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UNIVERSAL CREDIT ( UC ) : Rollout Schedule * Mines * Sanctions * Changes * Delays * Reports From Infected Manors - Page 21 - Carers UK Forum

UNIVERSAL CREDIT ( UC ) : Rollout Schedule * Mines * Sanctions * Changes * Delays * Reports From Infected Manors

All about money
266 posts
Getting interesting ... ???

Universal credit regulations ruled unlawful by high court.

Terms would leave thousands with severe disabilities worse off by about £100 a month.

Government regulations that would leave thousands of people with severe disabilities worse off by about £100 a month as a result of moving on to universal credit have been ruled unlawful in the high court.

The ruling followed a legal challenge to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) over arrangements for claimants who were in receipt of severe disability premium (SDP) benefits and had moved on to universal credit before 16 January this year.

Two men with severe disabilities, known as TP and AR, together with a woman known as SXC who also had severe disabilities, had argued that the regulations, which restricted the amount of compensation to those affected, were discriminatory.

The challenge followed a court case last year where TP and AR successfully argued that the DWP had unlawfully discriminated against them after their benefit income was reduced when they were required to claim universal credit because they moved house into a different local authority area.

As a result of that case TP and AR received £6,517 and £4,788 respectively, in compensation for the “pain and distress” caused to them. They also received payments of £173.50 and £176 a month respectively to meet the continuing shortfall in their benefits.

The government subsequently proposed regulations whereby SDP claimants who lost benefit income after moving to universal credit before the establishment of income protections on 19 January would be provided with just £80 a month in compensation, while those moved after would receive £180 a month.

TP and AR, represented by the law firm Leigh Day, and SXC, represented by Central England Law Centre, argued that the discrepancy was unjustified because the estimated 10,000 people who moved before 19 January would receive significantly less in compensation than those who moved afterwards, despite their needs being the same.

Severe disability premium and enhanced disability premium are supplementary benefit payments designed to meet the extra costs of living alone without a carer. An estimated 500,000 people in the UK receive one or both payments.

TP and AR said in a statement after the ruling: “After the high court judgment last year, we thought we had finally forced the government to ensure that people with severe disabilities who had to move on to universal credit from the old system would not be without adequate protection or worse off.

“However, we then learned that the government was proposing to short-change us and thousands of other severely disabled persons by around £100 a month. It is extremely frustrating that we have had to fight these cases through the courts when it is clear to all that the government’s unfair and dysfunctional universal credit system is indefensible.”

Tom Short, a solicitor with Leigh Day, said: “We are delighted that our clients have once again triumphed in their struggle against the government’s discriminatory universal credit policies.”

If only a few family carers took the same action as their disabled counterparts ???
Slow response to universal credit errors " Bizarre ", says council.

DWP officials took months to correct payment mistakes, says Tower Hamlets council.

A council has criticised the “bizarre” reluctance of welfare officials to act after it alerted them to benefits overpayments worth hundreds of thousands of pounds caused by universal credit system errors.

Tower Hamlets council said the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) would regularly take months to rectify incorrect payments despite repeated written reminders, even when they were told people ineligible for benefits were claiming universal credit.

In one case, the DWP reportedly insisted on paying a claim despite a warning that not only was the claimant most likely ineligible for benefits, as they had been living abroad for 10 months, but that police had recently raided their address and closed down a brothel.

A report by Tower Hamlets council’s benefits team said it had uncovered 539 DWP administrative mistakes in less than a year, which led to hundreds of claimants being underpaid by up to £8,000 or overpaid by up to £25,000.

The mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs, said the dossier of costly blunders showed that universal credit was “riddled with errors and systemic faults” and was causing chaos and misery for many claimants.

In 2018-19, £194,000 of universal credit overpayments were made to Tower Hamlets residents by the DWP. The average overpayment was £4,500 and about £150,000 of underpayments were made at an average of £104. The council currently has 197 universal credit queries lodged with the DWP.

Errors uncovered by the council and reported to the DWP include:

• A claimant whose partner died and whose children were taken into care was subsequently paid £2,000 of benefits he was ineligible for each month – eventually landing him with £18,000 of overpayments he must now repay. The council sent nine emails to the DWP pointing out the error but was ignored for 10 months.

• A woman who had to claim universal credit when her pensioner partner died was awarded only half the housing support payment she was due – a £78 per week underpayment – because the DWP had treated her deceased partner, whose name was on the tenancy agreement, as a joint tenant and incorrectly decided she was only entitled to housing costs equivalent to half of her full rent liability.

• Four cases where the council spotted that universal credit was being paid to individuals who had been subject to successful DWP benefit fraud investigations involving a range of benefits. Ironically, the DWP had previously notified the council of the individuals’ misdemeanours, indicating they were ineligible to claim benefits.

The council said that, in most cases, the DWP “would not act” after it notified them of the errors. It said the Tower Hamlets benefits team were told the DWP was powerless to correct an error unless it was personally notified of it by the individual claimant. Most claimants were unaware of the errors, the council said.

The case of the payment made to the claimant who was living abroad was brought to the council’s attention by a social landlord who said he had been asked by DWP to provide proof of rent to speed up processing of the claim.

