…Because you’ve been assessed fit for work, you’re supposed to spend 35 hours a week looking for a job. But when the DWP summon you to a jobseeker’s meeting to ask what you’re doing to find work, you don’t get the message. No-one tells you. There’s no letter – not one that reaches you, anyway. It could be that they’ve sent you the message electronically – but you’re no good with computers. You don’t have one at home and the sole time you tried to use one down the Job Centre you didn’t know what half the keys did.
…because you don’t turn up to the jobseeker’s meeting, you get what is called a sanction – that means they stop the £317.82 for monthly living costs.
You know nothing about this. You don’t actually work out that you’ve been sanctioned for 212 days. You just know there is less money coming in.
All you have to live on is the £414.33 that’s supposed to be for housing costs. But you’re still paying the council £300 a month for the earlier rent arrears – which means you are left with £114.33 a month to subsist on. That’s £26.38 a week.
You can’t survive on that. And, once again, you can’t pay the rent.
You’re back to relying on food banks and donations from friends. You take the bracelet you wear around your wrist to the pawnbroker.
It’s still not enough.
It seems that every time you go to the Job Centre, someone gives you a different story about what you should be doing. You try to phone the DWP to sort things out, but no-one seems able to help you there, either. Each phone call costs you something like £8 – the claimant helpline is premium rate from mobiles and you haven’t got a landline.
Your rent arrears are now in excess of £10,000.
The council seeks a court order for your eviction. You’re looking at spending Christmas on the streets.
You sit through three very scary hearings as your legal team argues your case.
You have a barrister, Mary-Rachel McCabe. She tells your whole Kafkaesque story to the judge.
“Tony has been failed by a malfunctioning system,” she says. “From the moment Tony claimed Universal Credit last year, he suffered the consequences of its arbitrary rules and procedures, and so was immediately plunged into further rent arrears and other debt.”
The judge is visibly shocked. The system is “appalling”, she says.
McCabe tells the court that the sanction and the finding that you are fit for work are now being challenged with the help of a benefits adviser from Citizens Advice.
If that’s successful it will give you an extra £317.82 a month and allow you to pay your rent. A new court hearing is set for May. That’s a reprieve. If you can show a pattern of payment by then, maybe you won’t be evicted.
Mullings, your legal advisor, tells you it might not feel like it, but you’re one of the lucky ones. At least because this was a housing case you had legal representation. If you hadn’t, you would have been steamrollered.
Universal credit has proved controversial almost from the beginning, with reports of IT issues, massive overspends and administrative problems.
It is being rolled out across the UK.
more on this problematic new process!!
Universal credit: what is it and what exactly is wrong with it?
Is the unpopular benefits scheme championed by Iain Duncan Smith too big to fail?
(Q) Why is it so controversial?
While it began life intending to be more generous to most claimants, it is now, as a result of cuts, significantly less generous, leaving many claimants worse off when they move on to it than they were under legacy benefits. Added to that are design flaws and administrative glitches that put poorer claimants especially at heightened risk of hunger, debt and rent arrears, ill-health and homelessness.
Food banks, for example, have reported that demand for charity food goes up significantly when universal credit is introduced into the local area.
(Q) Hasn’t the government moved to address some of these flaws?
Following massive pressure in the autumn from campaigners and many Conservative backbench MPs who were shocked by the hardship and destitution faced by many claimants, ministers introduced a number of changes, including shortening the built-in 42-day wait for a first payment to 35 days, making advance loans more readily available to claimants unable to wait long periods for financial assistance, and making the universal credit telephone helpline free.
Critics say the changes don’t go far enough and have called for the rollout to be paused.
(Q) What else is going wrong with universal credit?
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 and homelessness. Many private landlords say they will no longer rent to universal credit claimants because the risk of arrears is too high, and the bureaucracy involved in tackling arrears problems once they arise 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, and that universal credit staff are often poorly trained.
(Q) So ironing out a few more technical glitches will fix it?
