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Universal Credit has landed

In this guest blog, Kirsty McKechnie – Welfare Rights Worker for Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland – gives the story so far for universal credit.

It’s here, it’s finally here! Universal Credit is rolling out across Scotland and I can tell you a little about what it looks like.

I am responsible for gathering case studies through CPAG in Scotland’s Early Warning System – a framework which has been developed by Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland to collect and analyse case evidence about how welfare changes are affecting the wellbeing of children, their families and the communities and services that support them. Since its start in January 2014 and the end of August 2015 we had gathered over 1600 cases, but it is only in the last few months that we have started gathering case studies about universal credit. So what are we seeing?

First of all, confusion about who can actually claim universal credit (UC). As it is rolled out, the DWP are starting with simplest claims first from single jobseekers, eventually expanding to couples and then families with children. To identify the simplest claims a number of “gateway conditions” have been introduced. We have received a number of cases regarding people who have been misadvised about whether they meet gateway conditions and in some cases have received conflicting information from their local Jobcentre and the Benefit Delivery Centre.

As expected the monthly assessment periods and delays in receiving the first payment of UC are causing issues for some clients:

  • In one case the client claimed UC the day after she finished work. Her first payment was reduced to take account of the last wages she received during that assessment period, so her first payment was £135 less than her monthly rent.
  • In another case by the time the client had paid his rent, he had no money left to live on until his next payment. Like housing benefit, UC is paid in arrears (May’s monthly rent is paid in June and so on) but because it was no longer being paid direct to the landlord, the client’s housing association asked him to bring his rent account up to date.
  • In a third case the client claimed UC but started full time education the day before his first assessment period was due to end and was no longer be entitled to UC. Because the change of circumstances took place during the monthly assessment period he was not entitled to any UC at all.

Universal credit introduces “in-work conditionality” where people who are earning less than 35 times the minimum hourly wage a week may be required to increase their hours or look for additional work. We have two cases confirming that the DWP are enforcing this and sanctioning people who are working.

Worryingly, some local authorities don’t seem to be up to speed with the roll out of UC. In three local authority areas claimants have been mistakenly advised that they must be in receipt of housing benefit (rather than universal credit or housing benefit) in order to qualify for discretionary housing payments (DHPs). Their websites and DHP application forms make no mention of UC either.

Hopefully some of these “teething problems” will be ironed out, but as UC rolls out further it is likely that we will see more cases in relation to monthly assessments/payments and sanctions for those in work. If you would like to keep up to date with the impacts of the roll out of UC and other welfare reforms, or you would be interested in submitting case studies, please contact me (email: kmckechnie@cpagscotland.org.uk or tel: 0141 611 7091).

You can also download CPAG’s new universal credit handbook from the CPAG website.

About the author

Kirsty McKechnie

Kirsty McKechnie