Universal Credit — [Geraint Davies in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:09 pm on 19th April 2017.

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Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 4:09 pm, 19th April 2017

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making the important point about the timing of payments to individuals. No one should wait more than 45 days for their first UC payments, unless they are exempt from waiting days, which Jim Shannon mentioned. Various exemptions include those for prison leavers and for people coming across from other benefits, such as income-related JSA or ESA. For those exempt from the waiting days, the wait is no more than 38 days. A claimant who cannot wait that long, however, may apply for an advance of up to 50% of the total award to provide support through to the UC payment being made. That is an important facility, and we continue to work on raising awareness of its availability.

There have been some delays in the payment of the UC housing element, largely because of, for example, mismatches between what claimants tell us and what landlords tell us is the rent due. We continue to work on process improvements around that. The pre-existing system was itself far from perfect, and we believe the processing times for the UC housing element are about the same as those for local authorities paying housing benefit. According to research by the national organisation for ALMOs—arm’s length management organisations—three quarters of tenants on universal credit were already in arrears before coming on to UC. Nevertheless, we continue to address those issues and we recognise that further improvements can still be made. That includes a dedicated team to handle the processing of rental information for both claimants and landlords.

In Newcastle upon Tyne North, the claimant count has come down by 36% since 2010, but of course we have to continue to support more and more people into work as they fulfil their potential and ambitions. Colleagues will know that implicit consent has been restored to MPs. There are particular sensitivities and difficulties about the breadth with which implicit consent can be granted, given the depth of personal and sensitive information within universal credit to which the individual claimant holds the key, but claimants are able to give explicit consent to advice agencies and so on as appropriate.

I fear that I am out of time. I conclude by saying that we must continue to work together to resolve issues as they arise and ensure a successful roll-out. We are standing on the cusp of historic change in our welfare state—a dynamic and fundamental change that is already transforming lives for the better and will improve many more. This is welfare reform in action—changing the dynamics in the system, making things simpler and ensuring that work always pays, to the benefit of millions.

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