The Trussell Trust & StepChange debt charity join forces to call for solution to 5 week wait for Universal Credit

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As MPs debate Universal Credit and debt, StepChange Debt Charity and the Trussell Trust join forces to highlight how the Government’s ‘solution’ to the five week wait is pushing people into further hardship

A new joint report from StepChange Debt Charity and the Trussell Trust shows that Advance Payments – the loans people can apply for while they wait at least five weeks for Universal Credit push people into hardship and therefore are not the solution to the wait. The report is published ahead of MPs debating Universal Credit and debt this Wednesday afternoon.

A quarter of all Universal Credit claimants had payments reduced by above 20% in order to pay back a debt, including Advance Payments.* Four in ten were paying over 10%. The report found that these reductions are hugely significant for people on low incomes, especially when their benefit payments are designed to provide only a minimum amount to live on. A deduction of just 5% would push nearly half of StepChange clients on benefits into a negative budget situation, meaning they wouldn’t have enough money to cover essential costs.

Previous research among StepChange clients who had money taken from benefits to repay debt  showed 71% saying it caused them hardship and a quarter had cut back on food spending.  Because repayments for advances don’t take into account people’s ability to afford them, they will inevitably have a similar impact. Reductions to benefit payments can force people to need a food bank’s help – the largest and fastest-growing reason for referral to a food bank in the Trussell Trust’s network last year was benefits not covering the cost of living.

Universal Credit aims to get people into work but Advance Payment debts make it more difficult. 6 in 10 people said worrying about debt made them feel less confident about getting a promotion at work, while 15% say their debt worries led to changes in attendance such as arriving late or taking more time off.

The charities are urging the government to remove the need for bridging loans by ending the five week wait.** Garry Lemon, Director of Policy and External Affairs, the Trussell Trust, said:

“Universal Credit isn’t the poverty-fighting reform that was promised. The five week wait for a first payment is leaving many without enough money to cover the basics. Unaffordable loans and repayments aren’t the solution.

“Last year, the biggest reason for a referral to a food bank was benefit payments not covering the cost of living. It’s no surprise that taking money off these already low payments to pay back Advance Payments pulls people deeper into crisis right at the very point when support is most needed. That’s why we’ve have launched the #5WeeksTooLong campaign, and why we’re proud to work with StepChange to showcase the harmful impact the five week wait and deductions can have. The Government can’t look away any longer – they must listen, and end the wait now.”

Peter Tutton, Head of Policy at StepChange, said:

“Benefit deductions for debt repayments are leaving households short of what they need to get by, with many forced to borrow to make up the difference. With over a million people already using high cost credit to fill holes in their monthly budget, it must be a priority to not make this debt trap worse.

“Elsewhere we have seen some good commitments from Government aimed at helping people recover from financial difficulties with less harm and hardship. It makes absolutely no sense at all for this good work to be undermined by failures in the design of Universal Credit. The stakes here are very high, so StepChange is joining with the Trussell Trust to call on the Government to think again.”

Ends

Contact

The Trussell Trust media team on 020 3137 3699 or press@trusselltrust.org

Notes to Editor

The joint report from StepChange and the Trussell Trust, Hardship now, or hardship later?, can be read here.

*https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2018-11-28/196810/

** The charities are calling for the Government to remove the need for bridging loans in the short term by turning Advance Payments into non-repayable grants, and in the long term by ending the five week wait. Two key options suggested for how to end this wait:

  1. Pay Universal Credit after two weeks and pay awards fortnightly (automatically shortening the wait for a first payment by making the ‘assessment period’ for Universal Credit two weeks rather than a month).
  2. Backdate the first assessment period, so the payment date falls at the start of a claim.