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Legacy Benefits and Universal Credit

Volume 682: debated on Monday 19 October 2020

What steps her Department has taken to support an effective transition between legacy benefits and universal credit. (907674)

What steps her Department has taken to support an effective transition between legacy benefits and universal credit. (907685)

My Department continually reviews its processes and the service it provides to claimants using a long-standing test and learn approach. In July, we introduced a two-week run-on of DWP income-related benefits, which is in addition to the existing two-week extension of housing benefit that is already payable to eligible claimants. Claimants who believe they may be better off on universal credit should check their eligibility before applying, as legacy benefits will end when they submit their claim and they will not be able to return to them in the future.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. With difficult times ahead for Stoke-on-Trent families hit by the economic downturn caused by coronavirus, does my hon. Friend agree that it is more important than ever for universal credit to offer any necessary flexibility to ensure people get the support they need to return to work, particularly those affected by local lockdown restrictions?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Universal credit is designed to support people into work. It supports those who need help and is fair to everyone who pays for it. Throughout the pandemic many, sadly, have lost their jobs or seen their incomes reduced. Thankfully, universal credit and the Government’s £9.3 billion investment in the welfare safety net have been there to help catch many of those affected, and that has been vital for the 3 million people who have made a benefit claim since March.

Our plan for jobs will help people get the skills they need at every stage of their lives and delivers on our promise to level up opportunity across the country. Work coaches will play a crucial role in delivering that agenda and helping people back into work, so will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the brilliant work coaches of Workington jobcentre, and commit to increasing the number of work coaches across the jobcentre network?

I too pay tribute to the brilliant work coaches in Workington Jobcentre Plus, who I know have done an incredible job in particular around partnership working, and I can point to the Maryport GP surgery outreach work, the youth hub, the sector-based work academy programmes and the virtual mentoring circle by Workington jobcentre. That is brilliant work and, yes, I can absolutely confirm that we are investing £895 million in doubling the number of work coaches and Jobcentre Pluses by March 2021.

The £20-a-week uplift to universal credit has been a lifeline for many during the pandemic, yet this vital extra support continues to be denied to legacy benefit claimants, many of whom are disabled. I raised this with Ministers in the Chamber on 11 May, again on 29 June and yet again on 14 September, each time getting a non-answer. To date, the uplift could have given legacy benefit claimants £600 of extra support. Minister, can we please have a straight answer today: will anything be done to rectify this?

The hon. Lady is right is that she has asked this question on three occasions, and she has had three answers. The legacy benefits were increased by 1.7% in April 2020, following the Government’s announcement to end the benefit freeze. It has always been the case that claimants on legacy benefits can make a claim for universal credit if they believe that they will be better off. There are special arrangements for those in receipt of the severe disability premium, who will be able to make a new claim to UC from January 2021. But it is important—I stress this—that claimants should check their eligibility before applying to universal credit as legacy benefits will end when they submit their claim and they will not be able to return to them in the future.