new system has been beset with delays and has also faced strong criticism from campaigners, charities, housing associations, and opposition parties alike, as well as others.

Citizens Advice recently described plans to accelerate roll-out of Universal Credit from five to 50 areas a month from October as “a disaster waiting to happen“, warning that more households were likely to be pushed into debt.

Commenting on the charity’s findings, Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said: “The roll-out of Universal Credit is a disaster waiting to happen.

“While the principles behind Universal Credit are sound, our evidence shows that if the government continues to take this stubborn approach to the expansion of Universal Credit, it risks pushing thousands of families into a spiral of debt, and placing an even greater strain on public services.”

She added: “People face severe consequences – like visits from bailiffs and eviction – when they can’t pay their bills. But government can help protect these households by taking the simple step of pausing Universal Credit and fixing the underlying problems, so families are less likely to fall into arrears.

“The government should also ensure that everyone has access to the support they need to adapt to Universal Credit”.

Announcing the first evidence session, which will commence at around 9.30am on Wednesday morning and can be watched live on Parliament TV, a press release from the Work and Pensions Committee reads:

“The timetable for the rollout has been much delayed and revised, but the previous committee was more concerned by evidence of the impact of claim processing delays, and the potential for these to be exacerbated by the planned acceleration of the rollout from October 2017.

“The hardship and financial difficulties faced by claimants awaiting UC payments were emphasised to the Committee by local authorities struggling to cope with the knock on effects of increased arrears and claimant debt associated with long waits for UC decisions and payments.

“More recently, food banks in rollout areas have reported struggling to meet demand since UC was introduced.”

It adds: “Questioning will focus on how the roll-out of the Universal Credit full service is progressing, focusing on its implications for claimants, councils and social and private landlords.”

Questions will focus on:

  • The DWP’s preparedness for the scheduled acceleration of the rollout of full service Universal Credit from October 2017, including progress since April 2017
  • The accuracy and registration of payments
  • Waits for payments
  • Advance payments
  • Impact on and communication with local authorities and landlords
  • Alternative Payment Arrangements
  • The effect of a single monthly direct payment on rent arrears
  • The proposed flexible arrangements in Scotland
  • The effects of planned Jobcentre closures
  • The effect of UC on claimants day-to-day lives and financial situations; and
  • Whether, based on the above, the accelerated roll-out from October 2017 should go ahead as planned.

Committee Chair Frank Field has already met with the new Work and Pensions Secretary, David Gauke MP, who has signaled his intention to press on with the accelerated roll-out despite widespread concerns.

The Committee will report their findings to MPs in the House of Commons.

In related news, the Work and Pensions Committee membership for the 2017 Parliament has been agreed by the House of Commons, and will consist of a majority of Labour MPs.

The Chair and Members of the Committee for 2017-18 are as follows:

  • Frank Field MP (Chair) (Labour)
  • Heidi Allen MP (Conservative)
  • Alex Burghart MP (Conservative)
  • Marsha De Cordova MP (Labour)
  • Neil Coyle MP (Labour)
  • Ruth George MP (Labour)
  • Steve McCabe MP (Labour)
  • Chris Stephens MP (SNP)

Prospective members were selected through a secret ballot of MPs in July of this year. The top candidates were then selected by their parties through an internal ballot.