The government is proposing a new benefit that will be introduced in October 2013, replacing current means-tested benefits and tax credits for working-age people. The following benefits will be abolished: income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, housing benefit, council tax benefit, child tax credit and working tax credit. It will bring these six separate benefits into a unified, single benefit, Universal Credit (UC), which will be capped with a limit predicated by the average net household earnings.
Those of you who have claimed Housing Benefit will be aware of the quantity and complexity of documentation required by the Local Authority in order to process a Housing Benefit claim. Indeed, Housing Benefit departments across the country have been delivering the most complex of benefits in record time with claimants supplying a range of documents to justify their rent, earnings and household composition. Universal Credit promises welcome simplicity but will be administered by portals such as Jobcentre Plus, an agency of the Department for Work and Pensions, thus “losing local housing expertise and face to face contact.” http://www.cpag.org.uk/universalcredit/CPAG_universalcredit_factsheet_0311.pdf
A recent survey by the Local Government Association found that “the percentage of face to face services ranges from 20% to 80% of all contact, excluding correspondence received by post.” http://districtcouncils.info/files/2011/07/DCN-welfare-reform-Question-summary.pdf. However, the DWP assumes that 99% of Universal Credit in future claims can be dealt with by phone or on-line. This flies in the face of local government experience, which also includes random visits to investigate fraudulent claims and special needs, such as disability. Also, what person in their right mind would want to send off all of their identity documents such as passports, birth certificates, immigration papers and tenancy agreements by post? Add to the aforementioned concerns the equality challenges for those with disabilities about losing local offices and staff and many vulnerable claimants may find it more difficult to access the Universal Credit system. There is also the issue of the cost of phone calls – not 0800 numbers but 0845 numbers with considerable waiting times to get through – plus the availability of access to the internet for claims and updates.
The opposition and the House of Lords must ameliorate the government’s proposal to take into account these factors. Whilst claimants often manage their own finances whilst claims are being assessed with the help of DWP administered crisis loans or familial or charity help, there is a real risk with the matrix proposed for Universal Credit that will see private landlords being much more severe when drawing up tenancy agreements for those on Housing Benefit.
Cabinet Office web page: http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/content/sme-contracts.
See the later article on HMRC debt write-off: https://gobbledegooked.wordpress.com/2011/09/26/hmrc-and-the-great-debt-write-off/