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SFHA Covid-19 briefing series: social security and Universal Credit

Blog by Jeremy Hewer, SFHA Policy Lead.

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SFHA has produced a series of 10 briefings to help social landlords through the coronavirus emergency.  

This blog focuses on our briefing on social Security and Universal Credit. All of the briefings are available to read on, or download from, the SFHA website. It is also worth regularly checking the website for updated versions which are likely to change as the situation develops. It is also well worth reading in tandem the briefing on humanitarian community resilience which refers to funding initiatives taken by the Scottish Government. 

The briefing looks at the measures that were introduced by the UK Government to mitigate the impact of pandemic. A package of measures announced by the Chancellor included returning support for private sector tenancies to the 30th percentile of the Local Housing Allowance; increasing, for a year, the Universal Credit standard allowance by £86.67 a month; suspending the minimum income floor for the self-employed and the introduction of job retention support for employees who have been furloughed.  

Over the past few weeks, over 1.8 million new applications for Universal Credit have been made. This has, naturally, put a huge strain on the DWP system, with staff across the department pulled from their usual jobs to help process and verify the flood of new applications. Job Centres have been closed to all but the most urgent appointments for those who cannot access the services online or by telephone. Job Centres have also been transformed into virtual service centres, with the reassigned staff dedicated application processing. 

During a recent meeting of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, Director General of Universal Credit, Neil Couling, paid tribute to his staff and said that the ability of the DWP to tackle the emergency was thanks to the automated processes that were embedded in Universal Credit. The Work and Pensions Committee has also published its survey of people’s experiences of the benefit system during the emergency: there is high praise from some for how the DWP has stepped up to the plate, though there have been some frustrations as well. Among the points the Select Committee learnt from the survey were: 

  • Individuals are grateful for how quickly DWP has adapted its operations 

  • People trying to claim benefits were still facing delays 

  • People are having trouble verifying their ID 

  • There are lots of new claimants who don’t understand the benefits system 

  • People claiming sickness and disability benefits feel particularly hard hit  

  • Fewer people are requesting advances, but getting one is still hard for some  

  • Some people want to claim Universal Credit but aren’t able to 

  • Some self-employed people are falling through the gaps in support  

  • Some people are still struggling to make ends meet 

The Work and Pensions Committee continues to take evidence on the impact on claimants and Universal Credit support services during the pandemic, hearing from a number of organisations. 

There is no doubt that the DWP has been under enormous pressure to process the huge influx of new claims. In order to help it to cope with this, it decided to temporarily suspend some services. For example, it has suspended third-party deductions, including payments of arrears, for a month, until 10 May. Unfortunately, knowledge of this measure was sent to stakeholders belatedly, which meant that housing associations had little or no opportunity to engage with tenants who were affected by the change.  

SFHA will work with the DWP to help improve communication and to get clarification around the issue of third-party deductions. We will also lobby the DWP to speed up the roll-out of the aligned payment system, for managed payments to landlords and Universal Credit Scottish choices direct payments, which promises a significant improvement to income management. 

For further information, please contact me jhewer@sfha.co.uk  


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