Universal Credit Rollout / Reports Of Increasing Poverty

Discuss news stories and political issues that affect carers.
Late morning update from the Guardian :

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/20 ... -go-ahead.

Universal credit rollout going ahead as planned, David Gauke suggests.

Work and pensions secretary hinted there would be no implementation delays during appearance at Tory conference fringe event

Speaking on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday, Theresa May suggested the rollout could be reviewed, saying she recognised “there have been problems in the way universal credit has been working out for people ... That’s something that David Gauke and I are looking at.”

At the fringe event however, Gauke suggested there was no intention to delay the move. “Let’s not get carried away over what is scheduled in the next few months,” he said. “At the moment if you look at the total number of households they are going to move on to universal credit by the end of this process, we are 8% of the way through, by the end of the scheduled plans, by January, we will be 10% of the way through. No one is talking about a reckless or risky approach, it continues to be about testing and improving.”


A " Poll Tax " moment ?

Not quite but .... keep your eyes peeled / ears pricked during the first few weeks of any of the forthcoming rollouts.

Worksop scheduled for the 1st. December ... be a little difficult listening for more tell tale signs of sirens given the number usually heard on anyone day.

After that start date , ALL bets are off !

Happy Christmas !

Now that really would be chancing one's arm ?
Excellent article from the Guardian for any reader wondering what all the fuss is about :

https://www.theguardian.com/society/201 ... m-be-fixed

Universal credit: why is it a problem and can the system be fixed ?

The government says it is rolling out its new benefits scheme – but critics say it is seriously flawed and increases rent arrears.

What is universal credit?

Universal credit is the supposed flagship reform of the benefits system, rolling together six benefits (including unemployment benefit, tax credits and housing benefit) into one, online-only system. The theoretical aim, for which there was general support across the political divide, was to simplify the benefits system and increase the incentives for people to work, rather than stay on benefits.

How long has it been around?

The project was legislated for in 2011 under the auspices of its most vocal champion, the former secretary of state for work and pensions Iain Duncan Smith. The plan was to roll it out across the UK by 2017. However, a series of management failures, expensive IT blunders and design faults have seen it fall at least five years behind schedule.

Why are critics calling for a pause in its rollout?

The benefit has, in its latest iteration, been rolled out slowly – at a rate of about five jobcentre areas a month in selected areas since May 2016. About 600,000 people are currently on the benefit. But the government has decided to push ahead with an accelerated rollout of 50 jobcentre areas a month from October. Critics say ministers need to slow down to review and fix serious design flaws in the system.

What are the design flaws?

There are manifold problems, but the political focus centres on the minimum 42-day wait for a first payment endured by new claimants when they move to universal credit (in practice this is often up to 60 days). For many low-income claimants, who lack savings, this in effect leaves them without cash for six weeks. The well-documented consequences for claimants of this are rent arrears (leading in some cases to eviction), hunger (food banks in universal credit areas report striking increases in referrals), use of expensive credit, and mental distress.


What have ministers proposed to do about the six-week wait?

The work and pensions secretary, David Gauke, recognised the widely held concerns about the long payment wait (including 12 of his own party’s backbenchers) in his speech to the Tory party conference on Monday. He said he was overhauling the system of advance payments available to claimants to enable them to access cash up front to see them through the six-week waiting period. Payments would be available within five days, and in extreme cases within hours.

Will this solve the problem?

The payments are loans that must be repaid. Claimants can only get an advance for a proportion of the amount they are owed as a first payment, and must repay it within six months. Normally, claimants must prove to officials that an advance is needed to pay bills, afford food or prevent illness. Official figures show about half of new universal credit claimants apply for an advance payment. Ministers say this is good news as it shows they are getting help. Critics say the high demand proves the wait is too onerous for too many people.


What other options do ministers have?

Charities and landlords could reduce the long wait marginally by cutting the seven-day “waiting period” introduced in 2013 (an arbitrary period during which new claimants are prevented from lodging a claim after being made redundant). They could introduce more flexible repayment terms for advance loans. And they could speed up the payment process (currently slower than the supposedly cumbersome “legacy” benefits they replace).

