An undercover Universal Credit adviser was ordered not to inform claimants about vital hardship payments, the Daily Mirror has reported.
The undercover adviser, working for Channel 4 Dispatches, was told not to advise claimants about the existence of emergency cash funds available to jobseekers struggling to make ends-meet.
He was also instructed not to inform claimants about the availability of advance payments, which can be paid while their Universal Credit claim is being processed by decision makers.
Claimants can apply for a one-off grant from the ‘Flexible Support Fund’, which can be used to help them move into employment.
However, a trainer told the undercover report not to inform claimants about the fund unless they specifically asked about it.
When he questioned the motives behind this stance, he was told:
“If we did, everybody would want one, yeah, and it’s a very small budget, so we don’t talk about it.
“It’s a bit like Fight Club – we don’t discuss what happens in Fight Club. So you don’t talk about flexible support fund either… so the work coaches usually bring this up…”
New Universal Credit claimants often have to wait several weeks for a decision to be made on their claim. During this time they are typically expected to support themselves.
However, advance payments and other hardship funds are available to people who may experience financial difficulties during this time.
Universal Credit merges a number of existing benefit into one single monthly payment. The flagship scheme has been dogged by delays and software problems since its conception.
The reporter, who was working in a DWP service centre, was also told not to tell claimants about hardship funds in the event of their benefit payments being ‘sanctioned’.
“You don’t offer it unless you think they’re in dire straits”, the trainer said
“The whole idea is the punishment, that’s what you’ve got to suffer but if you can’t manage, we’ll consider doing something for you.
“So they’ve got to say, ‘well I can’t manage without my standard allowance, so I need some help’ and you go ‘right, there is a hardship possibility’.
“You don’t advertise it but if they say, ‘I can’t manage’, they don’t have to say, ‘I need a hardship payment’, they say ‘I can’t manage’ and you say, ‘well I can’.”
A spokesperson for the DWP said:
“Service centre workers are there to provide administrative support over the phone, not to build the close relationship with the claimant that our work coaches in Jobcentres do.
“At a new claim interview our work coaches inform claimants that budgeting advances are available ”
“Work coaches can identify if the locally-administered flexible support fund can help someone overcome barriers to work – not service centre workers.”
Defending Universal Credit, the spokesperson said:
“Universal Credit replaces the complex myriad of means-tested benefits to simplify the system and make work pay.
“It is already transforming lives with claimants on Universal Credit moving into work faster and earning more.
“When fully rolled out it will make three million people better off with a £7 billion boost to the economy every year.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 12 Mar 2015
The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has condemned the Government’s decision to privatise part of the administration of Universal Credit.
Private firm Capita will be gifted with the responsibility for booking initial work search interviews for new Universal Credit claimants.
Capita is currently facing a second inquiry into a £1.5bn Whitehall jobs contract, which small companies claim could leave them facing financial ruin.
A press release on the union’s website reads:
“Their intention is that the process for booking the appointment for a claimant’s initial work search interview will be handed to the private company Capita. No DWP staff will be transferred to Capita under this proposal.
“There is no justifiable business reason for doing this. DWP claim that Capita will be able to make these appointments at weekends for claimants who make a claim online at a weekend, but in practice the appointments could just as well be done by DWP staff the following Monday, as has happened up to now.
“Capita already have been handed the same task for claims to Jobseekers Allowance and this announcement extends that arrangement to Universal Credit claims.
“PCS has protested strongly to DWP about this decision. Seeing their work privatised is a kick in the teeth for our hard working members.
“Members will also be understandably concerned that this privatisation is a foretaste of further private sector involvement in the delivery of Universal Credit.
“PCS has also made the point to the department that Capita is consistently failing to meet its key targets in relation to JSA First Contact calls that are currently out sourced to them. This failure contrasts with the DWP staff in CCS who are consistently meeting the very same targets.
“Again the failure of the private sector to out-perform the public sector has been ignored as the tired, false dogma of ‘private sector good, public sector bad’ is wheeled out once again.
“PCS will continue to argue against all privatisation of DWP work and will continue to campaign for all privatised work to be brought back in-house where it belongs.”
> Hear, hear – claimants should be harrassed by public sector, not private company , workers.
Jobcentres are, I would guess, high on the list for selling off to private companies if the Tories win the next election. Possibly if Labour win too.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 22 Feb 2015
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has discretely released dismal Universal Credit statistics on the same day as the latest unemployment figures are announced.
