This article titled “New universal credit claimants ‘will get no money before Christmas'” was written by Patrick Butler Social policy editor, for theguardian.com on Thursday 16th November 2017 13.31 UTC
Claimants signing on to universal credit from this week will not receive any income before Christmas because of the existing 42-day wait for payment, putting the finances of tens of thousands of households at risk, according to a housing association.
The Peabody Trust estimates that nationally more than 60,000 households, containing more than 40,000 children, will make new universal credit claims in the six weeks before Christmas, and so will not receive any income in the run-up to the festive season.
The trust calculated that even if the wait were to be cut to four weeks, 27,000 children across 40,000 households would still be affected. Reducing the wait to two weeks would leave an estimated 20,000 households, containing 14,000 children, at risk of having no cash over Christmas.
MPs and peers will debate universal credit on Thursday afternoon, amid speculation that ministers were planning to cave in to mounting pressure and cut the current minimum six-week waiting time to four weeks.
The lengthy wait for a first payment has been blamed for spiralling rent arrears and rising food bank referrals. More than half of new low-income claimants are used to budgeting on a weekly or fortnightly basis, and few have savings.
Although ministers have signalled that they are prepared to shorten the waiting time to four weeks, campaigners have warned this may still be too long for many households, and that further cuts to the waiting time should be considered.
On Wednesday it emerged that a private landlord in Grimsby had formally warned tenants on universal credit that it would move to evict them if they were unable to meet rent payments. New claimants in north-east Lincolnshire will move to universal credit on 13 December.
Ministers have insisted that the impact of the wait for a first payment is mitigated by the availability of advance payments. However, a recent MPs’ report concluded that the loans offered only limited help because claimants could borrow only the equivalent of up to two weeks’ universal credit income to tide them over the 42-day wait.
The full universal credit service was rolled out on Wednesday in Birkenhead, the Merseyside constituency of the Labour MP Frank Field. He has warned that the local Wirral food bank plans to stockpile an extra 15 tonnes of food to cope with expected demand for emergency parcels over the next few weeks.
The new system was also scheduled to roll out out on Wednesday in Newport, Basildon and Peterborough. Over the next few weeks they will be followed by north Ayrshire, Brighton, Gloucester, Oxfordshire, Birmingham, Manchester, Reading, Wolverhampton and Swansea.
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