William Eichler 19 October 2020

MPs call for ‘starter payment’ to support new UC claimants

A starter payment should be made to people claiming Universal Credit (UC) for the first time to ensure that they have enough money for the basics, MPs say.

A new report on Universal Credit from the Work and Pensions Committee has found that the current wait of at least five weeks causes difficulties for some households.

While the existing system of Advance payments for those in need can provide a financial lifeline, the committee warns that some people are unable to afford the required repayments.

The report, entitled Universal Credit: the wait for a first payment, says that people are being forced into a position where they have to choose between going five weeks with no income or taking on debt for later.

It concludes that the introduction of a new payment - equivalent to three weeks of the standard allowance - would be a simple way of ensuring that new claimants had the money they needed for basic living essentials.

‘There is a growing body of evidence that moving to Universal Credit leaves many reliant on food banks, falling seriously behind with their rent, and even experiencing increased levels of psychological distress,’ said Stephen Timms, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee.

‘The Government's response is that there is no proof that Universal Credit - and in particular the wait for a first payment—is the direct cause of those difficulties.

‘So DWP needs to commission research, and quickly, to find out what lies behind these deeply worrying findings. Our social security system should not be leaving people without the money they need for food and heating.’

‘We cannot understand why people who are already claiming benefits need to wait for at least five weeks when they move to Universal Credit - especially when nothing in their lives has changed. Their move should be seamless,’ he continued.

‘For people claiming benefits for the first time, or people who've faced a significant change in their circumstances, the Government should provide starter payments. Doing so would both cut down on the need for Advance loans and ensure that nobody is forced into debt just to be able to afford to eat and keep a roof over their heads.’

A DWP spokesperson said: 'With Universal Credit no one has to wait five weeks to be paid, as urgent advances are available – since the start of the pandemic more than two million payments have been made to new claimants within days of being requested.

'We have provided £9.3bn extra welfare support to help those most in need, including up to two-weeks of legacy benefits for those moving to Universal Credit, and have taken steps to ease the burden of debt repayments.'

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