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Universal Credit

Volume 794: debated on Monday 26 November 2018


Asked by

Split payments are already available on request for universal credit claimants. We have processes in place to record complex needs for individual claimants and have introduced a new IT function so that these claimants are instantly visible to the staff helping them. We are also examining how claimants tell us about their complex needs, how we record those needs and how we can extract data which can help us monitor and improve support.

I thank the Minister. To mark White Ribbon Day yesterday, I want to ask specifically about the impact of universal credit split payments on people suffering domestic abuse. At present money for children is paid in tax credits to the main carer once a fortnight, and that supporting low-paid work to the main earner once a fortnight. Universal credit rolls up all those payments with housing, childcare and disability payments, and is paid once a month into the bank account of one member of a couple. There is widespread concern that this may exacerbate economic abuse. Domestic abuse survivors can request a split payment, but charities such as Women’s Aid are concerned that simply asking for it can put them at risk because of course it triggers the evidence that they have done so concerning the abusive partner. My noble friend Lady Lister raised this in a Question in July and presumably the Minister has been thinking about it. But the latest statistics show that only 20 households have split the payments, even though 40% of awards are to couples. Can the Minister please tell the House what action the Government are going to take?

The Government support White Ribbon Day—the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women—and will be making a number of announcements over the 16 days of action, which I am sure all noble Lords will welcome. The Government are committed to doing everything we can to end domestic abuse. It is important to stress that it is the responsibility of government across Whitehall to support victims of domestic abuse. The single payment of universal credit usually allows both people in the household to make the money management choices that are best for them in considering how their decisions about work affect their household income. The reality is that I and my honourable friend in another place, the Minister for Family Support, Housing and Child Maintenance, Justin Tomlinson, are working hard with stakeholders to see what improvements could be made.

My Lords, the Minister said that split payments are available on request but, as my noble friend said, if somebody asks for a split payment, her abusive partner will know. How many of us would be willing to take the risk of further abuse? Can the Minister tell me why the Government think that they know better than survivors of domestic abuse and the organisations working with them, and continue to put the onus on the survivor and put her at greater risk?

My Lords, it is important to stress that claimants can request a split payment during a face-to-face meeting and a phone call could be made away from the perpetrator of domestic abuse or online, via the journal. Research carried out for the department suggests that only 2% of married couples and 7% of cohabiting couples keep their finances completely separate. Indeed, a number of legacy payments have always been paid as one payment.

My Lords, many people who have experienced domestic abuse would find it extremely traumatic to relate the details of what has happened to them. Does the DWP require details of the abuse before they can receive split payments?

Well, it is helpful because it is constructive. No, we do not expect people to disclose the details of domestic abuse. Any individual can be accompanied by a third-party organisation to provide expert support when discussing their situation with a work coach. Each case is unique and the work coach will therefore ensure that the process is claimant-centric, to best support the needs of the individual. We treat all personal information in confidence and do not disclose it to third parties without explicit consent, but we also ensure mandatory training for our work coaches to give the support that people who are in a vulnerable situation require.

My Lords, what assurance can the Minister give that split payments will be part of the test and learn DWP pilot scheme to be introduced early next year? Can she also give assurances that any results will be published before the managed migration takes place in 2019?

My Lords, the noble Baroness may know that during the test and learn phase, we will be working within a co-design phase for seven months on a number of projects with stakeholders from all parts of the welfare system to assist us in the kinds of questions that we need to ask. But we are also going to look at how Scotland implements this. Scotland has made its own decision, which it is entitled to make, to go ahead and implement split payments. We want to learn from Scotland, too, about how this can be done, what challenges there might be and how practical it will actually be when six benefits are being brought into one under UC.

My Lords, if we are to learn from Scotland, is it not time that we decided how quickly we might learn from other countries? It seems to me that this will kick it into the long grass, rather than resolving the situation for split payments in England. Could the Minister please comment?

My Lords, we should not do this in haste. The reality is that Scotland has proposed split payments and is going to implement them. We would much rather watch what Scotland is doing—this is known there. Meanwhile my colleague in another place, whom I have already referenced, is working with various stakeholders on how we can improve support for those victims of domestic abuse through the welfare system.

My Lords, I currently chair a commission which is looking at services and support for women who have experienced violence and abuse. Through that, I have met many of the women whom other Members here have been trying to alert the Minister to. I am sure that the Minister has every good intention, but I have to tell her that these women really do feel that they cannot disclose what is happening to the DWP and why they need separate payments. Even if they did, their partner would then be so angry that they would suffer. Will she therefore agree to meet people who are working on this to hear of direct cases, which I do not want to put in front of the whole House, so that she hears about the concern, fear and anxiety, and then the mental health problems that come as a result?

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. We take this extraordinarily seriously. I have already met representatives of Women’s Aid and Refuge, but it is important, as the noble Baroness will appreciate, that split payments in universal credit cannot be the solution to what is ultimately a criminal act. Domestic abuse is still a huge problem in our society. The solution to it is complex and should be delivered through the judicial system. If they feel it is appropriate, anyone in a joint claim, including individuals suffering from domestic abuse, can request a split payment, but I should add that we now have more and more work coaches in jobcentres who have not only been through the mandatory training but are specialists in understanding and detecting domestic abuse. We are learning as we are going on, and we are continually working hard to improve the system, bearing in mind that as at August this year only 20 people had requested this.