Derek Twigg has today written to the Secretary of State for the Department of Work & Pensions condemning the implementation of Universal Credit in Halton and asking for the further roll-out of Universal Credit to be paused.
Rt Hon David Gauke MP
Secretary of State
Department for Work & Pensions
House of Commons
I am writing to ask you to pause the planned expansion of the Universal Credit roll-out, I have previously raised with you my serious concerns regarding the Universal Credit system due to the disgraceful effect it has had on many of my constituents.
My constituency, Halton became a full service Universal Credit area in July 2016 and it has had a terrible impact, with families sometimes not receiving payments for weeks or months on end. The Halton CAB tell me that it has already helped 710 people with 1,160 problems with Universal Credit and I fear that this is just the tip of the iceberg. My constituency’s largest housing association, Halton Housing Trust, have stated that while just 17% of its customers were receiving Universal Credit, they owed 47% of all its outstanding arrears. They said “We are also seeing an increased risk of claimants who are unable to sustain their tenancy due to increased rent arrears.”
I have had constituents contact me that are being left completely destitute due to the problems with Universal Credit, families on the verge of breakdown because of the pressure put on them, people going without food and fearing that they will be evicted. Foodbank referrals have increased massively. Constituents report long waiting times when trying to phone Universal Credit for help, being unable to speak to anybody that can help them and their ‘online journals’ entries being ignored or not updated.
I am extremely concerned at the seemingly limited information that people are given when they are transitioned to Universal Credit from Working/Child Tax Credits. Indeed the DWP have concurred with me in correspondence that there is a clear need to educate people on the new processes.
Constituents have had their childcare help suspended due to simple errors due to not receiving enough guidance on the huge difference between Tax Credits and Universal Credit. These suspensions have put their childcare arrangements and therefore their jobs at risk, when in some cases the change that has forced them to be transitioned to Universal Credit is simply they have managed to increase their work hours. Halton is already a full service Universal Credit area and I suspect that people are frightened of making changes, for example, changes to their working hours for fear of being transitioned into the shambles that is full service Universal Credit.
There are major issues with the information sharing between HMRC Real Time Reporting and Universal Credit, with payments being suspended, despite constituents having proof of their earnings in the form of pay slips. When errors are made they have to wait weeks for the error to be corrected with no time frame available of when the issue will be looked at. To leave low paid families in dire straits like this, through no fault of their own is unacceptable.
Sick and disabled people being ‘transitioned’ to Universal Credit are facing major difficulties with the system, including poor advice and being left fearful of the assessments that they are forced to undergo. I have constituents that have been wrongly taken off ESA, encouraged to apply for Universal Credit during the Mandatory Consideration period and then when the original ESA decision is corrected, find themselves trapped on Universal Credit on a lower rate, through absolutely no fault of their own but due to an incorrect decision in the first place. This is completely and utterly unfair, surely in a fair system those people should be put back in the position they were in before the wrong decision took place
Universal Credit was supposed to simplify the benefits system by rolling up Child Tax Credit, Housing Benefit, Income Support, JSA, ESA and Working Tax Credit into one benefit. Instead it has put working people on low incomes, vulnerable sick and disabled people and job seekers into a poorly planned and insensitive system. It has put many of my constituents into severe financial hardship.
The Universal Credit system is not working in Halton. I have grave fears regarding the planned expansion of the roll-out of Universal Credit next month to other areas. It is already hurting vulnerable and low paid people in areas like Halton that sadly have already had the roll-out inflicted on them. I ask that the planned expansion is paused and the severe problems with the utterly shambolic Universal Credit system are urgently addressed to see an end to the hardships being inflicted on my constituents.
I look forward to your urgent response.
Derek Twigg MP