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Concern Over Universal Credit Flaws as New Figures Reveal Massive Rise in Claims in Bedford Borough

June 19, 2020 5:00 PM
Originally published by Bedford Borough Liberal Democrats

Dean CroftsFigures released this week show that claims for universal credit in Bedford Borough rose eight-fold between March and April as the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic took hold. With the number of claimants rising from 525 in March to 4,430 in April, Bedford Borough Liberal Democrats have raised concerns that flaws in the universal credit system risk unnecessary evictions and a lack of timely support for local residents.

At its meeting this week Bedford Borough Council's Housing Committee considered the impact on housing of universal credit, the roll-out of which began locally in May 2017. The committee heard about ongoing delays for new claimants and those with changed circumstances, and how it is impacting people's ability to meet their housing costs.

A representative of Bedford Borough's largest social housing provider, bpha, gave the example of a tenant who is still awaiting the outcome of a work capability assessment undertaken in December. It was also revealed that where rent is paid directly to social landlords, it takes up to twelve additional weeks for payments to be made even after the benefit award is approved.

The committee also heard from a representative of the Department of Work and Pensions, which administers universal credit, who acknowledged the excessive delays that people can face in the system.

Commenting, committee member and Bedford Borough Liberal Democrat Group spokesperson Councillor Dean Crofts said "Homelessness has increased across the country over recent years and it is critical that we have a welfare system that helps prevent homelessness. The universal credit system currently does not protect homes and avoid evictions as it should when people have had a change of circumstances and need some breathing space to get themselves back on their feet. Unless the system is improved our fear is that homelessness will continue to increase and more people will be faced with rough sleeping and temporary accommodation. This is a major issue which is only becoming more urgent with the massive increase in local universal credit claimants due to the impact of the pandemic. Only this week the government had to be shamed by a footballer into providing meals for children in struggling households this summer. That is indicative of the government's approach to the welfare system. It is time for a more serious approach, including policies which will eradicate homelessness for good."

Under the universal credit system, claimants must wait five weeks for their first payment, putting many households into crisis when their circumstances change and they first need support. Meanwhile, a benefits freeze introduced by the Government in 2016 was only ended in April this year, resulting in a significant cut in the real value of support for those who need it.