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Senior DWP Staff give evidence to Social Security Committee

Universal Credit Director General 

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In a recent meeting of the Social Security Committee, MSPs put a number of questions suggested by the SFHA to Neil Couling, DWP Director General of Universal Credit and Denise Horsfall Work Services Director with DWP Scotland.

A substantial part of the session was taken up with the proposed JobCentre Plus closures being planned for Glasgow and concern was expressed about the timing of the consultation over the festive break and deadline of January 18th. Since the meeting the consultation on the proposed closures of Bridgeton, Castlemilk and Maryhill has been issued with a deadline of January 31st for submissions. The evidence session then turned to the rollout of Universal Credit.

Mr Couling and Ms Horsfall were then asked a number of questions about the rollout of Universal Credit. Green MSP Alison Johnstone asked about the loss of implicit consent in the full service area, an issue that has been highlighted by a number of associations to the SFHA.

Mr Couling stated that if claimants lodged a request on their journal  for the DWP to talk to an adviser working on their behalf, then the DWP would agree to this or arrange for a 3 way telephone conversation. Mr Couling was also challenged over a pledge he had made at the joint SFHA/DWP event held in Glasgow in September, that he would only authorise further rollout if he was confident he was safe to do so. He replied that the DWP was developing a secure landlord portal in response to concerns raised by the SFHA and other organisations, which should go a long way to answering the issues raised by stakeholders including the SFHA; if it (or an ’equivalent’) was not ready in time for the acceleration of the rollout in October 2017, he may have to consider pausing the rollout until concerns had been resolved.

When challenged about the level of arrears incurred by UC claimants, Mr Couling claimed that part of the reason was an accounting one, stating:  “There are issues to do with landlord attitudes and our experience of how claimants find interacting with the system. We found that a number of landlords charged rent in advance while we in the benefits system pay in arrears. … Therefore, there is a bit of a book arrears problem in some of the presentation.”

He went on further to state that arrears incurred during the six week wait for first payment subsequently reduce, admitting  “We build a bit of arrears at the start of that process, partly because of the way in which Parliament designed the system, and then we start to clear those arrears.”

A transcript of the  evidence session is available to from the Scottish Parliament website.