The WLGA has today raised concerns with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, David Gauke MP, about individuals’ experiences in claiming Universal Credit.
Intended to streamline UK welfare provision, the rollout of Universal Credit has been persistently mired in controversy with a significant number of claimants experiencing financial hardship due to the time taken in processing claims, leaving many with rent arrears and increasing debt.
In those areas of Wales where Universal Credit has already been rolled out, Flintshire and Torfaen to date, delays have been reported which have led to claimants finding themselves in financial difficulties, or even destitute, whilst waiting for their claims to be processed and their first payments to be received.
Writing in a letter to the Secretary of State on behalf of Housing Cabinet Members, WLGA Spokesperson for Housing Councillor Aaron Shotton (Flintshire) said:
“Local authority areas where Universal Credit has already rolled out have reported delays in receiving payments which were impacting on tenants’ ability to pay rent and meet their full rental costs, and increasing levels of anxiety and worry about the new system, leading to increased stress and tensions in the family.”
“Welsh Cabinet Members for Housing met recently and discussed the increasing number of families and individuals at risk of homelessness and seeking help, support and assistance, particularly in meeting their housing costs and in the main due to changes in the welfare benefit system. This is despite the progressive legislation in Wales, under the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, and the focus on preventing homelessness.”
A significant number of people have had to wait 6 weeks before receiving their payment, and some claimants having to wait up to12 weeks, leaving them with little or no money during that time.
Councillor Shotton added:
“These timescales claimants have to wait before first payment is received is of major concern and we believe that such delays should be rectified as a matter of urgency before broader roll out so that we minimise the negative impacts on claimants who will be affected by this and reduces the number of people left with no income to live.”
“We also believe that preparing tenants for the changes UC brings and how best to manage these changes is key to successful transition and local authorities are undertaking a range of work with tenants and residents to help prepare, for example, financial management and supporting families and helping them to build resilience. However, those seeking help once they move to UC has increased which puts a strain on already stretched support mechanisms.”
“We want to express our concern at the negative experiences of some claimants of Universal Credit in the areas of Wales where it has been implemented to date, and to support the requests that have been made by others, including the Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children, to pause wider roll out of Universal Credit until improvements to the programme, and the experiences of claimants, can be made.”
“It is important that we learn from the experiences to date, both positive and negative, so that adjustments can be made as appropriate and the benefit of UC, as originally envisaged, can be achieved.”
The UK Government’s recent decision to remove the phone charges for the Universal Credit helpline is welcomed by WLGA. However, the Association is urging UK Government to pause the roll out of Universal Credit and ensure that the negative impacts can be addressed.