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New Work & Pensions Secretary advises she will fix Universal Credit

In a recent statement, Amber Rudd MP, who was appointed Secretary for Work & Pensions following Esther McVey MP’s resignation, has advised that she will listen to expert guidance with the aim of fixing Universal Credit.

This follows a recent statement by the former Secretary for Work & Pensions, in response to the Social Security Advisory Committee’s (SSAC’s) recommendations on the Department for Work & Pensions consultation on the draft Universal Credit (Managed Migration) Regulations.

Recommendations accepted by the Department

Key changes to the managed migration process which the Department have agreed to make include:

  • Out-of-work benefits will automatically run-on for two weeks, as Housing Benefit does presently;
  • Claimants will have a minimum of three months in which to make their Universal Credit claim;
  • Claimants who have made an initial defective claim will now be awarded transitional protection in a subsequent successful claim for Universal Credit (provided this is made by the managed migration deadline day);
  • Claimants who miss their deadline date and who do not qualify for the one month backdating rule will have a grace period after the legacy benefit award has been terminated, where the claim for Universal Credit can still be made within one month of the deadline day passing without having to show good cause for backdating;
  • Strategies will be developed for identifying vulnerable people, including homeless people, to support them through the managed migration process;
  • The Department will proactively publicise alternative methods of claiming Universal Credit, for instance, by telephone, with an initial stage of testing covering a range of different practical ways of moving people onto Universal Credit;
  • The Department will proactively publicise alternative methods of communication, such as text messages, telephone calls, home visits and advertising campaigns, to ensure, for instance,  disabled applicants receive the information they need in the required format; and
  • The Department will work more closely with local authorities, housing associations, advice giving and other organisations in developing its detailed plans.

Housing Rights welcomes these amendments, particularly the fact that claimants who make a defective claim can still avail of transitional protection (assurance that their award of Universal Credit will match what they had received in legacy benefits), provided they make a successful claim by the deadline and, also, the fact claimants who miss their deadline will have a grace period in which they can still submit a backdated claim for Universal Credit without the need to show ‘good cause’.

Under consideration

The Department has also agreed to explore the options for a number of other recommendations put to them by the SSAC, including:

  • The possibility of automatically transferring claimants on to Universal Credit from legacy benefits and, where a claim for Universal Credit cannot be avoided, pre-populating as much information as possible on the claim;
  • The concept of ‘implicit consent’ for third parties; and
  • The Department have also agreed to seek further evidence in respect of the SSAC’s recommendation that no-one whose earnings take them off Universal Credit should lose Transitional Protection unless their earnings have been above the Universal Credit threshold for six consecutive months.

The Department has advised that it will ‘test and refine’ their approach with a small number of claimants from July 2019 to check that the managed migration process is working well, before taking on larger volumes in 2020. The Department has stated that it aims to complete the managed migration process by the end of 2023. However, Sir Ian Diamond, Chair of the SSAC, has raised concerns that, the more time that elapses, the greater the chances of people ‘naturally’ migrating to Universal Credit through changes of circumstance, meaning that they will lose out on transitional protection: “One area that we just need to recognise is that while we would all welcome the fact that the Department recognises the extra time that is going to be taken to get to the managed migration, there will be more people who will change their circumstances and will lose transitional protection as a result”.

Disability Premiums

Published alongside the government's response to the SSAC’s recommendations was a revised set of draft Universal Credit (Managed Migration) Regulations 2018 which make provision that those claimants of legacy benefits who are in receipt of Severe Disability Premium (SDP) will not be at risk of natural migration due to the introduction of a gateway condition, which takes effect from 16 January 2019, preventing legacy benefit claimants, whose award includes SDP, from naturally migrating to Universal Credit due to a change of circumstance. However, legal precedent has already been set in the High Court to prevent the natural migration of claimants in receipt of SDP in the interim.

There remain concerns regarding other aspects of the managed migration process. The Welfare Reform Group, a group of organisations that campaigns for positive changes to policy for people in receipt of social security benefits, has commented that: “The regulations risk causing a lot of financial hardship for many claimants: many thousands of people will be affected in NI. This is a really significant piece of legislation and will have significant implications”. The Welfare Reform Group has recently launched a paper, endorsed by Housing Rights, making a number of recommendations designed to better protect people migrating to Universal credit.

Tagged In

Benefits, Outside NI, Welfare Reform, Policy

This article was written on 27 November 2018. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.