Plenty. Landlords (private, council and housing association) are worried about the level of rent arrears racked up by tenants on universal credit. Unchecked, this will lead to a spike in evictions. Private landlords have said they will no longer take on universal credit claimants as tenants because the risk of arrears is too high, and the bureaucracy involved in tackling problems too soul-destroying. Housing associations have warned that the accumulated bad debts run up by tenants as a result of universal credit could affect their housebuilding plans. Claimants complain that universal credit is bafflingly complex, unreliable, and difficult to manage, particularly if you are without internet access.

So it is all about ironing out a few technical glitches?

Not quite. Multibillion-pound cuts to work allowances imposed by the former chancellor George Osborne mean universal credit is far less generous than originally envisaged. According to the Resolution Foundation thinktank, about 2.5m low-income working households will be more than £1,000 a year worse off when they move on to universal credit. Reversing those cuts requires a political decision, not a technical fix.

What is the future for universal credit?

Gauke confirmed today that the current rollout will continue to the planned timetable (which will see, in theory, universal credit extended to about 7 million people by 2022). However, the problems of universal credit are unlikely to go away, and it has some powerful critics, including the Treasury, which has always opposed the project. It would be possible to cancel the project, or overhaul it substantially. However, some argue the billions pumped into universal credit – and the huge amount of political capital and credibility invested in it – mean it is too big to fail.


A stand alone article if ever there was one.
Slight detour but fits in nicely under the orginal thread heading ... Housing Benefit ( HB ) cap :

https://www.theguardian.com/society/201 ... et-housing

Hammond urged to scrap benefit cap as 1 million face homelessness.

Shelter calls on chancellor to act in next month’s budget while council leaders attack failure to fix ‘broken’ housing market


Probably the most contentious benefit of them all ?

No view but .... a working couple on the minimum wage , both work 35 / 36 hours a week , and STILL may qualify for HB to help pay the rent ?

Half full / half empty ... wages too low / rent too high ???

Limit the amount of HB ?

No answer ... that's a little too political to be discussed on this forum !!!!!!

But the homeless charity Shelter said that, while the extra money was welcome, it was a tiny proportion of what was required and would not help about a million private renters who were in immediate danger of being made homeless as a result of the housing benefit cap.

Polly Neate, Shelter’s chief executive, said: “The money put forward is only a fraction of what’s needed, given just how bad this crisis has become. Building new homes also takes time, and time is not on the side of the million private renters who could risk being tipped into homelessness by the freeze on housing benefit. Whether a struggling family or a young person in low-paid work, the freeze is stripping away the help people desperately need to pay their rent.

“Given the tide of despair faced by hard-up renters, we are urging the government to abandon the freeze on housing benefit in the autumn budget or risk making more people homeless.”

A survey by Shelter of 3,978 renters found that 79% of those who were in work while also claiming housing benefit were struggling with their rent payments. More than half of these “working renters” on housing benefit were worried about losing their homes, while 71% said it was harder to find a decent affordable home now compared with five years ago.

The Local Government Association, equally concerned that rising rents have left many people who claim housing benefit with large shortfalls, has also called on the government to scrap the cap on housing benefit, which under current plans is due to carry on until 2020.

Separately, more than 50 leaders of Labour councils and Labour mayors have written to May demanding more funding so that councils can build the homes their communities need.

In their letter, the local Labour leaders say: “Your conference announcement follows in a long line of policy decisions that Tory ministers have made on housing since 2010, which has done nothing to fix the housing crisis, and in many cases made the problems worse.”

“Home-ownership across the country is down sharply, with almost 200,000 fewer homeowners since 2010, rough sleeping has more than doubled, private rents have risen faster than incomes, housing benefit spending has increased, and affordable housebuilding last year was at the lowest level in 24 years.”


