Jon Masters 22 July 2015

Committee calls for action on 'unresolved' Universal Credit issues

Further warnings have been sounded over Government’s roll out of Universal Credit (UC) by the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC).

The SSAC, an advisory body of the Department for Work & Pensions, has published a new report renewing calls for action to ensure UC is rolled out properly.

The SSAC’s priorities for action include a more joined up cross-Government plan for passported benefits. It is now three years since the Government accepted the SSAC’s recommendation for a coordinated approach by Government departments, local authorities and service providers. As yet no evidence of progress on this has emerged, says the SSAC’s latest report.

Roll out of UC is now getting to the point where more complex cases are being treated through the DWP’s ‘test and learn’ approach. However, without a more coordinated approach, Government is risking its stated aim of maintaining the principle that work always pays and is heading for ‘sharp cliff edges’ in benefit loss for some groups, according to the SSAC.

The committee has also highlighted the need for a specialist working group to advise how the self employed can be served by UC. It calls for a more transparent approach to in-work conditionality and a pause in the ratcheting-up of sanctions while existing rules are assessed – with greater testing with incentives rather than penalties.

'The purpose of UC is to establish a simpler, all-inclusive means-tested benefit which will be available to those both in and out of work. The Government’s approach of a steady roll out gaining experience before quickening the pace and moving to more complex cases has the broad support of the committee,' said the SSAC chair Paul Gray.

'However, the DWP is now reaching a stage of the project where things are likely to become more testing as cases move up the scale of complexity. The committee has produced several reports providing advice to the Government on issues relating to UC over the past few years. We consider it timely to identify the main unresolved issues and offer ideas for the government’s further consideration.'

A DWP spokesperson said: 'Universal Credit is now in 50% of jobcentres across the country and we’re receiving almost 6000 new claims a week.

'We’re working closely with Social Security Advisory Committee and other organisations as we head into the next phase of delivery, to ensure that claimants continue to benefit from the better work incentives and simplicity of Universal Credit.'

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