David Gauke, the Work and Pensions Secretary, is considering whether or not to “push the button” on accelerating the rollout of the Universal Credit regime that has been fraught with problems, according to a Conservative MP.
Heidi Allen, who also sits on the influential Work and Pensions Select Committee in the Commons, said she had raised concerns with Mr Gauke over the new system and suggested the accelerated rollout should be delayed.
The overhaul of the benefits system will eventually merge six existing benefits into one single monthly payment for all claimants in Britain, but concerns have been raised over the six-week period claimants typically have to wait for their initial payment when transferring from the legacy benefit system.
The Independent also understands that while Mr Gauke is hoping to push ahead with ramping up the rollout from five to 50 job centres a month in the autumn, he is listening to concerns raised by colleagues and charities.
The comments come as the latest analysis of the new system by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) reveals that 12 per cent of claimants listed delays in receiving their first Universal Credit payment as a reason for their rent arrears.
Citizens Advice have warned the acceleration of the regime – in its current state – is a “disaster waiting to happen,” and called on the DWP to suspend the scheme, citing majority concerns that families risk being pushed into a spiral of debt.
Speaking on the BBC’s Daily Politics, Ms Allen urged the DWP to pause the acceleration, adding it would be an “unnecessary own-goal” if the Government did so.
She added: “I do think he’s [Mr Gauke] listening – I’m personally quite worried about it. I spoke to him earlier in the week and he is listening and I know he’s going to analyse the data that is coming out now and in the coming weeks very, very closely.
“We’ve got some new data that’s come out today and I know the Secretary of State is looking closely at and that will determine to him – and I know he’s looking closely at it whether he wants to push that button on accelerating the rollout.
“But still even reflecting on that last year: 14 per cent of new claimants are still not getting any money on time, and 23 per cent are only getting a partial payment on time. And these are people we’re talking about with little or no savings at all.”
Responding to the new data published by the DWP, Gillian Guy, the chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “These figures confirm Citizens Advice research showing that Universal Credit risks pushing people further into serious debt.
“The DWP’s own evidence shows more than one in five people applying for Universal Credit are waiting over six weeks for their first payment, and that many people say they are falling behind on their rent as a result.
“It is clearer than ever that the government must pause the rollout of Universal Credit and fix the problems with this benefit.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “Universal Credit is getting more people into work than the old system. It mirrors the way most people in work are paid, helping to ease the transition into employment. The majority of claimants are comfortable managing their budgets, and for people who need extra support, advance payments are available.”
Earlier this week, MPs on the Work and Pensions Select Committee heard how claimants “drop off a cliff” and “remain in freefall” in rent arrears due to delays in receiving their first Universal Credit payment.
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