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House of Commons Hansard
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Universal Credit: Vulnerable Claimants
01 July 2019
Volume 662
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12. What steps the Government are taking to increase financial support for vulnerable universal credit claimants, compared with the legacy system. [911652]

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15. What steps the Government are taking to increase financial support for vulnerable universal credit claimants, compared with the legacy system. [911655]

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20. What steps she is taking to support vulnerable people who apply for universal credit. [911661]

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Universal credit ensures that support goes to those who need it most by simplifying the previously complicated legacy system, allowing 700,000 more people to receive approximately £2.4 billion in unclaimed benefits. Since 1 April this year, the Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland Help to Claim service has been in place, providing free, confidential and impartial support to help people, including those who are vulnerable, to make a universal credit claim.

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I acknowledge the work that the Minister and the Secretary of State have done to improve universal credit, though concern remains that the five-week wait for the first payment is presenting a serious challenge to many people. To address this, will he accept the recommendation of the Bright Blue think-tank for one-off, up-front helping hand payments?

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Those moving to universal credit will get more than 25% of their award through two weeks of additional housing benefit and, as of next year, jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance and income support. Advances are available to cover the interim period, but we recognise the concerns about the payments in arrears and would welcome further ideas.

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Vulnerable universal credit claimants often need to travel, sometimes long distances, to regular hospital appointments. What can the Minister do to help give these people the financial security they need to attend those regular and important appointments?

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Universal credit claimants may be able to claim a refund for the cost of travelling to a hospital for treatment through the NHS healthcare travel costs scheme. To claim travel costs, claimants should take travel receipts, as well as their appointment letter or card and proof they are receiving a qualifying benefit, to a nominated cashiers office, which will be located in the hospital or clinic that treats the claimant. I should advise my hon. Friend that costs can be claimed back up to three months after an appointment.

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The requirement for explicit consent built into universal credit makes it difficult for organisations such as Macmillan to support claimants as they did those on legacy benefits. When will the Government meet their commitment to review this requirement with the Social Security Advisory Committee, how will they engage stakeholders and when do they expect to report their findings?

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The hon. Gentleman raises a very good point—it concerns me too. We have agreed to work collaboratively with the Social Security Advisory Committee to consider how current practices could be enhanced, and to publish a report on our joint conclusions.

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A constituent of mine, Claudette, lives with her son, who is disabled, in private rented accommodation. She is in receipt of universal credit, but she did not receive her April rent payment, and the Department is refusing to investigate. Prior to that and ever since, universal credit has covered her rent. Will the Minister meet me to review this case, as my constituent fears eviction?

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I thank the hon. Lady for raising that individual issue. I would like her to raise Claudette’s case with me. My door is always open, as I know are those of other Ministers in the Department, and of course I would be delighted to meet her.

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At the last oral questions, I raised the case of single parent Alicia in my constituency, who had seen fraudsters claim universal credit for her. The Minister promised to investigate but still has not. In the meantime, we have seen hundreds more cases across Greater Manchester, including that of my constituent Sarah, who has now, in spite of reporting the fraud, been asked to attend an interview under caution and been further victimised by the Department. Will the Secretary of State please make sure that victims of fraud and crime are not further victimised by her Department?

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We take fraud incredibly seriously, and I believe that the matter in question is being investigated. If the hon. Lady has further cases, she can refer them to me or the Minister for Employment, and we will look at them very carefully.

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The pilot of the Government’s ill-conceived managed migration of universal credit is meant to start this month, but the Government have been very slow in coming forward with details. Is this because the level of payment to severely disabled people who lost out when they transferred to universal credit was found to be unlawful by the High Court?

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The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work has been very clear on this. We are still considering it and will come back to the House in due course.

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The Government have repeatedly responded to criticisms of social security cuts—and have done so today—by claiming that they are targeting those who need support the most. How does that accord with spending nearly £200,000 on legal battles with severely disabled people and single mothers who have lost out under universal credit?

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Let me gently point out to the hon. Lady that we are spending more than £6 billion a year on the main disability benefits.