When the landlord raised concerns about the tenant’s eligibility, the DWP reportedly told the landlord it was not their job to assess universal credit eligibility and insisted that rent details were provided. The claim was paid and the landlord has started repossession proceedings on the property.

The DWP said it could not comment on the outcomes of individual issues raised by the council for data protection reasons. A DWP spokeswoman said: “The vast majority of universal credit claims in Tower Hamlets are paid in full and on time, while a DWP specialist works closely with the council to ensure they are fully equipped to support claimants.

“It’s important that people report any changes in their circumstances to ensure they receive the right benefits. People can talk to us about their claim online, over the phone or by coming into the job centre.”

The report says that DWP staff often did not grasp changes to universal credit guidance, for example over whether it or the council should pay housing support for homeless claimants. “In these cases, council staff have had to explain to universal credit staff what their own rules and regulations are,” the report says.

It describes the current council-DWP liaison arrangements as “bizarre”, “not fit for purpose” and more inefficient than the previous system. Its comments echo difficulties reported by welfare rights advisers who found that new confidentiality rules under universal credit meant they could no longer directly resolve errors on behalf of their clients unless they could prove a complicated series of client permissions.

The council spotted the errors during routine checks on universal credit data while processing housing benefit and council tax reduction claims. It appointed a full-time staff member to monitor universal credit claim accuracy and believes it would uncover even more errors with more resources.

Biggs said: “The reality of these errors can be life-changing for those who rely on benefits, whether through underpayments meaning people struggle just to get by, or enormous overpayments which the DWP has to reclaim from the person affected.

“Universal credit is clearly not fit for purpose and it’s falling on our own benefits service to highlight and pursue errors which the DWP shouldn’t be making in the first place.”
Coming soon : the great universal credit deception.

A leaked memo shows that the Department for Work and Pensions is about to embark on a PR campaign to defend its worst ever policy.

How to sell the unsellable ?

How to pretend utter chaos is a plan coming together ?

How to persuade the public, who just refuse to buy it, to at least keep on paying for it ?

I believe I have found the answer.

It comes in the form of an internal memo from the Department for Work and Pensions that somehow floated past my desk. Published on the staff intranet just a few days ago, on 2 May, it is signed by three of the department’s most senior officials, including the DWP’s director of communications and Neil Couling, its head of universal credit. And it is that toxically controversial benefit which is its subject.

Addressed to the department’s employees, the letter sympathises: “We share your justified frustration when our hard work – in particular our work on Universal Credit – is portrayed incorrectly and/or negatively in the media.” The circular condemns this “negativity and scaremongering”, and blames it for putting people off even applying for the benefit.

It was said that Steve Jobs could conjure up a “reality distortion field”, bending facts into a parallel universe to spur on Apple designers to achieve the impossible. I can only assume that the DWP’s overlords are creating their own distortion of reality, because I cannot think of a single bigger policy failure this decade than universal credit.

After years of ministers pretending otherwise, Amber Rudd, the DWP secretary, now admits universal credit’s introduction has left people so short of cash that they have resorted to food banks. What Iain Duncan Smith hailed in 2011 as a transformation of welfare has turned into something grotesque, with massive delays and huge flaws both of administration and design, repeatedly damned by MP select committees.

The independent National Audit Office judges that universal credit has neither saved public money nor helped people into work. But it has left thousands of vulnerable claimants penniless, while others starve and even lose their homes. In a House of Commons debate last summer the London Labour MP Catherine West recounted how one of her constituents had “fallen off benefits” and ended up “sleeping in a tent in a bin chamber” on a housing estate.

Such are the horrors whose very documentation by journalists the DWP letter dismisses as “unfair”. Rather than halt universal credit, as demanded by so many groups, the department’s managers now say they will respond “in a different way … very different to anything we’ve done before”.

What follows is an elaborate media strategy to manufacture a Whitehall fantasy, one in which the benefits system is running like a dream while a Conservative government generously helps people on the escalator to prosperity. It begins at the end of this month with a giant advert wrapped around the cover of the Metro newspaper; inside will be a further four-page advertorial feature.

This will “myth-bust the common inaccuracies reported on UC”. What’s more, “the features won’t look or feel like DWP or UC – you won’t see our branding … We want to grab the readers’ attention and make them wonder who has done this ‘UC uncovered’ investigation.”

Not only is this a costly exercise, with a Metro wraparound going for a headline rate of £250,000 (of your money, let’s not forget), but the Advertising Standards Authority will doubtless be interested in that description of the feature. Its guidelines stipulate that“marketers and publishers must make clear that advertorials are marketing communications”.

Two and a half million adults pick up a daily copy of the Metro freesheet, and they will see these advertorials every week for nine weeks. Meanwhile the secretary of state, Amber Rudd, will invite “a wide range of journalists at regional and national publications … to come [to a jobcentre] and see the great work we do”.

Doubtless, the Jobcentres will be carefully chosen and everything will be arranged so that when the dignitaries descend, all will be as precisely ordered as the innards of a Swiss watch. Perhaps it’s not too indelicate to mention here that the Tory party is weeks into an unannounced leadership contest, during which plummy columns commending Rudd for turning round a failed service do no harm to her prospects.

