Universal Credit and Debt — [Sir Henry Bellingham in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:20 pm on 5th June 2019.

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Photo of Yvonne Fovargue Yvonne Fovargue Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:20 pm, 5th June 2019

Thank you, Sir Henry. I was talking about the five-week wait and advances. Even with a 30% payment back, 65% of StepChange clients who are in debt will still have problems paying. They will still have problems paying their gas, electricity and other bills. I want to ask the Minister how advisers ensure that repayments are affordable. I believe that there are safeguards, but I have never heard what they are. Do they use a single financial statement, as most creditors do? Do they look at other debts? We know that many people on universal credit who have had the five-week wait have other debts. They have gone to high-cost lenders and owe on the gas and electricity.

I also want to ask the Minister whether the debts to Departments are included in the proposed breathing space scheme. That would be a help. At least it would give people time to work it out, but unless the DWP accepts affordable repayments, even that will not help people on universal credit who are being forced into debt. I have always said that simplifying the system was a great aim, but people’s lives are not simple, and the people I am talking about are the ones who can least afford a bump in the road. Throwing people into debt makes life more complicated. It makes more people go to the doctor with mental health problems and depression, and eventually it costs the state more.