Universal Credit claims falter due to complicated application process and lack of support
More than a third of people helped by Citizens Advice struggle to provide the evidence needed to complete their Universal Credit claim, new research from the charity finds.
With government data showing late Universal Credit payments are usually due to challenges submitting evidence, Citizens Advice asked people who came to the charity for help how difficult it was to meet these requirements. Of the people helped who qualify for extra costs under Universal Credit:
48% found it difficult to provide evidence for health conditions
40% found found it difficult to provide evidence for housing
35% found it difficult to provide evidence for childcare
The charity also found that people receiving their first full payment late stood a higher chance of getting into greater debt, or falling into it. When people didn’t receive their first Universal Credit payment on time, their chances of being in debt increased by a quarter (23%). They were also 60% more likely to borrow money from a lender to help tide them over.
One mum-of-two had to wait an extra three weeks for her first full Universal Credit payment, which covered her rent. She was not told to bring her tenancy agreement to her Jobcentre appointment and struggled to get another appointment quickly. In the meantime, she went to a foodbank and borrowed money from friends and family members to tide her over.
As people must wait 5 weeks before receiving their first Universal Credit payment, their finances are often already stretched. This is particularly problematic if they have no income beyond an Advance Payment, which they are required to apply for. Any delays to this mandatory wait can then be more acute.
In total there are 10 stages to making a Universal Credit claim, many of which are time sensitive. If a deadline is missed, a claim may have to be started again. Some people are finding the process so complex that 1 in 4 people who were helped by Citizens Advice spent more than a week completing their claim.
Despite the demands of making a claim for Universal Credit, there is inconsistent support available with many not even aware it exists. Of those who took part in the research, 45% said they did not know about the support on offer but would have taken it up if they had been.
Citizens Advice is calling on the government to simplify the claims process, make it easier to provide evidence for extras costs and make sure adequate support is on offer. The charity says these improvements must be urgently put in place as roll out of the new benefit continues to increase.
Citizens Advice is calling on the government to:
Introduce an automatic payment for those who don’t get paid on time to help cover their immediate costs
Extend the support on offer so people can get help when making and completing a claim
Make it easier for people to provide evidence online at the start of making a claim
Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:
“While Universal Credit is working for the majority of people, our evidence shows a significant minority are struggling to navigate the system. With people already having to wait 5 weeks as a matter of course for their first payment, any further delays risk jeopardising people’s financial security.
“Last year the government showed it was listening by taking important steps to improve Universal Credit. Those measures are starting to have an impact, but more needs to be done. Top of the government’s list should be simplifying the process and making sure adequate support is in place so that claims can be completed as quickly as possible.”
Notes to editors
- The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local Citizens Advice, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.
- The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
- To get advice online or find your local Citizens Advice in England and Wales, visit citizensadvice.org.uk
- You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers.
- Local Citizens Advice in England and Wales advised 2.5 million clients on 6.2 million problems in 2014/15. For full service statistics see our publication Advice trends.
- Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 service outlets across England and Wales.