Then comes the letter’s grand reveal: BBC2 has commissioned a documentary series, which is “looking to intelligently explore UC” by filming inside three jobcentres. “This is a fantastic opportunity for us – we’ve been involved in the process from the outset, and we continue working closely with the BBC to ensure a balanced and insightful piece of television.”

Wading through such adjectives, one remembers how the most important of the letter’s signatories, Neil Couling, told Holyrood parliamentarians that the rise of food banks was down to “poor people maximising their economic opportunities” and that “many benefit recipients welcome the jolt that … sanctions can give them”.

When the BBC’s Panorama last November went to Flintshire in north Wales and found single, elderly men being made homeless as a result of universal credit, and the local council in meltdown, the DWP criticised the corporation for its “lack of balance”, even complaining that the interview with a minister was “unfairly cut”. A Tory backbencher was wheeled out to declare the investigation “fake news”.

No such danger with this three-part series, which is driven by access rather than led by a reporter. When the civil servants’ trade union, the PCS, found out about the filming, it asked if staff could talk frankly to the crew, only to be told no: they would still be subject to the civil service code, which demands complete impartiality.

Perhaps this explains an internal PCS note on the BBC series I have seen, which remarks that staff are unhappy about being identified on screen. At one of the nominated jobcentres, in Toxteth in Liverpool, “It is our understanding that there have been no volunteers to take part in the filming.” The risk is that any staff who do participate toe the management line, making the film an advert for universal credit.

The PCS briefing also reports a senior universal credit manager telling union reps that “the DWP would have access to the film before transmission”. The BBC confirms that is the case, although it says it has “editorial control”. When I contacted the DWP it refused to answer even the most basic of questions, advising me to submit them via a freedom of information request.

It’s not uncommon for the Ministry of Defence to use newspapers to recruit soldiers, nor for government departments to grant TV crews access to their workings. What is very unusual is to see a car-crash policy damned even by the Archbishop of Canterbury airbrushed with vast public resources into a triumph.

After reading the documents, I spoke to Jennifer Jones of Sheffield Stop and Scrap Universal Credit. Severely disabled, she is awaiting transfer to the benefit, a move that she believes might deprive her of nearly £400 a month. She showed me Facebook posts of others, who have already lost out under universal credit, and told me how after her autistic son goes off to school she neither heats the house nor cooks, in order to save money. What would she do with the £250,000 that the government may spend on a single newspaper advert?

“I’d make sure there was enough on the gas and electric, that we had food in the cupboards and new school uniforms,” she said. “Then I’d see about the neighbours.” I weighed up the smallness of her wants, against the DWP’s planned extravagance. So what did Jones make of the government’s PR campaign?

“They’re taking money off the public, to lie to us about how well universal credit is working. They could be spending that money on us, but they’re spending it to con us,” she said. “It’s scary our government doing that.”

• Aditya Chakrabortty is a Guardian columnist
MPs demand details of DWP's universal credit advertorials.

Amber Rudd challenged on cost of campaign and accuracy of its claims about new benefit.

A cross-party group of MPs have written to Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, demanding more details of a reported £250,000 “unbranded” PR campaign to promote universal credit.

A leaked internal document revealed by the Guardian this week says the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has taken out newspaper advertorials purporting to “myth-bust common inaccuracies” about universal credit in a “UC-uncovered investigation.”

The campaign, consisting of an advert wrapped around the Metro newspaper and a four-page feature inside, will not feature any DWP branding, according to the leaked memo. “The features won’t look or feel like UC – you won’t see our branding,” it states.

This week the Leicester Mercury carried a lengthy feature under the headline “I think universal credit is great – here’s why”, based on interviews with staff at a jobcentre. “It’s a good thing. It is helping people and it is making a difference,” Steve Bruce, a team leader at Leicester’s Wellington Street jobcentre, was quoted as saying.

Bruce appears to have been well briefed by the DWP communications team on the lines to take about universal credit. “It’s designed to break the cycle, get people into work, and it is doing that,” he said.

A write-up of the article in other regional titles owned by the publishing group Reach was similarly sympathetic. The headline “Universal credit: why it is actually a great idea” appeared in Reach titles in Newcastle, Kent and Wales.

The original article noted that claimants had “spoken about hardship” after transferring to universal credit, and acknowledged its reporter had been invited by Rudd to meet the jobcentre staff. But it did not mention the DWP’s PR campaign, and the other articles did not mention the DWP’s invitation.

The memo, published on the DWP intranet, suggests the campaign will be a counterweight to “negativity and scaremongering” in the media, which it blames for putting people off applying for the benefit.

The chair of the work and pensions select committee, Frank Field, has written to Rudd asking to see the internal DWP documents in full. He has asked for details of the cost of the campaign, whether Rudd personally approved the plans, and what guarantees the department can give as to the accuracy of the advertorial.

“I know that the department will be keen to ensure the accuracy of its communications. Will you ask Citizens Advice, who deliver your Help to Claim service, to approve the wording of any written communications – including the reported wraparound in the Metro – to ensure that they are clear to claimants and do not risk misleading or confusing them,” Field wrote.

