Universal Credit

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:32 pm on 17th October 2018.

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Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Labour, Don Valley 2:32 pm, 17th October 2018

The Government’s 2010 White Paper said:

“The Government is committed to ensuring that no-one loses as a direct result of these reforms. We have ensured that no-one will experience a reduction in the benefit they receive as a result of the introduction of Universal Credit.”

That is a complete contrast to the Secretary of State’s admission to the Cabinet just two weeks ago, when she allegedly acknowledged that people could be £2,400 worse off. I may have missed it, but I have not heard a denial of that. This has happened because of the former Chancellor’s—now editor or something, with a number of other jobs—£3 billion raid on the UC pot in the 2015 Budget. The Budget on 29 October gives this Government the opportunity to put this money back in and get things back on an even keel, and that is my first ask.

My second ask is that the Secretary of State considers the issue of rent arrears. St Leger Homes, which manages 21,000 homes for Doncaster Council, advises me that there are over 2,400 council tenants on UC in Doncaster. Over three quarters of them are in rent arrears. UC has added another £190 to the average person’s rent arrears since it was rolled out in Doncaster in October 2017. Ministers can say that those people were already in arrears, but I do not think we should dig a hole and keep on digging; they must deal with the problem that UC has compounded this problem not only on the tenants, but on the social housing landlord, who relies on those rents to help support repairs and, we hope, the building of new social homes.

St Leger Homes also told me that when it slightly changes the rent across the board, each and every household on the list has to inform the DWP; that is another issue that affects arrears. This then creates extra work for the landlords who have to confirm the changes. The DWP has created a “tolerance” limit, which means that if the rent changes by just a little the landlord does not need to confirm the tenant’s rent change. That is welcome, but the system worked better before. During UC’s “live service”, landlords could upload a schedule of rent changes, so the DWP knew automatically whose rent was going up and when. Now that has gone. Why cannot the Department allow organisations such as St Leger to let it know of changes and allow a data transfer so that technology can play its part, thus relieving individuals of the need to inform the DWP, with all the errors that can result?

My third ask is that the Government outline their next steps for universal support. On Monday, I asked the Minister to tell us what resources citizens advice bureaux across the country will receive and when. I received no reply. Doncaster Council’s chief executive, Jo Miller, advises me that it had no warning of the changes made to universal support prior to a press release from the DWP. It is essential that Citizens Advice, working with others, knows exactly what the resources are now, so it can better plan to ensure that, whatever happens with the discussions in this House, people who are already on UC get the support they need if it continues to be rolled out. First and foremost, however, the Government must take action in the Budget and put the money back in that was cut.