Another one to be colour coded to make it easier to read as soon as someone fills the INK bottle up !
Another article from the Guardian ... UC rollout and anticipated evictions :

https://www.theguardian.com/society/201 ... ccelerates

Councils fear surge in evictions as universal credit rollout accelerates.

Housing federation says new system poses challenge to landlords, and Guardian investigation reveals claimants’ frustration.


When considering that 40% ... yes , 2 in 5 ... current mps are also BTL landlords , evicting some of their constituents should be " Entertaining " for their local rags ... unless , of course , like monopoly cards , they are swapping their constituency BTLs amongst themselves ?
Councils and housing associations are braced for a surge in rent arrears and evictions as the introduction of universal credit accelerates across the country over the next few months.

Landlords have signalled they are under increasing financial pressure to open eviction proceedings against tenants amid a rise in rent arrears associated with the new benefit.

Ministers declared last week that universal credit was “working”, but on Friday the Greater Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham, said the number of rough sleepers in the city could at least double this winter unless Theresa May halted the much-criticised rollout.

The National Housing Federation, which represents 900 housing associations in England, said universal credit was presenting a “significant challenge” to landlords as they worked to keep tenants from becoming homeless.

Croydon council in south London, which piloted the universal credit full service, renewed its calls for a pause in the rollout. It said it would spend £3m this year helping thousands of tenants in arrears to avoid eviction, and said the 50% increase in support costs was unsustainable.

“The government needs to slow down this full rollout process and consider lessons from pilot areas like ours or face a bad situation becoming much worse,” said Alison Butler, the council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for homes, regeneration and planning.

Meanwhile, a Guardian investigation into people’s experiences of universal credit suggests there are widespread fears of eviction compounded by stressful and frustrating interactions with benefits bureaucracy.

Claimants worry they will be made homeless because of rent arrears accumulated over the minimum 42-day wait for a first benefit payment. Others say the stress of dealing with the system, and its impact on their finances, has affected their mental health.

Although the principle of universal credit was widely welcomed as a way of simplifying the benefits system, there is increasing concern that in practice its complexity and design shortcomings are failing some of the very people it was meant to help.

“If claimants fall foul of just one of the many confusing rules, punishing pay schedules or unreliable computer systems dotted around this assault course, we know the outcome in all too many cases is either grinding poverty or destitution,” said Frank Field, the chair of the Commons work and pensions committee.

The work and pensions secretary, David Gauke, has rejected calls – including from 14 backbench Tory MPs – to pause the rollout while design flaws are fixed. In his party conference speech he described universal credit as a step towards a Tory vision of the modern welfare state that was “compassionate, practical and aspirational”.

However, landlords are already reporting universal credit-related evictions, although many insist they open proceedings as a last resort and often only when tenants refuse to engage with attempts to help them settle arrears. A possession order is just the first stage and does not automatically lead to an eviction.

Halton Housing Trust, a fifth of whose households are now on the full digital universal credit service, has reported a 100% increase year on year in the number of tenants against whom it has started eviction proceedings. Seven tenants owed arrears of at least £2,000 more than they had before going on to the benefit.

Croydon council said it would spend an extra £1m this year to protect tenants from homelessness. In the first quarter of this year it issued 959 special housing payments to help households maintain tenancies, compared with 529 in the same period last year. Without this support, hundreds of tenants would have become homeless, it said.

Gloucester City Homes, which has been operating the interim universal credit service, has evicted eight tenants, or 12% of all those in receipt of universal credit. In one case, a “model tenant” who always paid on time received a possession notice after an eight-week wait for payment led him into arrears of more than £500.

Curo Group housing association in Bath, with 16 months’ experience of universal credit, has sought 160 court orders against tenants since April, up from 130 in the same period the previous year. It says it will not always take action against tenants it knows have fallen into arrears directly as a result of universal credit payment delays.

Sarah Seeger, the head of customer accounts at Curo, said: “We have a concern that the rapid expansion will put the universal credit system under severe pressure and we’ll see a deterioration of the quality and timeliness of the service, the consequences of which will be very difficult to manage for customers on low or in some cases no income.”