He called for guarantees from the DWP that the unbranded advertorials would not confuse claimants or potential claimants, and he asked for evidence that the department had assessed the risk that the PR campaign could prompt people to sign up to universal credit when they did not need to.

A DWP spokesperson said: “It’s important people know about the benefits available to them – we regularly advertise universal credit and we work closely with stakeholders to help them best advise claimants.

“All our advertising abides by the strict guidelines set by the Advertising Standards Authority.”

The work and pensions select committee is also concerned about reports that some jobcentre staff wrongly advise benefit claimants to switch from legacy benefits to universal credit even when in some cases they will be left hundreds of pounds worse off as a result.

Field has also asked for more details of the DWP’s plans to partner with the BBC on a documentary about universal credit. The Guardian revealed that the DWP would have access to the film before transmission, although the BBC insists it has editorial control.

Universal credit, which is running six years behind schedule, rolls six benefits into one single monthly payment. An estimated 8 million people will claim it by 2023. Current estimates suggest millions of claimants will be up to £1,000 worse off when they move on to it.

The online benefit has been subject to widespread criticism in the media – from the Guardian to the Sun – especially for its designed-in five-week waiting time for a first payment, which has been blamed for an increase in food bank use. MPs of all parties, campaigners and the National Audit Office have criticised it.

Last year the UN rapporteur on poverty, Philip Alston, highlighted universal credit in his critical interim report on the rise of poverty in the UK. “Although in its initial conception it represented a potentially major improvement in the system, it is fast falling into universal discredit,” he wrote.
Popular this mourning ... another one !

Polly Toynbee ... The Guardian.

Alice in ... BlunderLand ?

Yep , I'm a Captain Beefheart fan !

Cruel and chaotic ?

No, in the DWP’s fantasy land, universal credit is a huge success.

In a visit to a jobcentre, staff told me all was fine. Off the record, others talk of brutal cuts causing starvation and despair.

Come with me on an eerie visit, where we step through the looking glass into an alternative universe where everything is as good as can be.

You will like it here.

Everyone smiles: they only want to help their clients fulfil themselves, nothing bad ever happens here.

They love their work. This little utopia is the Middlesbrough jobcentre.

As everywhere, they are rolling out universal credit to new claimants or existing “clients” with any change of circumstance.

Here they prompt unemployed or underemployed people into work or more work, telling them how many jobs to apply for, what appointments and courses to take, and (whisper it) with what penalties if they fail (“But that’s very, very rare”).

It has taken me all of seven months’ applying to the Department for Work and Pensions to get here – my requests ignored, forgotten or parked, despite regular prodding. Pre-2010 I often sat in with jobcentre staff: but since then, in department after department, visiting any frontline is tortuous. With HMRC, eight years of requests to visit minimum-wage inspectors has yielded nothing – though they have never been outright refused.

Finally, here I am in a jobcentre I chose. Accompanied by a Whitehall press officer, I talk to work coaches and managers and sit in on some interviews with claimants.

Recently the work and pensions secretary, Amber Rudd, tweeted a little YouTube video of her visit to a Lancaster jobcentre, so I knew what to expect.

“I love my job,” one member of staff told her. Another said: “The good thing about work coaches is we are the human side of [universal credit].” Rudd says to the camera: “It’s been a really inspiring visit,” to “hear first-hand about the really personal, tailored, caring approach that work coaches have with helping people into work”.

That’s exactly what they told me too, but does she actually believe this is how universal credit works?

I now guess why my visit just came through. My colleague Aditya Chakrabortty wrote on Tuesday about a leaked memo from DWP top brass planning a charm offensive to promote universal credit, with £250,000 wrap-around ads on the Metro newspaper’s front cover. They complain UC “is portrayed incorrectly and/or negatively in the media” with “negativity and scaremongering”.

The Middlesbrough staff did their valiant best to hold that line. I’ve met many jobcentre staff and most are genuinely decent people, trying to make the system work against the odds. But their answers on this supervised visit floated in airy realms beyond the credible.

Have staff cuts made their caseloads harder? “I think cuts have made us work smarter and harder,” said one. How often do they sanction people? “We find sanctioning doesn’t help,” another said, adding, “We’re all passionate and proud about our work. We live here and we’ve all had friends and family using our services. We ask, how would I want my husband to be treated?”

What about benefit cuts as people move to UC? “My impression is that the vast majority get more when they move on to it,” says one.

The Commons work and pensions select committee says the switch leaves 2.2 million people in work better off by £41 a week, but with another 3.2 million losing an average £48 a week, I ask if any workplace changes could make it easier to do more for clients? No, nothing they could think of. A test question: what did they think of wider cuts in Middlesbrough, where the council has been hit hard? “I’ve not noticed we’ve got a lack of anything round here since the cuts, and I live here.”

Visit schools, hospitals, councils or any public employees trying to deliver against a backdrop of the deepest cuts in living memory and you hear their determination and despair, what works and what doesn’t, pride mixed with frustration at lack of the right tools. But this felt like conversations with automata in Stepford. It felt like my visit in the old USSR to the national women’s committee led by cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, when they all clapped to hear every single Soviet female worker had donated voluntarily to the state’s peace fund.

