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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

JRF research recommends redesign of Universal Credit with claimants at the centre

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has researched claimants’ experience of Universal Credit in Northern Ireland and recommends a redesign of the social security system with the underpinning vision that everyone is treated with dignity and respect as valued members of society.

Over a 10-month period, the research team worked with people claiming Universal Credit. This work included workshops and partnering with an artist whose illustrations convey the journey claimants went on with Universal Credit. The group’s recommendations and accompanying illustrations are available on the UC:US website.

Recommendations

The group identified six key areas for reform to Universal Credit. These are:

  1. UC needs to be paid at a level that enables people to meet their living costs, including housing.
  2. It is time to end the five-week wait for a first UC payment
  3. Stop UC triggering debt.
  4. Make the process of initiating and managing a UC claim more user-friendly.
  5. Ensure that the staff delivering UC is well trained, and that recipients have access to independent advice.
  6. Protect, enhance and raise awareness of the protections available to UC claimants in Northern Ireland.

These recommendations are explored in detail in the report.

Specific difficulties experienced by claimants

The difficulties that the people in the study experienced with Universal Credit were varied, but many expressed concerns that the built-in wait for payment and dependence on recoverable advances to help people survive during this waiting period were shoring up financial difficulties and creating a domino effect of debt leading to more debt and increased mental health problems.

Parents in the survey spoke about how difficult they found the experience, and how they struggled to protect their children from the financial and emotional consequences of claiming Universal Credit.

The report also highlights the problems that working households have when claiming Universal Credit, despite its apparent design as a system to encourage and support work. Failure to reconcile salary and benefit payment cycles, retrospective payments of childcare assistance and unrealistic conditionality requirements all added to the stresses of working households.

People in Northern Ireland benefit from a range of welfare reform mitigation measures that aren’t available elsewhere. However, while respondents welcomed these measures, they didn’t feel that they were enough to detract from the overall negative experience of claiming Universal Credit.  

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Benefits, Research, Welfare Reform