Landlords say continuing increases in the number of tenants going into arrears as universal credit is rolled out are financially unsustainable and will affect the ability to build new homes. Many landlords have increased the levels of cash they have to set aside to cover bad debts related to arrears.

Sue Ramsden, head of policy at the National Housing Federation, said housing associations were working hard with tenants to sustain tenancies and minimise arrears. “The introduction of universal credit is presenting a significant challenge for housing providers and their tenants,” she said. “Despite some assurances from the Department for Work and Pensions that the process to assess claims has improved, we still have real concerns around the impact of the long wait for families on very low incomes to receive the benefit.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “The best way to help people pay their rent is to help them into work and under universal credit people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the old system. We also know that over time people adjust to managing monthly payments, and clear their arrears.

“We continue to work closely with landlords, local authorities and other organisations to ensure claimants are supported. The majority of people are comfortable managing their money but budgeting advice, benefit advances and direct rent payments to landlords can be provided for those who need it.”

The Scottish government, which has called for a halt to universal credit, has used its devolved powers to introduce flexibilities to the way the new benefit is administered in an attempt to prevent rent arrears and make it easier for tenants to cope with the financial shock of the switch.

Scottish tenants moving to universal credit will be able to choose to be paid fortnightly and request that the housing benefit element is paid directly to their landlord. Many tenants, especially those who are used to weekly or fortnightly budgets, have struggled to budget using a system that pays people on a monthly basis.

Scotland’s minister for social security, Jeane Freeman, said: “We have no powers to deal with the worst aspects of universal credit, including delayed payments, cuts to the work allowances, and the appalling ‘rape clause’ applied to the tax credits within universal credit. But where we do have powers, we act to improve where we can this flawed UK benefit.”

The Guardian’s investigation found common reports of problems such as incorrect and irregular payments to claimants, claims being closed without explanation, myriad IT errors, difficulties in contacting benefits officials and lengthy waits for mistakes to be corrected.
'In a year, not one payment correct': a council tenant on the misery of universal credit

The investigation heard accounts from 68 claimants. Their stories tallied closely with the findings of surveys by charities such as Citizens Advice and evidence from claimants submitted to the Commons work and pensions select committee.

Several claimants complain about the high cost of using an official 0345 helpline to try to resolve benefit errors. One told the Guardian: “Not only does it cost money to get through, my maximum [call length] has been just shy of an hour. Not great when you can’t buy a tin of beans to keep you alive.”

A common complaint is that some universal credit staff struggle with the complicated rules. Some claimants report they have been given contradictory advice by different officials for the same problem.

One self-employed businessman told the Guardian: “I spend an insane amount of time dealing with universal credit and still have to chase my payments every month when [they] are not paid. Having everything in one place is theoretically a good idea. In reality, it is incredibly frustrating.”

Another person said the system was not responsive to the very different needs and circumstances of claimants. “It claims to be an easy system that benefits everyone and gives you a fair assessment. However, it extricates human interaction from the process and in doing so cannot cater to individual needs and cases.”

There are signs that claimants do not welcome the prospect of moving into the new system. One respondent reported that she anticipated having no money for the Christmas period after she moves on to universal credit at the end of November, when her son turns five and her benefit circumstances change.

“Universal credit will give me a loan [to tide her over the six-week waiting period for a first payment] but that is just putting me in more debt than I’m already in. I don’t think I can afford to pay it back. So how can I feed us and heat our house up, as well as get my son some presents for Christmas?”

This Issue will run .... like being in a marathon ....

I wonder how an article in a year's time will read ???

Reporting live from a Tent City near to you ???

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Today's Independent .... article highlighting the likely outcome of the cap on benefit payments being extended :

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/po ... 90036.html

Benefits freeze will 'drive nearly half a million people into poverty'.

Chancellor Philip Hammond urged to help poorest families by scrapping freeze on working-age benefits in the upcoming budget.


Nearly half a million people will be pushed into poverty unless the Government lifts its freeze on working-age benefits, a thinktank has warned.

