A new report on Universal Credit has found that long waits for benefits push people into debt and push them to food banks.
Tens of thousands of claimants have to wait 11 weeks or more to receive their first amount.
The Ministry of Work and Pensions has now been tasked with examining these issues.
In the new report from the National Audit Office – the UK’s independent public expenditure watchdog – it is revealed that the long wait for universal credit is still a major problem, along with cuts and payment errors.
All claimants wait at least five weeks for their first UA payment – while the benefits that the Universal Credit replaces were paid as soon as the claim was processed, with targets ranging from five days (Income Support) to 22 days (Tax credits)
The wait can be made easier by claiming an advance of up to 100 percent of the estimated first payment. This advance is generally received within seven days.
But it must be repaid in installments through deductions from future UC payments.
The National Audit Office said, âThe initial five-week wait can exacerbate applicants’ debt and financial hardship. Despite the availability of advances, applicants and representative organizations who responded to our consultation told us that waiting for the first payment has caused financial and debt difficulties.
âResearch by the Trussell Trust found that universal credit is one of the reasons for the growing use of food banks, with 27 additional food packages distributed per 100 additional applicants for universal credit rather than legacy benefits.
“Recent research from the Trust (…) found that 27% said they went to the food bank because of a long wait for universal credit.”
He added: “Charities and applicants … have told us that the initial wait for universal credit can prevent them from paying utilities, rent and even food. It can also set a longer pattern. late payment of invoices. “
The auditors also found that as the number of people receiving universal credit increased, so did the number of people paid late.
In 2017, 113,000 claims were not settled in full and on time, out of 162,000. This figure rose to 226,000 claims in 2018 and 312,000 claims in 2019.
In 2019, claimants who were not paid on time experienced average delays of three weeks on top of the five-week wait.
Alarmingly, about 6 percent of households (105,000 new claims) waited 11 weeks or more for full payment.
The report found that “certain vulnerable groups, such as people with learning disabilities, people with chaotic lives and people with low digital skills, may find it particularly difficult to make a claim and provide the required evidence. .
âOur review of 26 cases identified communication as a problem. For example, people who had difficulty understanding or communicating in written English had more difficulty understanding what the department was asking them or completing their claim form correctly.
âIn some cases, the ministry’s communication with the applicant was not clear or was not sufficiently suited to the applicant’s capabilities.
It was also revealed that nearly half of those claiming the universal credit had been without income for three months before applying.
The main reasons claimants reported delaying an EC application was because they did not know what to do or because they thought they would quickly find another job.
But the report says a fifth of people withheld from claiming the benefit due to a “fear level” – some worried about how they would fare after hearing about bad experiences. .
In its recommendations, the National Audit Office said the DWP should work with organizations that help applicants to:
- find out why some people delay applying for universal credit;
- develop communications and other proposals to encourage people to claim earlier;
- collect data on the number of vulnerable applicants and use it to meet the needs of those who continue to struggle to apply for universal credit;
- Significantly improve the clarity of its communications with applicants, ensuring that they are clear, appropriately tailored and contain all the necessary information.
He also asked the DWP to:
- develop detailed plans to reduce fraud and errors in universal credit
- prioritize improvements to the digital universal credit system to help frontline staff identify and support applicants who need more help
- evaluate its claims service to see if it can ensure more people get their universal credit on time