DWP reveals major new Universal Credit rules which mean thousands must work more hours

Rishi Sunak says welfare should never be a “lifestyle choice”

Albert Toth
Wednesday 15 May 2024 08:47 BST
Related: Jonathan Ashworth says Universal Credit should NOT be cut as he blasts ‘life of Riley’ claims

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has revealed a major change to Universal Credit rules which it says will affect more than 180,000 claimants.

Starting on 13 May, thousands who claim the welfare payment will have to increase their work hours to continue claiming their entitlement, without needing to make regular visits to the Jobcentre.

The amount a claimant needs to work will increase from around 15 hours to around 18 hours, or half a full-time week.

Those who do not meet this amount – known as the Administrative Earnings Threshold (AET) – will move into an intensive work search group and will have to use Jobcentre support such increased meeting with a work coach. If they don’t, they face losing their benefits.

The latest change means the AET will have doubled since 2022, when it was nine hours for a single person. Since then, the DWP claims more than 400,000 people have been brought into intensive job centre support.

The rules are slightly different for couples, who are counted together.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “Welfare should always be a safety net and not a lifestyle choice, which is why we’re ushering in a new era of welfare reforms to help more people progress off benefits and into work.

“Today’s changes will help more people on Universal Credit move into well paid jobs and progress towards financial independence – which is better for them and for economic growth.”

The changes come after Mr Sunak announced a raft of welfare reforms as part of his Back to Work Plan which he has called a “moral mission”.

The government has invested £2.5 billion into the scheme which they say is intended to help more people off benefits and into meaningful work.

Last month, the prime minister said that the government would begin stopping benefits for those who don’t take a job after 12 months on Universal Credit.

He also announced a consultation on changes to the PIP disability benefit, as well as tackling what he called “sick note culture” by potentially offloading the burden to adminster fit notes from GPs to private contractors.

A statement from the DWP said the measures show the government is “getting tough” by “enforcing a stricter sanctions regime,” adding: “With over 900,000 job vacancies in the economy, the government makes no apologies for helping people achieve financial security through work, as we grow the economy and help people build a better life for themselves.”

But responding to last month’s changes, the Iain Porter, senior policy adviser for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said: “This is clearly an opportunity for the government to sound tough, but it is on the backs of people who are already facing huge challenges financially as well as with their health.

“Almost two thirds of people in destitution - the most severe form of hardship and one which has risen to nearly four million people in recent years - have a chronic health condition or disability.

“Hardship needs action now, not more rhetoric from politicians”.

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