The Commons Work and Pensions Committee has condemned the help given to universal credit (UC) claimants under universal support as “woefully inadequate” in a report released this week.
The committee says that originally universal support was supposed to help claimants not just with their initial claim but also in the longer term as they adjusted to the challenges of the new benefit. One of the main challenges, in the committee’s opinion is the five week wait for payment which plunges claimants into debt and the advance payment of UC, which is itself a further debt.
But, according to the committee the “gap between the Department’s original vision for Universal Support and the meagre offer it now funds is vast”.
The DWP currently only fund a single two-hour session of Personal Budgeting and Digital Support, at the start of a UC claim. The DWP’s own research shows that for many claimants this is woefully inadequate.
The committee wants to see the DWP set clear performance indicators with Citizens Advice, who are to take over the delivery of universal support and publish regular updates on whether they are being met.
Chair of the committee, Frank Field, said:
"Universal Support is not 'universal', and it hasn’t been offering much in the way of support. The plan now is to offer budgeting advice, but not debt advice, to people who don’t have a budget left after their debt payments.
“DWP must not push one more claimant onto Universal Credit until it can show that it will not push them over the edge. To ensure a truly universal system of support is delivered, the DWP should only move claimants onto Universal Credit when Citizens Advice and other delivery partners have the capacity to offer tailored support to every person making a claim for the benefit."