Universal Credit claimants should receive an upfront ‘helping hand’ payment and financial compensation for late payments, think tank says.
A report from the conservative think tank Bright Blue has found that while many have a positive attitude to UC, a ‘significant minority’ have struggled with certain aspects of the new welfare system.
Based on 40 in-depth interviews, Helping Hand? Improving Universal Credit found that some claimants had difficulties with the online nature of UC and monthly payment in arrears.
It also revealed that claimants that were older, long-term unemployed, self-employed and with mental or physical health problems often found UC to be ‘confusing’, ‘stressful’, ‘challenging’, and ‘unsettling’.
The biggest challenge faced by claimants is the initial waiting period of at least five weeks, the think tank learnt.
This period is too long for some of the interviewees and a number of them said they had been forced to get advance payments to cover the waiting period. Others said they had to wait longer due to errors.
Bright Blue also discovered that awareness of Alternative Payment Arrangements was very low. These can be requested by claimants for more frequent payments, split payments, and direct payments to a landlord.
‘Despite welcome improvements made by the Government in recent years, there are too many examples and too much evidence of significant hardship experienced by a sizable minority of those on Universal Credit,’ said Ryan Shorthouse, director at Bright Blue and co-author of the report.
‘The initial waiting period for the first Universal Credit payment is causing the most difficulty. There is a substantial minority of claimants who are older, unemployed and with mental and physical health conditions that are struggling with certain key design features, such as the online nature of Universal Credit and monthly payment in arrears.’
‘Especially as its fiscal approach towards welfare has happily been revised in recent years, the current Government has an important window of opportunity, before rollout accelerates, to invest in introducing significant changes to key design elements of Universal Credit,’ he added.