The Six Week Wait – Already Causing Hardship
People getting the government’s new Universal Credit often have to wait six weeks for their first money and this is causing them problems with their bills, according to a new report. Some have had to turn to food banks.
Waiting for Credit is a new report written by a group of 16 Citizens’ Advice Bureaux in areas where Universal Credit is being rolled out, and it is based on a survey of 355 people who had been given advice about the new benefit. In the authors’ words, “the key issue that came out of the research was the difficulty people have managing until receiving their first Universal Credit (UC) payment, and the serious impact this has on their lives.”
Eighty one per cent of the people said they were having difficulty managing to pay essential living costs such as rent, utility bills and food whilst waiting for their first payment. Sixty two per cent said it was very difficult.
Of those who were paying a mortgage or rent to a private or social landlord, 63 per cent were finding it difficult to pay their rent or mortgage and 68 per cent were having difficulty with their gas and electricity bills.
Sixty three per cent of all respondents were having difficulty buying enough food, with “a number of respondents specifically recalling their shock at having to rely on food banks to survive”.
Regular readers will know that for over a year the TUC has been worrying that many people claiming Universal Credit will face a long wait for their first benefit payment. Universal Credit takes a month to assess and a week to deliver which always meant a wait of at least five weeks and the government’s decision to introduce seven “waiting days” on top of this extended the delay to six weeks. What is more, because UC is an integrated benefit, for the first time the elements of that are currently covered by other means-tested benefits will also be subject to waiting days. This means that thousands of claimants will have no income to cover the rent. Our report, Universal Credit: the problem of delay in benefit payments, predicted that many claimants would fall into debt and have to rely on food banks. That is why the six week wait was the first target for our Saving Our Safety Net campaign.
One point I don’t think we emphasised enough that’s highlighted by this report is the fact that Universal Credit is a “passport” to eligibility for other important benefits, and some parents had found the wait for free school meals especially hard for their children. But one thing we got absolutely right was the fact that the availability of “advance payments” of Universal Credit is not an answer to the Six Week Wait. I’m sorry to say that we are not in the least surprised that 58 per cent of the survey respondents said they had not been told about advance payments – despite the government’s promise to the Social Security Advisory Committee that it would do more to publicise them. Again, as we expected, many claimants who did get advance payments had difficulty paying them back, often on top of paying back other debts and arrears.
When we first raised the Six Week Wait as an issue the government pooh-poohed it. But, actually, you have to be pretty out of touch not to realise that making people with no jobs or very low pay wait six weeks for their first cash is going to cause them real hardship.