Higher-than-expected inflation rates will result in an additional 470,000 people living in poverty by 2020/21, many of whom are from working households, according to new analysis by The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).

The JRF has urged Chancellor Philip Hammond to ease the pressure on poor families in next month's Budget by scrapping the four-year benefits freeze - announced by former chancellor George Osborne in 2015 - and restoring inflation-linked rises.

A couple with two children receiving Universal Credit is £832 worse off per year than if benefits had kept up with prices since 2010, the JRF estimates, while a single parent with two children will have lost out by £676 each year during the same period.

Higher than forecast inflation means the hit to low-paid families will be almost £0.9bn more than the £4bn originally expected from this cut in 2020/21, it said.

Campbell Robb, JRF chief executive, said: “People who are just managing at best are being hit in the pocket by the freeze on benefits and tax credits. It means millions of families are finding life even harder to make ends meet - whether paying for the weekly food shop, covering energy bills or finding enough money to pay the rent.

“While the Treasury gains from this policy in the short-term, more children living in poverty has costs the exchequer an estimated £6.4bn per year in lost tax revenue and additional benefit spending.

“The focus should be on making sure low-income family budgets keep pace with the cost of essentials, while reducing the benefit bill through increasing employment and enabling people on low pay to increase their earnings.

“No government wants to fight an election on a record of rising poverty and falling living standards. Circumstances have changed, so policy needs to change too. As prices rise, the priority should be to protect the budgets of the lowest income families. It’s time to lift the freeze.”

It comes after Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke vowed to press on with the Government's flagship UC reform, despite mounting concern from Tory MPs that vulnerable claimants could risk eviction or struggle to eat if they are left waiting up to six weeks for their first payment.

Calls have been made for a pause to the rollout of UC, which will merge six existing benefits into one payment, while some 25 Tories could be prepared to rebel on the issue, according to The Telegraph.

Former Conservative Prime Minister John Major intervened on Universal Credit over the weekend, saying it was "operationally messy, socially unfair and unforgiving", while Dame Louise Casey, the former government social welfare tsar, previously said aspects of the reform made “her hair stand on end”.


A very interesting comment from an Irish reader :
Meanwhile, here in Ireland our government is due to unveil it's budget tomorrow.

It seems to be more or less confirmed that there will be an across the board increase in social welfare payments, a cut in the extra income taxes they brought in after the 2008 crash, plus more spending on health and a big housing programme.

All will be modest changes except the housing programme.

There will be tax increases for property developers and corporations (we're hearing, nothing's 100% certain).

Public employees are currently in negotiations for a small pay rise. Minimum wage is to go up. (Already 20% higher than NI).
It will be a balanced budget and the government is now doing 5 year plans... As far ahead as you can get any of our politicians to plan!

Public debt down from 123 to 73%, private debt also dropping consistently.

What I don't understand... The UK has lower unemployment than us (2% less).

You weren't completely destroyed by the financial crash like we were... you have your own currency and have a lot more flexibility than us.

What's going on?

Either your lot are more worried about public finances than they're letting on or they're driving people into poverty for the sake of it.

Which one is it?

How many readers recall Ted Heath and his " Winter of Discontent " tv broadcast in 1974 ?

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2017 .... a winter which will make the one in 1974 seem like paradise in comparison ???
One more for the road ?

Today's Independent :

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/po ... 91501.html

Government warned Universal Credit could render claimants 'homeless by Christmas'.

Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke signalled his intention not to pause rollout of the scheme, which has been beset with problems

The government has been warned that continuing with its rollout of the new Universal Credit benefits system risks plunging claimants into hunger, destitution or even homelessness over Christmas.

The Work and Pensions Secretary, David Gauke faced questions in the Commons over the scheme that has proved intensely controversial, and received angry interventions from his own side.

Labour's Frank Field, chairman of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, had asked Mr Gauke: "Given the Secretary of State's confidence in the roll-out of Universal Credit to another 150 Jobcentre Pluses, can he give the House a guarantee that none of our constituents will be faced by hunger, near destitution, for the lack of money over the Christmas period, please?"

Shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams added: "As we've heard, Universal Credit is causing debts, rent arrears and even homelessness up and down the country, with many of the claimants already in work.

"Given that housing associations are saying that over 80% of rent arrears are down to UC, and the Mayor of Greater Manchester is predicting rough sleeping will double as a result of the UC rollout, how many more families does the minister estimate will be made homeless this winter as a result of this Government's refusal to pause UC rollout?"

Mr Gauke told last week's Tory conference he would tweak the system to ensure claimants get advance payments quicker, amid criticism people are waiting six weeks for any money and getting into debt.

Usual comments section at the bottom.

Silly question ?

What has " Christmas " really got to do with the timing ?

Any time of the year is devastating.

Perhaps it's because " Christmas " means more to those outside CarerLand / CareeLand ?

They are free to do whatever ... most lone carers / carees are NOT !

For some of us , the worst time of the year ... especially those without the traditional family life !
Could not resist this one ... my local mp , John Mann ... effect of UC in my manor :

http://www.worksopguardian.co.uk/news/m ... -1-8800064

MP says Universal Credit will be ‘Christmas catastrophe’.

Bassetlaw MP John Mann has added his voice to calls for a delay to the introduction of Universal Credit over fears that changes to benefits could hit families at Christmas.

He raised the issue with Secretary of State for Work and Pensions David Gauke in a ministerial questions session on Monday, October 9.

Universal Credit is the biggest change ever made to the benefits system, and is being rolled out across the country in stages - but MPs and the Citizens Advice Bureau say it has problems which are putting families at financial risk.

John said: “If Universal Credit is introduced on December 14 in my constituency, in my view that’s indecent and should be delayed. It will be a catastrophe at Christmas.

“As the Secretary of State believes the opposite, will he join me the week after, in the run up to Christmas, and visit my constituents and see whether he’s right or I’m right and what the impact will be.”

The minister replied: “I visit Jobcentres all the time and what I hear is that Universal Credit is providing a more personalised support and is helping get more people into work.

“Those who get in the way of it are failing to help the people who need support.”

In some cases, there is a six wait period before Universal Credit recipients receive their first payment.

Speaking after the session, John said: “The Bassetlaw foodbank have told me they already can’t keep up with demand and are dreading the arrival of Universal Credit. We are entering into new territory that is extremely worrying.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “The majority of claimants are paid in full and on time, and are comfortable managing their money. Support is available for anyone who needs it.”


Well John , if I were you ... quiety disappear from the manor until .... early spring ?

Unless , of course , you are willing to roll your sleeves up , take a stroll around the manor , and try to reassure some of the locals in their " 6 / 7 Weeks of need " ?

Dishing out food parcels from the local church without the local press there to capture a face showing REAL concern a relative safe haven during the cold period. No smiling ... strictly verboten !

Mug of tea / coffee on offer at my eerie ... time to work though our Lord Kitch together ?

" Well John , are you ready ? Good , I'll begin. It came to pass that in the land of carers , not all was well ...... "

Some 3 hours later ... ?

No suit ... suits are seen for what they are in people's lives 'round 'ere .... in much the same way the dark blue uniforms were seen on the streets during the miners' strike.
As an aside , UC helpline ... 55p per minute job !

Adding insult to injury ?

Perhaps a sub up front to make a telephone call ?

More on this debacle from the Guardian :

https://www.theguardian.com/society/201 ... -of-charge

Pressure grows to make universal credit helpline free of charge

Campaigners are concerned that complexity of new benefit and poor staff training are contributing to long and repeated calls
Several similar articles around this morning on this one ... working poor / housing benefit ... The Guardian won on the usual " First jack " :

https://www.theguardian.com/society/201 ... ays-report

Housing benefit cuts leave poor vulnerable to rent rises, says report.

Housing costs take up more of low-income households’ money, as they shoulder risk of rent increases, says thinktank.



