Universal Credit expansion is 'a disaster waiting to happen' says Citizens Advice
Citizens Advice is warning that the expansion of Universal Credit is 'a disaster waiting to happen', as as new findings show it is pushing people further into debt.
The charity says that the government’s plans to accelerate roll-out of the benefit from five to 50 areas a month from October could have catastrophic consequences, as there are still many problems with the system including the long wait for first payment. These challenges, and the resulting pressure on public services, also undermine the good intentions behind Universal Credit and risk preventing it from living up to promise.
For a new report out today Citizens Advice analysed over 50,000 cases where it has helped people with their debt problems and found that for those on Universal Credit:
79% have priority debts such a rent or council tax, putting them at greater risk of eviction, visits from bailiffs, being cut off from energy supplies and even prison - compared to (69%) on legacy benefits such as Jobseekers Allowance or Housing Benefit.
2 in 5 (41%) have no money available to pay creditors as their monthly spend on essential living costs is more than their income.
Typically people on Universal Credit only have around £3 a month left to pay creditors.
Citizens Advice is today urging the government to ensure no one applying for Universal Credit waits longer than 6 weeks for an income, and that anyone who needs it gets a payment within 2 weeks that they do not need to repay.
The charity is also renewing its call for the roll-out of Universal Credit to be paused until problems with the benefit are fixed and for the government to ensure support is in place to help people adapt as they move onto the new benefit.
Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, said:
“The roll-out of Universal Credit is a disaster waiting to happen.
“While the principles behind Universal Credit are sound, our evidence shows that if the government continues to take this stubborn approach to the expansion of Universal Credit, it risks pushing thousands of families into a spiral of debt, and placing an even greater strain on public services.
“People face severe consequences - like visits from bailiffs and eviction - when they can't pay their bills. But government can help protect these households by taking the simple step of pausing Universal Credit and fixing the underlying problems, so families are less likely to fall into arrears. The government should also ensure that everyone has access to the support they need to adapt to Universal Credit”
In “Universal credit and debt” Citizens Advice also explores other reasons why people on the new benefit are facing more money problems, including:
Poor administration and errors by the Jobcentre or Universal Credit team.
Problems with budgeting, particularly when people’s income fluctuates due to insecure work.
Difficulties opening a bank, building society or credit union account, which is needed to receive Universal Credit.
Money being taken from regular Universal Credit payments for other debts, such as rent arrears or tax credit overpayments.
The report follows research the charity released in July where revealing over a third (39%) of people turning to it for help with Universal Credit are waiting more than the 6 weeks it should take to receive their first payment, with just over 1 in 10 (11%) waiting over 10 weeks.
Over half (57%) said they have to borrow money while waiting for their first payment and while a quarter (27%) were able to get an Advance Payment to help tide them over 2 in 5 (40%) said they were not aware this help was available.
Universal Credit merges six existing benefits into one - including tax credits, housing benefit and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). By 2022 over 7 million households will receive Universal Credit and new Citizens Advice analysis reveals over half (54%) of these will be working households.
Notes to editors
- “Universal Credit and Debt” research based on Citizens Advice analysis of over 50,000 complex debt cases seen in the period October 2016 to June 2017, to establish what income clients received (including benefits) compared to the composition of their debt issues.
- Survey of Citizens Advice clients asking for help with Universal Credit in full service areas running since August 2016 in 18 areas and as of May 2017 had a total sample of 792.
- 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.