Universal Credit: “Waiting Days” or Waiting for Godot?
One of the major concerns homelessness agencies have always had about Universal Credit is the risk that it will lead to money management problems for vulnerable people.
This is largely, although not exclusively, because Universal Credit assesses and pays benefits on a monthly basis. A common fear is that some individuals will struggle to manage their money during this Waiting for Godot limbo period.
Waiting for days
This week the Government confirmed its plans to not pay any Universal Credit for the first week of claims made by individuals in the “All Work Related Requirements” group. These people are basically future Universal Credit claimants who would, under the current system, get Jobseeker’s Allowance.
The rationale behind the policy seems to be that this is essentially a carry-over of current rules where Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants have to serve seven “Waiting Days” from the start of a new claim before they start accruing eligibility for benefits.
However, there is a crucial difference between the Jobseeker’s Allowance and Universal Credit Waiting Days regimes as far as homelessness is concerned. As the single benefit which many claimants will receive, Universal Credit covers housing costs (i.e. rent) while Jobseeker’s Allowance does not.
So while Housing Benefit can currently pay the first week’s rent regardless of whether a person is serving Jobseeker’s Allowance Waiting Days, Universal Credit claimants will be left with no help towards their rent for the first week of their claim.
Waiting for exemptions
The Government’s own Social Security Advisory Committee argued against this proposal:
“The Committee is of the strong view that, if introduced, the housing element of Universal Credit should not be included in the Waiting Days calculation. The Government should reflect further on exempting housing costs by way of mitigation against some of the harshest impacts of the policy.”
The Government has rejected this proposal on grounds of complexity and cost. They also emphasised that safeguards existed elsewhere within Universal Credit to help those in debt and that exemptions existed to the waiting days under Universal Credit for certain groups.
These exemptions cover those who:
- are making a new claim because their relationship status has changed (e.g. two single people making a claim as a couple)
- are terminally ill
- have recently been victims of domestic violence
- are care leavers
- are aged 16 or 17 and without parental support
- have been a prisoner within the month ending on the relevant date; or
- have been entitled to a jobseeker’s allowance or an employment and support allowance within the 3 months ending on the relevant date.
However, despite the Government’s defence and these exemptions, it is hard to see how this policy does not effectively build rent arrears into the system. One risk is that this will make landlords less likely to let their properties to potential tenants claiming Universal Credit.
It is worth stating that the Government believe those in the All Work Related Requirements Group will probably have been working before claiming and hence are likely to have savings. However, in their analysis the Social Security Advisory Committee offered a lot of evidence which seemed to question this assumption.
Waiting for August
Despite the concerns of Homeless Link and others, the change will be introduced on 3 August 2015. We are keen to hear from member agencies whether it is having an impact on the front line.
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Paul is our policy manager with particular responsibility for a number of areas including welfare and migration.
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