The figures reveal that there were just 31,030 people on Universal Credit by 8th January 2015.
This represents an increase of 17 per cent on the caseload compared to December 2014, but is still far short of the 1million (plus) originally promised by the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith MP.
The Jobcentre Plus office with the largest caseload was Oldham with 2,640 Universal Credit claimants, followed by Wigan with 1,930.
Of the people on the caseload in January 2015, 32 per cent were in employment and 68 per cent were not in employment.
47 per cent of the Universal Credit caseload in January 2015 has been on the new benefit for less than three months, this compares to 52 per cent in December 2014, 55 per cent in November 2014 and 60 per cent in October 2014.
There are more males on the Universal Credit caseload than females (70 per cent compared to 30 per cent).
Males aged 20-24 make up 24 per cent of the total Universal Credit caseload.
Universal Credit is replacing the following benefits:
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
- Income Support
- Working Tax Credit
- Child Tax Credit
- Housing Benefit
63,690 people have made a claim for Universal Credit up to 12th February 2015. The rate at which people are claiming continues to increase as the roll out of Universal Credit continues.
35,620 of the people who have made a claim have, up to 8th January 2015, attended an initial interview, accepted their claimant commitment, and gone on to start Universal Credit.
31,030 people were on the Universal Credit caseload, as at 8th January 2015. Of these, 10,080 (or 32 per cent) were in employment and 20,950 (or 68 per cent) were not in employment.
UK Labour Market, February 2015
- Comparing the estimates for October to December 2014 with those for July to September 2014, employment continued to rise and unemployment continued to fall. These changes maintain the general direction of movement since late 2011/early 2012.
- There were 30.90 million people in work. This was 103,000 more than for July to September 2014 and 608,000 more than for a year earlier.
- The proportion of people aged from 16 to 64 in work (the employment rate), was 73.2%, higher than for July to September 2014 (73.0%) and for a year earlier (72.0%). The employment rate last reached 73.2% in December 2004 to February 2005 and, since comparable records began in 1971, it has never been higher.
- There were 1.86 million unemployed people. This was 97,000 fewer than for July to September 2014 and 486,000 fewer than for a year earlier.
- The unemployment rate was 5.7%, lower than for July to September 2014 (6.0%) and lower than for a year earlier (7.2%). The unemployment rate is the proportion of the economically active population (those in work plus those seeking and available to work) who were unemployed.
- There were 9.05 million people aged from 16 to 64 who were out of work and not seeking or available to work (known as economically inactive). This was 22,000 more than for July to September 2014 and 6,000 more than for a year earlier.
- The proportion of people aged from 16 to 64 who were economically inactive (the inactivity rate) was 22.3%, virtually unchanged compared with July to September 2014 and with a year earlier.
- Comparing October to December 2014 with a year earlier, pay for employees in Great Britain increased by 2.1% including bonuses and by 1.7% excluding bonuses.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 18 Feb 2015
Alongside the Secretary of State’s rare appearances in the media this week, the DWP released a gushing report claiming that Universal Credit was already a huge success. This document was based on cherry-picked information from two recent evaluations of the pilot scheme currently running in the North West of England which looked at the impact of the roll out of Universal Credit.
The truth is that there is really nothing useful that can really be learned from how Universal Credit (UC) will work across the board from the tiny amount of data so far available. Only around 50,000 people have claimed UC so far, and there were far fewer than that when these evaluations were carried out. More importantly, they are based on new claims only from…
View original post 1,166 more words
Job Centres in the region are among the first in the country to take part in the national roll out of the Government’s new Universal Credit, which began today (Monday, February 16).
Universal Credit, designed to get people into work more quickly and making it easier for them to earn more, has started in 15 areas, including Hambleton, Ryedale, Hartlepool and York.
Initially the credit, which merges six working-age benefits into one, is being rolled out only for new claims from single people who would otherwise have been eligible for jobseekers allowance, including those with existing housing benefit and working tax credit claims.
At Northallerton Job Centre today there was confusion over how it will work. One single parent, who gave her name as Julie, said she had been told nothing about it.
“It could possibly be a good idea, rather than having separate benefits and dealing with different departments,” she said.
“But I have been told nothing about this, and how it will work. I want to get back to work and I am studying at the moment so if it helps me to get back to work that’s good. But information would be a big help too.”
Another 19-year-old man who is currently claiming jobseekers allowance said he was also in the dark.
A pilot scheme has been tried out in the North-West, which the Government said had been a success
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said:
“The evidence shows that under Universal Credit, people move into work more quickly and earn more money, giving them increased financial security.
