The rollout of Universal Credit has been delayed again, so come October only 10 jobcentres will be processing Universal Credit claims and then only for single person claimants, the simplest category to face the biggest welfare reforms in decades at a time when advice centres are losing funding and closing. However, the plan is still to have this thing rolled out nationally by 2017, so here are 10 things you should know about Universal Credit, courtesy of the PCS Union.
- Universal Credit (UC) is a single benefit that from 2013 will combine JSA, ESA, IS, Housing Benefit and tax credits. 19 million people in 8 million households will receive UC. UC is due to be implemented in four years from 2013 – 2017. (Separate arrangements apply in Northern Ireland.)
- Universal Credit will be implemented by DWP but long term provision of UC has not been decided, which leaves open the very real risk of privatistion. UC combines work currently done by staff in DWP, HMRC and local authorities.
- DWP wants 80% of all claims for Universal Credit to be made online by claimants. Nearly 20% of adults and 32.8% of disabled adults have never used the internet and many more do not have regular access
- Using offshore IT companies, DWP is designing at breakneck speed a new system to support Universal Credit. This is planned to automate 75% of functions that currently require human intervention. This could lead to massive job cuts for DWP and HMRC staff, if the IT works, and leave claimants with little support and may increase the risk of fraud and error.
- DWP has a poor track record of delivering major IT projects and, given the speed with which the Universal Credit IT is being developed, PCS fears that UC will go live with an inadequate and poorly performing IT system the could lead to severe delays to people’s benefit payments. Combining the simultaneous introduction of a new IT system with a major policy change is a recipe for disaster.
- Universal Credit IT is also planned to include real time information whereby every employer in the UK will be able to automatically inform UC of a change to a claimants income and thereby automatically adjust their UC payment. This system is untried and untested and extremely ambitious
- Universal Credit will be paid monthly, not weekly or fortnightly as most current benefits are. PCS fears that many claimants will struggle to budget over a month on such low incomes and the risks of acute hardship resulting are great, particularly combined with the abolition in April 2013 of Crisis Loans [The funding for crisis loans was cut and then transferred to local councils, who run their own schemes. Birmingham City Council now gives crisis grants which can only be spent at ASDA]
- Universal Credit will be a claimant’s rent direct to the claimant who will then be responsible for ensuring their landlord receives it Under Housing Benefit, most rent is paid directly to the landlord to ensure it is paid regularly and on time. PCS believes this change risks big increases in rent arrears and increased evictions
- Universal Credit greatly extends the regime of conditionality and sanctions in a clear attempt by the government to penalise the poor. For the first time claimants receiving UC who are in work will be subject to this conditionality and sanctions regime. They will be expected to increase their hous and / or their income until they are no longer eligible for UC.
- 50% of DWP staff who will be administering Universal Credit will be UC claimants themselves and also subject to the regime of conditionality and sanctions. This exposes the shockingly low pay of DWP staff but also reflects how employers in the country at large have used tax credits to subsidise the low rates of pay that they offer their staff