Flaws in the UK Government’s flagship Universal Credit scheme are causing “serious detriment” to vulnerable people in Scotland, a damning new report from Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) concludes.
An analysis by CAS found the new system contains “inherent flaws” which the charity says must be fixed before Universal Credit is rolled-out across Scotland, including delays in payments, technology glitches and unfair benefit sanctions.
Universal Credit replaces a number of existing benefits with one single monthly payment and is currently only claimed by a relatively small number of households, but has been slowly rolled-out across the country over the last year.
The new benefit will eventually be made available to all claimants across the UK, which includes those currently claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, sick and disabled people who are unable to work, and low-income working households.
Commenting on the report ‘Learning from Testing Times’, CAS spokesman Rob Gowans said: “The principles behind Universal Credit are good. Anything that seeks to simplify the system and make it easier and more efficient has to be welcomed. So we have always supported the policy and we want it to work.
“We also understand that any new system is bound to have teething problems, and the government was right to roll out it [sic] slowly so that these could be identified. Our report today is published in that spirit. We are presenting the problems we have seen, so that they can be fixed.
“However, it is very important now that the government responds to this evidence with practical measures to improve the system. In the past Ministers have been slow to act in fixing such flaws, and often deny their existence, despite overwhelming evidence.
“Universal Credit has a lot of goodwill, and really could make life easier for many struggling households. But if the problems we have identified are not addressed, then the system really could cause serious detriment to some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
“As always, the evidence we present here is based on real-life experience of real people. For those who rely on the system, the impact of its failures is very real.
“Sick, disabled, unemployed and low-income families deserve a social security system that is worthy of the name. Universal Credit could be a step towards that. But first its inherent flaws need to be corrected.”
Minister for Social Security Jeane Freeman said: “The real life stories used in Citizens Advice Scotland’s report show the difficulties people on Universal Credit are facing”.
Freeman said delays in benefit payments under Universal Credit “have led to people being pushed into crisis situations which is unacceptable”, and urged the UK Government “to listen to organisations such as CAS urgently and respond to the serious problems they highlight”.
She added: “Although Universal Credit remains a reserved benefit, the Scottish Government will have some flexibilities so we are pleased that CAS back our own proposals in this area.
“We want people on Universal Credit to have the choice of having their payments made more frequently than monthly and their housing costs paid direct to their social landlord from the start of their claim.
“We believe this will mean Universal Credit’s introduction in Scotland will be better suited to the needs of those who receive the support.”
A DWP spokesperson said Universal Credit “is revolutionising welfare, with claimants moving into work faster and earning more than under the old system”.
They added: “We are working closely with Holyrood on the transfer of a raft of new powers on tax and welfare that delivers for the people of Scotland.”
A separate report, published by the National Federation of ALMOs (NFA) and the Association of Retained Council Housing (ARCH), reveals that 79% of council tenants on Universal Credit in England are in rent arrears. Only half of these were in arrears before claiming Universal Credit.
The NFA and ARCH are calling on the UK Government to review the practice of paying rent costs a month in arrears, and scrap the seven day waiting period before people can make a claim for Universal Credit.
Speaking to 24Dash.com, NFA chair Hugh Broadbent said: “The manner in which UC is currently being administered is clearly having a direct impact on the numbers of households falling into arrears – half of whom had no history of rent arrears.
“Our concerns are heightened in situations where the claimant was not in paid employment immediately prior to submitting a claim for UC, for example where previous benefits have been sanctioned or adjusted.
“Many claimants simply do not have adequate savings or final pay cheque to carry them through the lengthy assessment period.”
John Bibby, chief executive ARCH, added: “These survey findings continue to be extremely concerning for everyone involved in managing social housing in this country.
“Despite the best efforts of ALMOs and local authorities to help prepare and support tenants claiming Universal Credit our research shows that one year on the proportion of claimants in rent arrears is still shockingly high (79%).
“A review of current policy is imperative if we are to reduce unnecessary hardship within our communities.”