A number of constituents have contacted me about the roll out of Universal Credit.
As you know, Universal Credit is a single monthly payment which will replace a number of means-tested benefits and tax credits, for those out of work or on a low income. In 2016, the DWP started rolling out Universal Credit in some areas and since November it has been gradually introduced in Stockport for all new benefit claimants (previously only single applicants could apply for Universal Credit). Those already receiving benefits will continue to receive them for the time being unless there is a change in their circumstances, but eventually everyone will be transferred to Universal Credit by 2023.
A number of people have been in touch with me as part of a 38 degree campaign asking for the transition to Universal Credit to be automatic and that no one should be worse off under the new system with the rollout halted until this is done. Constituents also wanted people being transferred to receive their old benefits until they receive a Universal Credit payment. I have taken a great interest in the roll out of Universal Credit and recently visited the Job Centre in Stockport to discuss my concerns and those of my constituents.
The DWP told me that those moving to Universal Credit, who previously received other benefits, will receive plenty of advanced warning before the full implementation and will be supported throughout the process. I was concerned that those in receipt of a severe disability premium of £64.30 per week, which is not available under Universal Credit would be worse off when they were transferred . I discussed this during my visit to the Job Centre and was told that people would be entitled to transitional protection and a top-up payment to ensure they won’t be worse off under the new system.
I also discussed my concerns that as Universal Credit is a monthly payment paid in arrears, applicants have to wait 5 weeks before they receive their first payment. Waiting for benefits they are entitled to is one of the reasons people have to resort to Foodbanks. The DWP told me that people are able to receive up to 100% of their Universal Credit payment during this waiting period and repay it over the course of a year. This is far from ideal but at least means they don’t have to resort to loan sharks !!
There has been a lot of concern about rent being paid monthly to the claimant rather than as now direct to the landlord . It seems that the level of arrears is higher for those on Universal Credit.. The DWP said that applicants who have rent arrears or find it hard to budget because of other factors can request payments to be paid directly to the landlord. Landlords can also request this if the tenant has rent arrears of at least two months.
There are advantages to the Universal Credit system. It is far less complicated than the existing benefit system and ensures that work pays. Unlike Jobseeker’s Allowance, payments won’t stop as soon as somebody is employed for more than 16 hours a week. Instead, the amount of Universal Credit received will gradually reduce as people earn more. For every £1 earned, Universal Credit will reduce by 63p.
The Job Centre have provided me with the below poster which sets out where people can get help and advice and they have also employed a member of staff to drop into the Wellspring to provide support there. I will be meeting with Job Centre staff regularly to discuss the roll out of Universal credit in Stockport.