Numerous reports reveal the chaos and cruelty of the UC upheaval. Arrogantly dismissing experts, the former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith promised to “simplify” six benefits into one, varying the sum with each change in earnings and circumstance.

At 10 times original costs, full rollout promised by 2013 is now pencilled in for 2023. The National Audit Office says it will never be value for money, or be proven to get more into work. George Osborne’s cuts leave claimants destitute and food banks swamped, with 73% in rent arrears.

Families half starve waiting the official five weeks for payment, or sink into debt. For every extra pound they earn, 63p is deducted: what if the rich paid 63% in income tax? Over the years, an informant inside another city jobcentre has told me what’s really happening.

Yesterday, they told me it was “panic” in their office – some caseloads at 400, everything set aside to unblock urgent benefit payments. Yes, Rudd had eased things: sanctions targets were dropped, and the savagery had diminished from the days when they were ordered to catch out the vulnerable. My informant recalls the day their office made its first three-year sanction and the managers celebrated: Rudd has ended three-year sanctions, but they can still last many months.

Is Middlesbrough jobcentre an exceptionally happy planet? The local MP’s office deals with pile-ups of UC disaster cases. I asked the Middlesbrough staff if things had got better, but they denied they’d ever had sanction targets or whips on their backs. If they had admitted anything was ever less than pluperfectly flawless I might have believed them, but the DWP will need a more realistic script or its upcoming charm offensive will fall flat.

Universal credit : 10% deducted from claimants, figures show.

" Our benefits system was created to anchor people from being swept into poverty – so why is the government clawing back £1 in every £10 paid to people most in need of our support ?"

Ministers have been accused of “penalising struggling families” after figures emerged showing that £1 of every £10 in universal credit payments is deducted from claimants.

Data published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) shows the total amount of money withdrawn from claimants’ monthly allowance under the new system has increased from £13,000,000 to £39,000,000 in the year to October 2018.

When factoring in the increase in uptake of universal credit, this represents a rise from 7 per cent to 10 per cent, fuelling concerns that the process of deducting benefits under the welfare reform is forcing a growing number of claimants to “sacrifice the basics”.

One seriously ill father-of-two told The Independent he was living “hand to mouth” and having to rely on charities to provide basic household items because the DWP was withdrawing more than £90 from his allowance each month. A deduction is made from universal credit payments when claimants have outstanding debts with their utility companies or landlord, or when the DWP discovers they received a benefit overpayment at some point in the past.

Deductions are also made to pay off advance payments, which are offered to claimants when they first move onto the new benefit system to support them financially during the controversial five-week wait for universal credit. Currently there are around 850,000 claimants with an advance repayment in place.

Martin Weaver, 42, who suffers from kidney disease and heart disease, has had money deducted from his universal credit entitlement every month since he started receiving the benefit after he was forced to give up with job as a hotel manager last July due to his illness.

The father-of-two, who has to go to hospital three times a week for kidney dialysis, said he was surviving on beans on toast despite this being bad for his condition, and relying on charities to donate him basic things like a sofa and a washing machine.

Shortly after he went onto universal credit last year, Mr Weaver, who has two sons aged five and three who stay with him three nights a week, was forced to move into an old caravan with just a small electric heater during the winter months. He recently moved into a home, but is left with less than £100 per month after rent.

The 42-year-old, who lives in Scarborough, is seeing £50 withdrawn from his monthly allowance to pay off an advance payment he received when he first moved onto the benefit, as well as around £40 being deducted each month for previous debts and historic overpayments.

“It’s awful. In the past month I’ve spent a week and a half in hospital. They say people should come off benefits and get a job. I literally can’t work because of my health at the moment,” he said.

“I’ve been lucky to have been donated a kitchen table and chairs, a sofa, a double bed, an electric cooker and a washing machine from charities. It doesn’t feel good, nobody likes to do that, but desperation means there isn’t another option.

“Every time the dietician sees me she talks about the right things to eat, but in reality I just can’t afford them. Often I’m living on £30 a month for food.

“My sons don’t understand the situation. Before they come round I make sure I save some money. I’ll go buy a pack of yoghurts and packs of crisps for them. It’s tough. Something has to change.”

Ruth George MP, who obtained the figures through a parliamentary question, said she was “very concerned” by the figures, and that job centres, advice agencies and food banks were all reporting deductions from universal credit as being “one of the main reasons for people not having enough income to get by”.

The Labour MP for High Peak in Derbyshire, who is a member of the Work and Pensions Committee, said she was “particularly concerned” by the number of people with tax credit overpayments being deducted.

She cited separate figures showing two-thirds of universal credit claimants who have transferred from tax credits have an overpayment to repay, averaging £1,500 per person.

Currently, the maximum rate of deductions cannot normally exceed 40 per cent, but following pressure from campaigners to reduce this threshold the department has said that from October 2019 this will be reduced to 30 per cent.