“It is very impressive that we have seen these results so soon and that this is having a real impact on people’s lives. This is a cultural change which will alter the landscape of work for a generation.”
But Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves said no one believed the promises that the new system would work.
“Labour wants universal credit to work and we’ll call in the National Audit Office to do an immediate review of this failing programme to get a grip of the spiralling waste and delays.”
Source – Northern Echo, 16 Feb 2015
A Universal Credit claimant who featured in a government film to promote the reform now says the system is riddled with computer problems and could make people destitute.
In the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) advert, Daniel Pacey explains how the reform helped him to find work.
But he now says a six-week delay before the first payment and subsequent monthly payments are “a nightmare“.
The DWP said monthly sums replicate the world of work and tackle dependency.
A spokesman said:
“Universal credit is simplifying the benefit system and [makes] the transition into employment smoother.
“Our work coaches discuss budgeting support with all claimants and nearly 80% say they are confident in their ability to manage a monthly budget.”
> Is that 80% of work coaches or claimants ?
Mr Pacey, 24, from Wigan, Greater Manchester, said:
”It might be easy for a government minister to make their wages last a month. But I’d like to see them make £250 last four weeks while looking for work.”
The government has announced that a national roll-out of universal credit is starting in earnest across the country. The aim is for it to be offered in all job centres in England, Scotland and Wales by 2016.
> Whether it works or not, presumably.
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith told BBC News the new benefit was £600m under budget and had been implemented gradually on advice.
But Mr Pacey, who lives with his father, said his job centre struggled with failing computer systems, adding:
“I hate to think about how I would have coped had I lived on my own. I know I couldn’t have.”
The DWP spokesman added:
“People can apply for advanced benefit payments if they need extra support and we are working with local authorities to make sure people get budgeting and debt advice.
“The IT system adapts smoothly to claims as they become more complex, which we have already seen across the North West.
“Computer problems in offices are separate issues and are resolved quickly but these do not impact the operating system, or have an impact on claims.”
The scheme was initially piloted in Ashton-Under-Lyne nearly two years ago.
Under the old system, payments were bi-weekly, with housing benefit paid directly to landlords.
Under universal credit, claimants are instead paid monthly and are expected to pay their rent themselves.
Housing Associations in Ashton-Under-Lyne say rent arrears and debt are on the rise amongst universal-credit claimants.
The chief executive of the National Housing Federation, David Orr said:
“This scheme isn’t even ready to fully roll out in Ashton-Under-Lyne, where it’s been piloted for two years, let alone the rest of the country.”
The DWP spokesman said:
“In some cases, we can arrange for alternative payment arrangements, including rent being paid direct to landlords.”
The government says it is important for people to learn how to handle their own monthly budgets, as this replicates the world of work.
> Oh for fucks sake – how stupid do they think we are ? Do they think every unemployed person has never worked ? Do they think anyone having to survive on benefits doesn’t already know all about handling budgets ?
But Mr Pacey’s new job in a call centre pays bi-weekly.
He said: “In my experience, most low-paid jobs pay weekly or every other week, not monthly. You can’t make small sums of money last a month.
“It’s not about dependency, it’s about living, being able to get a bus to go to the job centre. The government needs to rethink this.”
The scheme has also been criticised by the National Audit Office as badly managed and failing to deliver on its targets.
It is concerned that a roll-out from pilot areas in north-west England is taking place with fewer resources to spend on staff training and less time for staff to get accustomed to the changes.
About 50,000 people in selected areas have claimed the benefit since it was introduced in April 2013 – far fewer than the government originally said would be getting it by now.
Computer problems have also caused delays and seen ministers write off tens of millions of pounds.
Source – BBC News, 16 Feb 2015
Part-time workers claiming Universal Credit face punitive in-work benefit sanctions, it has been reported today.
Universal Credit claimants in part-time employment could see their Housing Benefit slashed, if they fail to increase their working hours to 35 hours per week on the minimum wage, reports Inside Housing.
The trial, quietly introduced through secondary legislation, will affect around 15,000 new Universal credit claimants earning less than £12,000 a year.
Sanctions currently only affect unemployed people in receipt of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
If the trial is rolled out across the country, thousands of hard-working people could see their in-work benefits docked for the very first time.
> From one point of view this could be a good thing – because it will bring home to people who previously didn’t give a damn about, or even supported, benefit sanctions for the unemployed, just what is going on.
