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Vulnerable Claimants: UC and the Legacy System

Volume 660: debated on Monday 13 May 2019

6. What steps her Department is taking to increase financial support for vulnerable universal credit claimants compared with the legacy system. (910837)

9. What steps her Department is taking to increase financial support for vulnerable universal credit claimants compared with the legacy system. (910841)

Universal credit makes sure that payments reach those who need them most. Around 1 million disabled households will receive, on average, £100 more per month on universal credit than on the system it replaces. As a single system that integrates six legacy benefits, universal credit will enable 700,000 households to access approximately £2.4 billion of welfare that was previously unclaimed.

I recently wrote to the Secretary of State about one of my constituents in Clacton and the severe disability premium. I set out in the letter how my constituent was moved on to universal credit in October but now says that she is £185 a month worse off. I know the draft Universal Credit (Managed Migration Pilot and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2019 will rectify her situation and provide a lump sum to cover the missed payments since she moved. This is welcome, but when does the Secretary of State expect the regulations to be voted on so they can become law, especially given the real need of some claimants now?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important matter on behalf of his constituent. As he will be aware, there has recently been a court judgment on the Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) (SDP Gateway) Amendment Regulations 2019, and we will have to wait to consider it before I will be able to give him an update. I will come back to him on the earliest possible occasion, because I understand the concern his constituent must have on this matter.

Without a roof over one’s head, it is very difficult to get a job or to claim benefits. Without a job, it is almost impossible to afford rent, so what is my right hon. Friend going to do to ensure that universal credit claimants are helped and assisted not only to get a roof over their heads but to get back into work?

My hon. Friend asks a question about which he has done so much, and I start by paying tribute to his incredible work to help homeless people in the previous Parliament.

We recognise the concerns about homelessness, and I am determined to make sure we help homeless people to rebuild their lives. I recognise the link he so eloquently describes between jobs and homes. As part of the rough sleeping strategy, we will establish a single point of contact for homelessness at every jobcentre. I recently announced that we are increasing awareness of direct payments to private landlords under universal credit to protect vulnerable claimants’ rent. Many private landlords have told us that that will help to ensure that vulnerable people are able to stay in their homes.

21. Since the roll-out of universal credit in Redcar and Cleveland last November, I have seen an increasing flow of people coming to my office in crisis and desperation, such as the new mother who was receiving income support with tax credits but who, on transition to universal credit, has lost nearly £400 a month, including milk tokens. Universal credit is not working and it is hitting the poorest people hardest. When will the right hon. Lady do the right thing and fix this mess before more people are pushed into poverty? (910854)

I would ask the hon. Lady to work with us on UC and with her local jobcentre. The National Audit Office recently commented that the right thing is to continue with UC. I understand that it is often difficult for individuals who are concerned about moving from the six legacy benefits to one benefit, but my experience from talking to people is that even though they were concerned, once they are on UC they almost exclusively say that it is a better system than the previous one.

Shelter Cymru, a Welsh housing association, has growing concerns that tenants threatened with eviction who are dependent on UC payments are not able to meet the deadlines to settle arrears claims. Will the Minister consider allowing fast-track payments, especially for those facing eviction?

I would hope that the possibility of evictions will be reduced by our new plans to allow many more people to have their rent paid directly to housing associations and, increasingly, to private landlords. The hon. Lady raises an interesting point, and she needs to give me an opportunity to look at it; perhaps she would like to come to my surgery in the House of Commons next week or write to me about it.

Under UC, claimants will be treated as terminally ill only if they are not expected to live for any longer than six months. Owing to medical advances and the nature of some diseases, some people may live much longer than that, so what steps is the Department taking to ensure that those who are terminally ill but with a life expectancy of more than six months will be able to receive support through UC?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising such an important issue. It is so important that when people receive such a devastating diagnosis they are treated with care. So where a claimant has been diagnosed with a terminal illness but has a life expectancy of longer than six months, and they have satisfied the conditions of being treated as having either limited capability for work and work-related activity or limited capability for work, they will be submitted for an immediate work capability assessment referral. I hope that that answer satisfies my hon. Friend.

One of the clear vulnerabilities for people accessing UC is indebtedness; the Department’s figures show that 60% of all new UC applicants receive an advance payment. We know that people are in desperate need at that application stage, so will the Government consider making the advance payment assessment the first assessment and any advance payment the first payment of that person’s UC claim?

I understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from and his desire to ensure that these people, who are often on very low incomes and in difficult circumstances, are looked after when they first make their application. We believe we have made the right changes to be able to address that, not only with the advance payment, but with the housing benefit run-on that comes after two weeks, which should give them additional funds in order to be able to support themselves. Of course we will also be introducing further run-ons of other benefits from next year. We are improving the ability of people to access money all the time.

The Government’s plans for payments to severe disability premium recipients who lost about £180 a month when they were forced to transfer to UC were found to be discriminatory by the High Court on 3 May. Severely ill and disabled people should not have to fight through the courts for the support they should be entitled to, so will the Government now ensure that people receive payments, as soon as possible, that fully reflect the loss they have suffered?

As the hon. Lady will be aware, my hon. Friend the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work took an urgent question on this last week and fully answered the questions that many people in the House had. The issue is the access that we put in place through a gateway and whether it is the right amount—the amount that was paid previously or the amount that is paid subsequently. We have decided that we will consider this before replying in full to the Court.

New research from the Children’s Commissioner found that the introduction of UC, the two-child limit and the benefit cap combined will mean that the number of children in families struggling to make ends meet will almost double in some areas. The Trussell Trust distributed nearly 600,000 emergency food parcels to children last year. When will the Government wake up and once again make tackling child poverty the priority it should be?

Tackling child poverty and poverty in general is absolutely a priority of this Government, which is why we are so focused on ensuring that UC supports people into work as well as providing the necessary safety net. Last week, I made a speech about ensuring that there is additional support for people when they are on low income and finding new ways of getting better access to different skilled work.