Friday 3 April 2020 / 12:04 PM Coronavirus / Universal Credit

Margaret Greenwood writes to Therese Coffey calling for UC to offer non-repayable grants

Margaret Greenwood MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has written to Therese Coffey calling for Universal Credit to offer non-repayable grants now that the number of new claims has passed one million.

Greenwood also raises major concerns with Statutory Sick Pay:

  1. The government has not extended eligibility for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) to workers earning below the threshold to qualify of £118 a week
  2. The government has not raised the level of SSP
  3. The support that has been announced does not cover certain groups such as people who remain employed but whose hours are cut

Speaking up for those who cannot survive on or are not entitled to SSP and those claiming Universal Credit, she said:

“It is vital that people are able to self-isolate if they need to. The government must extend Statutory Sick Pay to all workers, raise the level of payment and provide support to those who are still in work, but whose hours have been cut.

“Labour does not believe that advances are the answer to the five-week wait; they are loans that have to be repaid. Alongside a number of leading voluntary organisations, we believe that advances should be turned into non-repayable grants.”

Ends

 

FULL TEXT OF LETTER

1 April 2020

 

Therese Coffey MP

House of Commons

London SW1A 0AA

 

Dear Thérèse,

 

I appreciate that the current situation is extremely challenging and the Opposition is keen to be constructive in our approach to the crisis.

 

Nevertheless, it is also our duty to hold the Government to account. Further to my letter of 19 March, I would like to raise a number of issues with you concerning the current provision of financial support for people affected by the Coronavirus and the practical challenges they face making claims – something that is particularly urgent now that the number of new claims has passed one million, in what is an unprecedented increase in demand.

 

 

The Government has taken steps to try to prevent redundancies through the Job Retention Scheme and it has brought forward the Self-employment Income Support Scheme. These are welcome, but there are still concerns remaining:

 

  • the government has not extended eligibility for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) to workers earning below the threshold to qualify of £118 a week
  • the government has not raised the level of SSP
  • the support that has been announced does not cover certain groups such as people who remain employed but whose hours are cut

 

The only alternative for people who are not covered by SSP, the Job Retention Scheme or the Self-employment Income Support Scheme is to claim Universal Credit or new style ESA.

 

The Self-employment Income Support Scheme which sits alongside the Job Retention Scheme will not begin to make payments until June.

 

A gap in cash flow of two months can be a significant problem for a small business and it is likely that more self-employed people may now make a claim for Universal Credit, adding to the demands on the DWP at a time when people already face long waits to register a claim online and then to have their identity verified.

 

At the evidence session of the Work and Pensions Select Committee on 25th March, you and the Permanent Secretary, Peter Schofield, highlighted that there is a particular bottleneck in verifying people’s identities when they make a claim for Universal Credit.

 

The problems that claimants face in verifying their identity through the Government’s online tool, Verify, are longstanding. The report by the National Audit Office, Rolling out Universal Credit, published in June 2018 highlighted that only 38% of Universal Credit claimants were able to verify their identity online.

 

In March 2019 the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee published a damning report on Verify, calling it ‘an onerous system that is not fit for purpose’ highlighting the problems in relation to Universal Credit in particular.

https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/1748/174805.htm#_idTextAnchor002

 

The Permanent Secretary said that DWP was attempting to verify the identities of people by telephone where they had not been able to do so online. That is likely to take more time and does not appear to be currently possible for staff to do from home.

 

When faced with criticism of the five-week wait for an initial payment in Universal Credit, the Government has always said that anyone waiting can apply for an advance.

 

The Opposition does not believe that advances are the answer to the five-week wait; they are loans that have to be repaid. Alongside a number of leading voluntary organisations, we believe that advances should be turned into non-repayable grants.

 

I would be grateful if you could clarify

 

  • the average time needed to make a Universal Credit claim online according to the latest available figures

 

  • the time that it is taking to verify someone’s identity from the point that they have registered a Universal Credit claim
  • the average time that it took to verify someone’s identity from the point that they had registered a Universal Credit claim before the current crisis
  • how many of the 477,000 people who registered claims between March 16 and 24th have (a) now had their identities verified (b) received an advance
  • what the time period is within which someone must have their identity verified once they have registered a claim for Universal Credit in order to prevent their claim lapsing?
  • what is the latest available figure for the percentage of claims that are started but not completed?
  • what the technical issues are, if any, that prevent the department currently (a) turning the advance from a loan into a non-repayable grant and (b) reducing or suspending deductions for debt
  • given that the Government believes that advances are the answer to the five-week wait, what percentage of new claimants are currently (a) requesting and (b) receiving advances
  • why the government did not up-rate JSA, ESA and Income Supoort at the same time that it up-rated Universal Credit
  • what consideration has it given to the introduction of payment holidays for (a) rent (b) energy bill
  • what adaptations the Government has made to Universal Credit to speed up the claim process; for example, has it temporarily removed the need for a claimant commitment?
  • the current volume of calls being received by DWP service centres per day on average
  • the average time that someone calling DWP’s Universal Credit helpline is currently waiting to speak to an adviser
  • whether the Department for Work and Pensions currently has plans to recruit additional staff in addition to the redeployment of existing staff and if so, how many

I look forward to your response.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Margaret Greenwood MP