Universal Credit merges a number of existing benefits into one single monthly payment. This includes Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Income Support, JSA and ESA.
However, the Government’s flagship project has been beset by delays and problems with its IT systems. Official figures show 26,940 people were claiming Universal Credit by 11 December 2014.
The DWP is speeding up the roll-out of Universal Credit across Britain, in an apparent bid to prevent Labour from calling a halt to its introduction if they win the next general election.
> Labour could – and should – still scrap it if they win… but will they ?
Under the new mandatory pilot, which launches in April 2015, in-work Universal Credit claimants face the prospect of weekly sanctions – starting at around £29 per person.
Those affected by the trial will be offered ‘support’ from Jobcentre Plus to increase their pay and working hours. Failure to comply could result in sanctions.
> So just how do you increase your hours (unless you’re the boss) ? And its not much incentive to take a job like that if you know you’ll still be at the mercy of Jobcentre work coaches.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 11 Feb 2015
Reposted from ComputerWorldUK
There are now 160 people working on the Universal Credit digital service, according to minister for disabled people Mark Harper.
It is a dramatic increase in manpower compared with last January, when just three members of DWP IT staff were working on the digital system, which will be the eventual platform for all benefit claimants.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) plans to recruit a further 50 staff members between now and April to work on the beleaguered benefit reform project, Harper said in a written answer to shadow work and pensions minister Stephen Timms.
Harper said: “The number of people working on the Universal Credit digital service is tracking very close to recruitment plans.”
The DWP has adopted a ‘twin track’ development model for the new benefit, with existing systems for national implementation developed alongside the new digital solution. The government eventually plans…
View original post 295 more words
An MP says he fears his constituents are being used as “guinea pigs” for the roll out of the Government’s Universal Credit – described as the biggest change to the welfare state in a lifetime.
Universal Credit combines six out-of-work benefits into one single payment paid monthly, instead of fortnightly payments.
It has already been introduced in North-West England and will be “rapidly” rolled out to selected job centres in the region from February next year, including those in Hartlepool, Northallerton, Newcastle and York.
Hartlepool MP Iain Wright said:
“I am worried that many of my constituents will be guinea pigs for this fast roll out.
“Ministers have showed shocking incompetence so far with this project which has been subject to significant delays and cost overruns.
“I will monitor the situation to ensure that the taxpayer gets value for money, while ensuring people in Hartlepool claiming benefits and tax credits don’t face delays.”
The Government says the new system will be simpler and is part of a long-term economic plan to cap welfare and “make work pay”.
But there are concerns it won’t be suitable for everybody – particularly the most vulnerable claimants.
A member of staff at one jobcentre plus in the region said:
“The theory is that as it is paid like a wage, it prepares people for work.
“But the reality is that some people are a long way from being capable of working.
“People with serious addictions being given a month’s money in one go is just setting them up to fail.”
> A statement which, though probably with some truth in it, automatically sets up the idea that all benefit recipients are addicts.
Universal Credit is paid direct into bank accounts and is gradually reduced in line with any earnings a claimant receives.
According to the Department of Work and Pensions households on Universal Credit spend double the amount of time on finding work than they do on Jobseeker’s Allowance.
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said:
“We’ve already seen remarkable success, with Universal Credit claimants moving into work faster and staying in work longer. As part of our long-term economic plan, people will have the financial security of knowing that if they work more they will earn more.”
The roll out is expected to be completed by spring 2016.
> But we don’t expect it will…
Source – Northern Echo, 13 Dec 2014
Universal credit is still on the amber-red warning list of the Major Projects Authority and the business case for the new benefit has still not been signed off by the Treasury, it was revealed at a public accounts committee meeting yesterday.
According to evidence given by civil servants, a ‘twin track’ approach to delivering the benefit could lead to all but £34m of a £697m IT programme being written off, if the new digital system now being trialled is a success. However, so far only 17 claimants have used the new digital system.
The Treasury says that it may be next summer before it can decide whether to sign off the business case for universal credit.
Meanwhile, Neil Couling, one of the DWP staff now in charge of universal credit told the committee he had been ‘blown away’ by how positively claimants had responded to the new benefit.
Couling previously gave evidence to the Scottish parliament that claimants welcome the ‘jolt’ of being sanctioned so much that “jobcentres across the country have been inundated with thank you cards from people who have received sanctions.”
> Mr Couling’s nose is several feet long and growing…
Source – Benefits & Work, 11 Dec 2014