“Even when capped at 40 per cent of the standard allowance, these deductions total £127 per month for a single person – almost £30 a week, and £200 per month – almost £50 per week for a couple,” Ms George said.

“I believe that these amounts, deducted from an already low rate of universal credit, are a significant factor in the rise of people who are struggling to get by.”

Last year, the biggest reason for a referral to a food bank was benefit payments not covering the cost of living, according to the Trussell Trust, the biggest food bank provider in the UK.

Garry Lemon, director of policy and research at the charity, said the universal credit deductions were “pushing people deeper into crisis right at the very point when support is most needed”.

He added: “Our benefits system was created to anchor people from being swept into poverty – so why is the government clawing back £1 in every £10 of universal credit that is paid to people most in need of our support?

“If someone is receiving universal credit it’s because our system has decided they need some extra support right now. But even when people’s payments come through intact, all too often that sum is too small to scrape by on.”

Jess Leigh, policy and campaigns manager at disability equality charity Scope, said “financial shocks” caused by the deductions had a “massive impact” on the lives of disabled people.

“This is one of a number of issues with universal credit which the DWP needs to focus on during the upcoming trial of managed migration in order to deliver a welfare system which works better for disabled people,” she added.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said universal credit was “throwing families into chaos right across the country”.

“On top of facing a five-week wait for their first payment, the housing element is often so meagre that people struggle to afford some of the cheapest private rents without sacrificing basics. The result is parents making the impossible choice between paying the rent, heating or eating,” she said.

“When the worst happens and families can’t keep up with bills, the government’s power to deduct so much from their allowance makes a miserable situation even more dire.

“The answer doesn’t lie in penalising struggling families. Immediate support should come in the form of help and advice rather than deductions, but what people need more than anything is a system that actually works. Without drastic overhaul, universal credit will continue to force families into a catch-22 situation.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “Some people struggle to pay bills, and we make deductions from their universal credit to pay off debts directly, such as rent and fuel arrears, to help keep them in their homes.

“Universal credit simplifies the previously complex approach to deductions, and we have recently reduced the maximum amount that can be deducted from someone’s claim.”
Universal credit staff to launch two-day strike over workload and low recruitment.

Union boss says members cannot stand by while ministers make their job " Impossible. "

Staff at two sites dealing with the universal credit benefits system will launch a two-day strike on Tuesday in a dispute over workloads and staff recruitment.

It will be the second stoppage by members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union at Wolverhampton and Walsall.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "Our members who work to support some of the most vulnerable members of society will not put up with DWP management ignoring their real concerns over staffing and underinvestment.

"This strike will be part of sustained campaign of action which could spread to other parts of universal credit, if the government doesn't meet union negotiators to discuss workers' concerns.

"Our members care passionately about the work they do and the people they support."


He added: "However, they cannot stand idly by while ministers make the job of supporting claimants impossible."

PCS members are demanding the recruitment of 5,000 more staff, permanent contracts for fixed-term employees and a limit to the number of phone calls required per case manager.

More than 90 per cent of the 274 members balloted voted for the strike earlier this month.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: "We are disappointed that the PCS in Walsall and Wolverhampton has taken this course of action.

"Supporting our customers remains a priority and contingencies are in place to maintain our services.

"Our frontline staff deliver vital support to around 20 million people across the country and we are committed to supporting them in their roles, including by monitoring staff levels and making sure their caseloads are manageable."
Ellen Clifford : " Universal credit is flawed, but what would replace it ? "

The disability activist and co-chair of an inquiry into social security policy will ask claimants how the system can be improved.

A new inquiry into the UK social security system launches today but it is not the failings of, say, disability benefit fit-for-work tests, or universal credit that will be its main focus.

“What we don’t want to do is take evidence on what the problems are because we’ve been talking about those for many years now; they are well-evidenced,” says disability activist and commission co-chair Ellen Clifford. “This is about what something better would look like,”

What’s distinctive about the inquiry, says Clifford, is that it puts centre stage the knowhow of people who understand what it is like to be on benefits, hence the inquiry’s full title, the commission on social security led by experts by experience. Over the next few months it will take evidence from benefit claimants on how they think the system can be improved.

A consultative green paper will be drawn up, then a white paper with policy recommendations, followed by a campaign based on the changes they would like to see implemented.

Respondents will be asked eight questions, ranging from how to make universal credit better, to the ideal level of benefit payment, to what best to do about benefit sanctions. If they think that universal credit cannot be improved and should be scrapped, they must say what would replace it.

“There’s such a huge feeling among claimants that universal credit is so fundamentally flawed that we think it is a serious argument that it needs to be got rid of, but we obviously need to think about what comes instead,” says Clifford.

The commission also wants views on five core principles on which it proposes a social security system should be based, including ensuring claimants have enough money to live on, treating claimants with dignity, respect and trust, and treating welfare as a public service with rights and entitlements.

At the centre of the initiative, which is funded by the Trust For London, is a determination to rethink the current system in a way that avoids what Clifford sees as a major shortcoming of mainstream policy-making. Too often the people who design it, in thinktanks and Whitehall, are ignorant of the lives of those their policy is supposed to serve, she says.

