Skip to navigation Skip to content Skip to footer

Citizens Advice response to the Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry into Universal Credit (March 17)

31 March 2017

Citizens Advice response to the Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry into Universal Credit [ 440 kb]- full response


At Citizens Advice we have supported more than 27,000 clients with more than 42,000 Universal Credit issues in the last year. This number has continued to increase as Universal Credit rolls out. In January 2017, 41% of all the clients we helped with Universal Credit were in local authorities with full-service Universal Credit. To put this in context, clients in these local authorities represent 8% of our clients nationally on all issues and around 19% of people on Universal Credit are in these areas.

Citizens Advice client evidence gives a unique insight into implementation and provides an early warning of emerging issues. While we support the strong principles underpinning Universal Credit, our evidence suggests there are currently a number of implementation issues with Universal Credit, as well as more complex policy design challenges. If Universal Credit is to reach its aims, these issues need to be addressed before the planned acceleration of the roll-out of full-service Universal Credit in July and October this year.

The support that accompanies Universal Credit - Universal Support - is vital to its success. However, our evidence suggests that this is not fully developed and requires extension. This includes additional support for those who are claiming Universal Credit during the ‘test and learn’ phase. While testing implementation in a limited number of areas initially is a welcome approach, it does mean that claimants in these areas are likely to experience more challenges and will require additional support.  

In this submission, we will explore a number of issues which our frontline advice network have been reporting that fall within the terms of reference of this inquiry. Some of the issues mentioned below will be explored further in upcoming work and are therefore based on early indicators and case studies of client and adviser experiences.


  • The ongoing administrative problems that are currently unresolved in the Universal Credit system risk undermining the principles on which Universal Credit is built.

    • We recommend that these problems need addressing and resolving before roll-out is accelerated in July 2017 and October 2017.

    • DWP should create and publish a transparent action plan for tackling these issues, including a clear timeline and milestones that should be reached before roll-out is accelerated.

  • To ensure people are able to access the flexibility already built in to Universal Credit, we recommend that Alternative Payment Arrangements (APAs) are offered to all Universal Credit claimants at the beginning of a claim whilst people adapt to monthly payments in arrears. Information that is collected about a claimant at the beginning of their claim, for example previous income frequency, could be used to target APAs and Universal Support more successfully and a claimant’s Universal Credit journal could also be used to highlight the existence of APAs

  • To ensure Universal Credit mirrors work, we recommend that DWP explore the option of aligning assessment periods to wages, particularly for those who are paid non-monthly or have fluctuating incomes. This should include an exploration of how final earnings are treated.

  • To support the learning from the Universal Support delivered locally trials, we recommend:

    • DWP should review support further as new claimants join and progress onto full Universal Credit

    • DWP needs to ensure Jobcentres and local authorities have the time and training to provide effective triage, or sub-contract the triage work to those who already have the skills and expertise

    • DWP needs to ensure that, no matter where claimants present with the need for Universal Support, they are able to receive it. DWP should seek to include a “no wrong door” policy as far as possible for referrals and ensure that warm referrals are quick and efficient for the claimant.

    • DWP should explore and implement an effective and formal data sharing agreement with advice and support organisations.

  • Universal Support is vital to achieving the principles of Universal Credit through overcoming the barriers to work and independence such as digital and financial exclusion. DWP should work with a wide range of stakeholders to explore and identify all barriers, the needs of Universal Credit claimants to overcome these, and to identify through which mechanisms or support services this will be delivered through. This should include a consistent minimum offer.

  • To ensure Universal Support draws on learning from wider support trials, DWP should consult a wide range of stakeholders on a new Universal Support framework or strategy - including asking for evidence on local support projects - and then publish the outcome.

  • To reduce the impact on local services providing support for Universal Credit claimants we recommend the introduction of a third party support portal. This would improve security by verifying authentic agencies, reducing the need for explicit consent. This portal should include a mechanism for advisers to escalate issues, view an example Universal Credit journal and claim, and receive updates on any changes to the Universal Credit system.

    • Although commitment should be given to such a portal now, we recognise that this cannot be made available in the short-term. Therefore, whilst this is in development we recommend that escalation lines are returned and regularly updated screenshots of a claim and online journal are provided for the advice and support community.