The Government wants a welfare system that helps people into work, supports people who need help, and is fair to those who pay for it. Labour’s failed benefit system actively discouraged people from working more than 16 hours a week and saw nearly 1.5 million people trapped on out-of-work benefits for nearly a decade.
Universal Credit, which is being rolled out in Reading from this month, is a welfare benefit which replaces the old system with a single monthly payment, merging six benefits into one. It ensures people are better off in work by gradually reducing the benefit payment as earnings increase, so claimants will not lose all their benefits at once, as they would have in the old system. As a result, people are moving into work faster and staying in work for longer.
In my experience of talking to those receiving benefits, the concern has not been about Universal Credit as a policy, but the timing of receiving payments. The Government has listened and is making changes which have been welcomed by the likes of charity Shelter.
Much comment has focused on the initial seven ‘waiting days’. From February, we are removing the seven-day waiting period for new Universal Credit claimants, reducing the length of time claimants might wait to receive their first full payment.
From January 2018 the system will also change so that new Universal Credit claimants will be offered an advance of up to 100%, which will be repayable over a manageable 12 months period. Claimants in December can already receive an advance of up to 50% of their overall entitlement, and may receive a second advance to take it up to 100% in the New Year.
Reflecting concerns around housing arrears, claimants who were previously receiving Housing Benefit will receive a transitional payment, an extra two weeks support worth on average £233 per claimant, when they move to Universal Credit. This will not have to be paid back, be automatic and received early in the first assessment period.
We want Universal Credit to make a positive difference to people’s lives. And the Government is exploring with Citizen’s Advice the scope for greater collaborative working, to help claimants locally as they move to Universal Credit.
If any of my constituents experience any difficulties they are welcome to contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org.