Welfare update: Claiming Universal Credit

Wednesday, 4 November 2020 - 10:21am

Ian Kalman, Homeless Link Expert Panel member and writer for The Pavement, speaks to UC claimants with lived experience of homelessness 

Claiming Credit? 

As most readers will know, Universal Credit (UC) was brought in to replace several so called legacy benefits. The Government announced that this innovative new scheme would help people who were in work, as well as those who were not. Those who drew both an income-replacement benefit and housing benefit, would get their money in one lump sum, paid monthly instead of fortnightly. The Government’s reasoning is paying benefit monthly will get claimants ready for being paid a salary monthly when they move into work. It sounded perfect, but is it? 

Onerous admin 

I spoke to  Mr Pixie Madison, a UC claimant, and he informed me that the DWP brought him over from ESA to UC. As part of this process, he was asked to bring several forms of identification, plus a year of bank statements to the jobcentre to prove who he was. He was then told he would have to go to the council to claim housing benefit. In the old days if you were on JSA, the application forms were completed in the jobcentre and the money you got for Housing Benefit (HB) was paid separately from JSA. Mr Madison informed me that a year later his council asked him for proof that he received UC and he had to bring in a year’s worth of evidence that he was on the benefit. 

Inadequate income 

I also spoke to Mr Neil Salmons. He informed me that he had moved from Barking in London to another part of the city, Lewisham. He told me that he had been receiving UC in Barking, where he was made homeless. Mr Salmons said he was lucky his DWP advisor agreed that Mr Salmons would not have to look for work until he knew where he was going to live. He finally found himself in Lewisham and, thanks to the support of Hope Worldwide, his move was fairly painless.  

Although it may sound like he only had to overcome a few hurdles, that is not the end of his story. Mr Salmons had to approach the council about his housing benefit and found he was affected by the benefit cap. Mr Salmons told me that, due the benefit cap, he now gets £63 a month less than he would if the cap didn’t exist. Part of the problem is that Mr Salmons has a private landlord who charges a higher rent than is paid by Mr Madison, who has a social landlord. Mr Madison is not affected at all by the benefit cap.    

Next I turned to Mike Hyden who is one of the founders of JustUs, a charity based in Bedford that advocates for people with housing problems. He told me that there have been many problems due to the benefit cap. In particular, Mr Hyden told me about two larger families that, due to the combination of their basic benefit, child tax credits and housing benefit (which are all brought under UC), the total amount of benefit they should have got brought them over the benefit cap. Their benefit was reduced to the level of the cap, which meant they could not pay their rent and they were made homeless. In both cases, the families’ incomes dropped by £800 per month because of the benefit cap, leaving them no way to pay their rent. Mr Hyden informed me that one of the families is still in temporary accommodation and has been in this situation for two years now as there is nowhere that is remotely affordable for them to move on to. 

Acknowledgement of inadequate income? 

Since last April, due to the pandemic, people on UC have received an extra £20 a week. This was to be paid for one year only. Those on the legacy benefits received no equivalent increase. Mr Salmons told me that this additional money really helped and he is dreading when it comes to an end. Mr Madison had worked out it was an extra c.26% on top of what he had received before April. Now, remember the government said it would be paid for one year. Imagine if your salary was reduced by a quarter (26%) - how would you feel? Let’s hope the Prime Minister and Chancellor continue to recognise the inadequacy of UC and extend the increase beyond Spring next year and to those on legacy benefits. 

Homeless Link, along with over 50 other organisations, are calling on the Chancellor to keep the £20 a week UC lifelineIf you agree that the lifeline must be maintainedwrite to your MP and ask them to make the same call on the Chancellor.