She points to recent government proposals to address disabled claimants’ frustration with having to undergo repeated benefit eligibility assessments by suggesting the separate tests for employment and support allowance and personal independence payments are merged. Sensible in theory, maybe; possibly catastrophic in practice, not least because it has the potential to leave people overnight without financial support. “If you are too removed from the people it affects you can come up with solutions that can often be more dangerous,” she says.

Recent social security policy is riddled with visions that are elegant in the eye of the benefits provider but which are revealed to be brutally unfriendly to the claimant on contact with real life. Some of the flaws in universal credit – the obsession with a rigid system of monthly payments paid in arrears for example – were “genuinely not thought about”, reckons Clifford; similarly the system’s failure to acknowledge some claimants’ lack of internet access or digital skills, the requirements of people with mental illness or learning disability, has led to well-documented cases of injustice and destitution.

The government could be more open to user experience, but the climate of official hostility to claimants – she cites reports of police passing on details of wheelchair-user anti-fracking protesters to the Department for Work and Pensions – creates distrust, she says. The names of the commissioners – all service users – are not published, precisely because they fear their involvement will be used to “prove” they are fit for work.

“It is difficult at the moment because people don’t want to speak directly to [the Department for Work and Pensions] because they are frightened. Any kind of evidence of activity gets used against you for your benefits to be taken away.”

Clifford, 41, is a mental health service user and disability activist of 20 years standing who was politicised by her experience of seeing “the way people can be treated of lesser human value just because they have got impairments”. In the New Labour years she recalls much naive optimism as activists stopped protesting and talked to government about achieving full equality of disability by 2025.

“We got used to sitting round the table. People literally forgot how to chain wheelchairs together over those years,” Clifford recalls. It was a shock, she says, to realise that these same Labour ministers were developing ideas – such as the work capability assessment – that would underpin the post-2010 welfare reforms that have made life so much harder for people with a disability.

“I never imagined that we would see things go backwards so quickly, so drastically,” she says of the past nine years of austerity that have disproportionately affected disabled people by cutting benefits. Working with deaf and disability charities in London and as a member of the pressure group Disabled People Against Cuts, meant she saw the malign effects on claimants – the anxiety, poverty and unhappiness – close-up.

She’s not confident the bigger picture will improve any time soon. But she is optimistic about the commission: “I’m not entirely sure what’s going to come out of the other end but I know there is value in the process.”
" Popular " thread again this morning :

Universal Credit branded a " Jaw dropping failure " as investigation shows its toll in Yorkshire.

The Government’s flagship benefit reforms are still pushing tens of thousands into financial crisis just weeks ahead of the second half of its introduction in Yorkshire, it can be revealed.

New analysis shows Universal Credit (UC) is leaving people in deep rent arrears, with claimants in council houses in the region having built up around one tenth of such debt across the UK.

Information uncovered by JPIMedia Investigations suggests the benefit is pushing more people into financial turmoil. JPI Media is the parent body of The Yorkshire Post and its sister titles such as the Star, Sheffield.

Figures obtained from more than 140 local authorities which still own social housing show more than 120,000 UC claimants are now in rent arrears - to the value of more than £84million.

On average, they owe £680, more than twice the average arrears of people on the old Housing Benefit system.

The Department of Work and Pensions said that it “completely disagrees” with the analysis, saying that claimants begin UC with pre-existing arrears.

But the second phase of UC - moving over three million people on “legacy benefits” - is set to begin in July with a trial in Harrogate, North Yorkshire.

In Yorkshire and the Humber, data from 11 local authorities in the region shows that 15,844 are in rent arrears, to the value of £8,879,713 compared to £6,074,111 owed by almost double the number, 31,079, in arrears under Housing Benefit.

UC claimants living in Kirklees Council homes have built up the highest amount of arrears in the region at a combined £1,625,589.

The effects of Universal Credit in affluent Yorkshire areas

Batley and Spen MP Tracy Brabin said: “We simply can’t go on like this.

“The Tory government must urgently stop the rollout of Universal Credit before it pushes even more people into poverty.”

She added: “Rarely a day goes by without a constituent contacting my office at their wit’s end because of Universal Credit, often unable to pay their bills or even put food on the table.”

Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff said the figures “underline the jaw dropping failure” of UC.

She added: “More and more people are living on a knife-edge, knowing that they’re at risk of losing their homes, whilst being forced to make impossible choices between keeping up with the rent or paying for essentials like food or bills.”

Stephanie Kleynhans, policy officer at Shelter, said: “Our services are telling us quite regularly that they are seeing a lot of problems with Universal Credit that could put people at risk of rent arrears or homelessness.

“That is down to things like the five-week wait and the administration errors.

“That can mean people going without an income for weeks on end.”

It comes after South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, this week spoke of his concerns that UC could leave those in poverty exposed to exploitation by criminals, saying it leaves some claimants in a “highly vulnerable” position and prey to those who can offer ‘help’ as a way to put people in debt to them, leaving little option but “to do all sorts of things”.

Last year The Yorkshire Post dedicated a week-long series of articles on UC, ending with the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, decrying the “very negative” outcomes of the system.