Just the headline this time , regular readers will know the rest without much more imagination.

The old glass half full / empty scenario .... wages too low / rents too high.

There is NO short term solution ... perhaps even by 2030 ... too few affordable homes is the main reason , and that has been so for many years ... even some social housing rents can only be paid with a large percentage of HB.

Strange ... since HB was introduced , the level of rents has increased ... and the explosion of BTL landlords ... 2 in 5 of our sitting mps are said to be BTL landlords ... and we all know how fast the underlying " Asset " has risen in value ... an asset to a BTL landlord , a home for anyone renting one.

Seemed a good idea at the time ... help poor people to afford a place to live in BUT ... who has actually benefited ??????
An article from this morning's Guardian .... UC and free school meal don't mix ... overlapping benfit syndrome again :

https://www.theguardian.com/society/201 ... hool-meals
Universal credit flaw puts new welfare system at odds with free school meals.

Thinktank says unless design problem is addressed, government could face a £600m bill.


Ministers are facing fresh calls to suspend the rollout of their flagship welfare reform after experts warned that a potential flaw in the system could end up costing an extra £600m a year.

MPs, councils and charities have already sounded the alarm over universal credit after mounting evidence that new claimants were being plunged into debt and rent arrears, including some threatened with eviction. However, there are now concerns that the new system risks causing havoc with the allocation of free school meals, which are given to more than a million children from low-income families.

Under universal credit, which combines several old benefits into a single payment, the “trigger” for working out which families are entitled to a free school meal has been removed. However, the system’s design means there is no obvious way of putting a new trigger in place.

The Resolution Foundation thinktank is warning that ministers face having to either cut back free meals or give them to all children whose parents receive universal credit. The latter expansion would cover an additional 1.7 million children at a cost of up to £600m a year.

Currently, the children of parents who receive working tax credit are entitled to a free meal. There is no such threshold built into the universal credit system. The government could not explain how the issue would be fixed, saying only that details would be released “in due course”.

David Finch, senior economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “Implementing such an ambitious reform was always going to be hard, and there are bound to be teething problems. But inevitable implementation challenges are different to straightforward design flaws.

“One big question that needs answering is the extent to which families on universal credit will receive free school meals. Depending on what the government decides, it could either mean a massive expansion of free meals, costing around £600m a year by the time [the new system] is fully rolled out, or a scaling back of the programme, with some working families losing their entitlement as a result.”

He said that the free school meals issue also risked damaging the main aim of the reform, to “make work pay”.

“The eligibility threshold for free school meals will reintroduce just the kind of cliff edge that discourages people from entering work or increasing how much work they do – the barriers that universal credit rightly seeks to remove,” he said.

“Universal credit rightly aims for a highly desirable simplification of our social security system, but the issue of free school meals is just one of many design issues which should be addressed before millions of people are moved to the new system.”

A government spokeswoman said: “More than 1.1 million children currently benefit from free school meals, saving hardworking parents money and, as universal credit is rolled out, we will ensure the families who need it most continue to receive this support. We will put forward detailed proposals in due course.”

It comes amid warnings that the introduction of universal credit, increased borrowing, and ongoing issues around insecure work, have seen greater pressures placed on mental health professionals as more people struggle with issues such as debt and benefits.

This week Citizens Advice will release new research revealing that the number of people with a mental health problem who seek its help has increased by 9% in the past year. Much of the increase has been attributed to the roll-out of universal credit.

Martin Lewis, founder and chair of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, said that psychiatrists and mental health nurses felt they had to tackle practical financial issues before they could focus on their patients’ mental health.

“Often people with nowhere else to turn in a crisis – such as when they’ve not received their benefits, or the bailiffs are on the phone – get in touch with their compassionate mental health professional, who feels duty bound to help,” Lewis said.


Oh dear , design fault ... slightly more damaging than those in " Our " Care Act ?

In many ways similar to the Care Act ... no input during the planning stage from the end users !!!

Just left to those who won't be end users !

That's another fine mess you're got me into ... Stanley ?