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Universal Credit: Women in Abusive Relationships

Volume 643: debated on Thursday 28 June 2018

3. Whether she has had discussions with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the effect of the operation of universal credit on women in abusive relationships. (906111)

8. Whether she has had discussions with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the effect of the operation of universal credit on women in abusive relationships. (906120)

Universal credit continues to support victims of domestic violence through a range of measures, including special conditions for temporary accommodation, conditionality easements and same-day advances. Work coaches will also signpost domestic violence victims to expert third-party support.

The Women’s Budget Group has confirmed what we all knew: the practice of insisting on paying universal credit into a single bank account per household makes it much easier for domestic abusers to exert financial control over their victims. What discussions has the Department had with the DWP to end the practice and make split payments the default, rather than an exceptional practice?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there have been several debates on split payments, not least the Westminster Hall debate last week. The Scottish Government have of course mandated—and I think legislated for—the introduction of split payments. We are going to work with them to make that happen and we will see how it goes. The issue of mandatory split payments does, though, raise much more complexity than I think the hon. Gentleman might at first realise. There are questions about what the split should be if one person is not working and the other person is, or if one person pays more of the household bills than the other. There are lots of questions about whether people who are mandated to have split payments are able to opt out of them and, if so, whether they are doing so under duress. Much more important than split payments is our ability to detect and support the victims of domestic violence on the frontline.

Notwithstanding the Minister’s answer, in addition to working with the Scottish Government, will he commit to working with my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) to support and progress her private Member’s Bill, which calls for the DWP to introduce split payments to protect women against financial domestic abuse and controlling relationships?

Not at the moment, no. We have committed to enabling the introduction of split payments in Scotland, if it does indeed proceed. Work and discussions about split payments with the Scottish Government are ongoing, and I think the full truth of the complexity and the side effects of split payments is now dawning, so we shall see whether it proceeds. If it does, we will review it. As I said, I will keep an open mind about split payments and we will see what transpires in future.

The DWP has continued to say that split payments are available, but does the Minister agree that that may put women at risk of further abuse in relationships and may prevent them from asking for this option?

I do not, no. We are making sure that work coaches at the frontline are able to offer and manually introduce a split payment when it is appropriate. The one thing that all of us who have been involved in work on domestic violence know is that it is critical that the victim is in control—that they have control of their own destiny and make decisions about what is in their best interests. If a split payment is appropriate, we will provide it.