Universal Credit was meant to save money and simplify the welfare system by replacing six benefits for unemployed people or those on low incomes with one monthly payment.

But it has faced repeated criticism for leaving claimants worse off than under legacy benefits and for an error-prone system that can drive some to the brink of destitution.

So far, only new benefit claimants or those whose circumstances have changed have been placed on Universal Credit - amounting to some 1.8m people. New claimants in every part of the UK are now placed on Universal Credit, after a five-year roll-out.

Sue Ramsden, the policy lead for Universal Credit at the National Housing Federation, whose members provide two-and-a-half-million housing association homes for more than five million people in England, said: “We survey our members on a regular basis and they consistently report a high level of arrears in Universal Credit than other types of benefit.”

Evidence from housing associations shows that people in receipt of UC are almost twice as likely to be in rent arrears than other tenants, she revealed.

Claimants struggle with the initial wait for payment as the “self-service” aspect of the benefit when having to communicate with the DWP online, she said, though added that some report finding UC better than previous systems.

A DWP spokesman said: “We completely disagree with this analysis which compares fundamentally different claimant groups.

"Many people claim Universal Credit (UC) after a significant life event and will join with pre-existing arrears. While those on legacy benefits are likely to have been claiming for a longer period, with arrears having reduced over time.

“Research shows that the number of people joining UC with arrears falls by a third after four months. And we have made changes to help further including removing the 7-day waiting period, paying two weeks of extra housing support for new claims and paying rent directly to landlords.”

Common theme ?

Government / DWP totally obvious to what's happening at street level on manors now infected by UC !!!
Blog from Trussells ... also posted the main FOOD BANK thread :

Caught between a rock and a hard place : why advance payments are not the solution to the five week wait.

Unaffordable DWP loans are not the answer to the five week wait.

Would you be able to go five weeks without any money?

When you apply for Universal Credit, that’s the minimum amount of time you have to wait for your first payment.

We put out our year-end food bank figures last week showing that a record 1.6 million food parcels had been given out by our network last year, a 19% increase on the year before. Universal Credit now accounts for half of all referrals to food banks due to benefits delays, and waiting for Universal Credit is a growing trigger forcing people to food banks.

While you wait, you can apply for an ‘advance payment’ – that’s a loan from the Government to see you through that five week period. Once your Universal Credit payments start, you pay that loan back automatically through deductions from your monthly payments.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) tell us that these repayments are affordable, but we know that’s not true – food banks and the people they support tell us they can leave people stuck between a rock and a hard place. Here’s why:

It seems like common sense to assess whether you have enough coming in to pay your loan back. In the private sector, it’s best practice for debt collectors to do an income assessment of the person and then set repayments at a level that won’t push people into hardship.

But that’s not how advance payments work – deduction levels are set by the DWP and don’t take into account your ability to pay them, or whether you’ll fall into financial hardship while doing so. In some cases, you can have your repayment levels renegotiated, but this is rare – and by that point, you’re likely already in arrears.

The Government prevents the lending industry pushing people into financial hardship when repaying debts – so why is it allowed to get away with it ?

Deductions are capped at 40% of your Universal Credit standard amount, and the DWP says most people don’t pay this much.

But even relatively small deductions to people’s living costs can lock people into poverty. We know people on Universal Credit might not have enough to cover even basic essentials like food, because of cuts to the system and the freeze on working-age benefits.

The debt advice and management charity StepChange found that 71% of the people they support have experienced hardship because of deductions, and a quarter of those with deductions had to spend less on food to get by. They found that even a deduction of just 5% can push people deeper into financial hardship.

It’s hard to budget for paying back arrears – particularly if, like many people in financial hardship, you have multiple debts you need to repay.

An advance isn’t necessarily the only thing you’d be repaying through an automatic deduction – you could be paying back a third party debt for energy bills or council tax. Depending on the level of your debts, these additional repayments could tip you above the 40% cap set by the DWP.

The Government is also using the move to Universal Credit to recover historic debts, so people are finding themselves hit by surprise repayments for debts they didn’t know they had.

When people can’t pay their rent because their repayments don’t leave them enough to cover it, they fall into rent arrears which affect housing associations and private landlords. Local Authorities, like Southwark Council and Newcastle Council have said that the five week wait for the first Universal Credit payment is a strain on their finances as their crisis funds are running out.

And we know food banks have seen higher increases in demand in areas where Universal Credit has rolled out.

So what’s the solution ?

In the short term, the DWP should make advance payments into grants. At the very least, this could be targeted at people who need it most – those with inescapable higher living costs such as disabled people or people who might struggle to access support.

This would help prevent some of the millions of people who will be moving onto Universal Credit from facing debt, deductions, and hardship down the line. But it won’t solve the root problem. Universal Credit should be protecting people from poverty, not pushing them into it – that’s why we need a longer term solution, one that deals with the fact that most people can’t last five weeks without money coming in.

A true solution would be to make the wait for a first payment shorter so people don’t have a significant gap between applying for Universal Credit and being paid.

The Government needs to end the five week wait now.

Join the #5WeeksTooLong campaign and help make that happen or find out more on our website.
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