I have signed the following joint letter with cross party MP's about the roll out of Universal Credit:
Rt Hon David Gauke MP
Secretary of State
Department of Work & Pensions
Dear Secretary of State
Please delay the planned huge expansion of Universal Credit.
We write to ask you to please urgently reconsider the planned huge expansion of the roll-out of Universal Credit next month.
Universal Credit has been rolled out to 57 areas so far this year and has around 500,000 household recipients. As you know, the planned expansion from October is to 55 further areas per month – set to flood the system with almost as many applicants again, every single month.
In light of the mounting evidence of the problems caused by long delays in benefit payments - long-term debt, rent arrears and evictions, and the resulting impact on family relationships, anxiety and depression - we urge you to proceed with continued caution with Universal Credit so as not to endanger the millions of people due to be affected in the next few months.
Last week the DWP Select Committee heard about the current problems with the system and the information released by DWP showed that on the basis of roll-out to only 5 new areas per month:
1. Only 77% of claims are currently processed and paid within 6 weeks. The 6 week delay causes considerable hardship, but further delays cause real long-term damage to family finances, with long-term debt, bank problems, and direct debit payment of bills no longer available. The huge influx of new claimants will cause hundreds of thousands more families to suffer such problems.
2. Many claimants are unaware of hardship payments and by the time they claim it is too late to prevent debt problems.
3. Only around 40% of users successfully log into the Gov.UK ‘Verify’ system to make an online claim. New Universal Credit applicants in the roll-out are from more vulnerable groups, less likely to have IT or be able to use the complicated system.
4. The ‘Helpline’ cannot be contacted. We are told that phone waits are down to 3 minutes, but that is because after 3 minutes the caller receives an automated message to look online and is then cut off.
5. The Landlord Portal is only at the bare minimum of functionality. It needs to be fully functioning and rolled out to all Councils and large-scale housing providers so they can assist with applicant queries and are aware when claimants have not received their UC payment so we do not see unnecessary evictions.
Please would you ensure that these problems are fully fixed and that the Universal Credit application process is working well for the current small number of applicants before the Full Service is rolled out to so many more as it will otherwise create deep-rooted hardship for families and long-term problems for millions of families that will be far more difficult and costly to resolve.