Nope. Huge underlying problems remain. Multibillion-pound cuts to work allowances imposed by the former chancellor George Osborne have left it hollowed out. According to the Resolution Foundation thinktank, universal credit will leave about 2.5 million low-income working households more than £1,000 a year worse off. Reversing those cuts requires a political decision, not more technical fixes.
another major problem!!
Hundreds of thousands of benefits claimants could be unable to register for the new Universal Credit (UC) digital service because of problems using the government’s online identity system Gov.uk Verify, according to new figures that show barely a third of UC users successfully use Verify.
Universal credit is a shambles because the poor are ignored
Far from being progressive, the measure will bring destitution of a huge scale
In 2002, Duncan Smith arrived at the estates of Glasgow Easterhouse like a wide-eyed missionary visiting a savage land. The silent would at last have chance to speak, he said. The Conservatives would “listen and learn”.
In the event, the Conservatives did neither. Duncan Smith promised to make work pay. Instead of losing benefits at a precipitous rate when they found a job, claimants would continue to receive a portion of the help they used to collect. The Treasury was having none of that and universal credit has become another means of imposing austerity. Millions of working people will lose all support or find themselves significantly worse off.
The Peabody Trust and the Resolution Foundation say that many single mothers and one-earner families who want to become two-earner families will find themselves better off depending on the dole. Far from weakening the springs on the poverty trap, the government is tightening them.
That’s not the worst of it. Frank Field, the chairman of the Commons work and pensions committee, tells me universal credit will bring back destitution to Britain for the first time since the foundation of the welfare state. Not poverty, but real destitution, where our fellow citizens have no legal means of obtaining money. Bob Kerslake, chairman of the Peabody Trust, expands and predicts that homelessness, evictions, debts and misery will pile up as universal credit moves from being a fringe experiment to the new status quo.
The ignorance class division breeds, the habit of speaking of the poor but never to the poor, is creating an avoidable social crisis. The government insists that claimants joining universal credit must wait six weeks for their first payment. The delay is not caused by bureaucratic ineptitude – it is the result of a cold-blooded political decision.
Under the old system, the goal was to pay benefits within two weeks of a claim. Under Universal Credit, there is a formal waiting period of one week with no money, with the benefit then being paid monthly in arrears – the intention being that this more closely mirrors what it is like to be in a job. In practice, many of those earning less than £10,000 a year are in fact paid weekly.
The effect of this ‘discipline’ in practice has led to an in-built wait of six weeks before people get their cash – three times as long as the old system – and the Department for Work and Pensions admits that in around a fifth of cases it is failing to meet even that target, partly because of the information demands it places on the claimants.
Waits of ten or twelve weeks are not uncommon.
The overall effect has been to plunge people already on low incomes into rent arrears and debt and in some cases homelessness. In others cases, it has caused job losses – the very opposite of what Universal Credit is intended to achieve.
The Commons Work and Pensions Committee has been hearing in detail evidence about these effects and bodies as diverse as Citizens Advice and the councils in areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out so far have been telling the Government about this for many, many months.
Compounding the problems
Despite these problems, the next big roll out of Universal Credit is set to go ahead, and what are already major problems look set to be compounded, as The Times among others have recently highlighted.
Apart from the ideological step of making the benefits mirror a monthly salaried job – when growing numbers at the lower end of the labour market are on ‘zero hours’ contracts or other forms of the ‘gig economy’ – the six week wait was incorporated, to put it crudely, to save money.
It is just one of the many cuts to the level of support offered by Universal Credit that have been introduced since its inception, to the point where even some of its proponents fear it has become too mean to work for those it sought to help.
Universal Credit would still be Universal Credit without the six week wait. Imposing it was a policy choice, not a necessity, and a choice that can be undone. The answer has to be a shorter wait and not just the loans that claimants can theoretically claim, but which many don’t know about which in any case just bring new problems.
h/t Digital mix guy