Universal Credit Frequently Asked Questions

We’re a country that prides itself on making sure proper support is in place for each other whenever help is most needed. Universal Credit is our new benefits system and should continue that legacy.

It will see six different types of benefit payment rolled into one, so many of us are likely to need its invaluable support at some point in our lives: if we ever need help with making ends meet through what previously would have been child tax credits, housing benefit, or working tax credits; or to make sure we have enough money whilst we’re looking for a job or living with a health condition or disability.

Universal Credit has been rolling out to different parts of the country at different times. Until now, only people making a new application for benefits have been able to apply.

At The Trussell Trust we’ve been working closely with our network of foodbanks across the UK to monitor what happens on the frontline when people apply for Universal Credit in an area – we had hoped to see a drop in referrals to foodbanks for emergency food in areas as it rolled out, but instead have seen an average increase.

In our network we’ve seen a 52% average increase in foodbank twelve months after Universal Credit has rolled out in an area. Foodbanks not in Universal Credit areas, or that have only had the system for up to three months, showed an average increase of 13%.

Universal Credit is not the only issue driving an increase in foodbank use, but it’s a significant factor in many areas.

Foodbanks see first-hand the impact on people when there’s an issue with the new system: families facing eviction, parents skipping meals and people in insecure work struggling to afford the bus fare to work. The five week wait for a first payment, the lack of available support to apply online, the inability of payments to cover the cost of living for people who need it most, and poor administration are some of the key issues people are facing.

Soon the next stage of Universal Credit will begin, and the 3 million people currently depending on our old benefits and tax credits systems to get by will be sent letters to say their current payments are going to be stopped, and they need to apply for Universal Credit.

The Department for Work & Pensions has published an initial plan about how this next stage of Universal Credit could look, and by the end of October they will have made a final decision on exactly what the process will look like.

We’re really worried that if the next stage goes ahead as has been planned so far, we could see a big increase in people being referred to foodbanks for emergency support. There could be a repeat of all the issues people have already experienced, but on a much larger scale.

At the moment, no we don’t. Here’s why:

  1. When we change big systems it is often the people most at risk of needing a foodbank that are hit hardest. The last thing we would want is for all of the people who have already experienced so many issues with the change to Universal Credit faced with another huge system change.
  2. A lot of changes have already been made and a lot of money has been spent to get to this stage. Soon every single jobcentre in the country will be in a Universal Credit area, and in their recent report the National Audit Officesaid it would be so costly and complex to return to the old benefits system that there’s no realistic alternative but to continue.
  3. We support the principles underpinning the new benefits system – ensuring work pays and simplifying the complicated old benefits system makes sense. What we need to do is ensure another crucial principle isn’t missing – anchoring people from being swept into poverty.

What we want to see is a Universal Credit that’s ready to offer vital support to anyone who needs its help. We think this can be done. We know the issues people are likely to face as they move over, so we should take action now to ensure the next stage of Universal Credit doesn’t replicate them.

At The Trussell Trust we’ve been working closely with our network of foodbanks across the UK to monitor what happens on the frontline when people apply for Universal Credit in an area. we’ve seen a 52% average increase in foodbank use in areas that have had Universal Credit for 12 months compared to 13% in areas that have not. We know Universal Credit is not the only issue driving an increase in foodbank use, but it’s a significant factor in many areas.

No one in the UK should need a foodbank’s help. We want to see a future where we can start closing foodbanks because everyone is protected from ever needing their help. We’re a country that prides itself on making sure proper support is in place for each other whenever help is most needed, whether that is through our health service or benefits system. Universal Credit can, and must, continue that legacy, but in order to do so we need it to be ready for anyone who might need the vital help it should offer; and, crucially, we need it to be ready before the process of moving over people already at risk of needing a foodbank begins.

We’ve been encouraged by the steps that have been taken by the Government over the last year to make changes to Universal Credit, and it’s positive news that the Department for Work & Pensions has said if someone would receive less money on Universal Credit after moving over but their situation hasn’t changed, they’ll be paid the same amount they received under the old system.

If the system is to protect people from ever needing a foodbank’s help, we need to build on this and see three things in the Government’s plans in October:

  1. The Government taking responsibility for ensuring no one moving onto Universal Credit has a gap in their income if they’re already receiving a benefit payment under the old system
  2. Adequate support for people whilst they are on Universal Credit to ensure everyone is comfortable with managing their claim digitally, supported to manage their finances, and offered the payment flexibilities that have been designed by the Government
  3. A schedule for how the next stage of rolling out Universal Credit will look, ensuring there are opportunities to review the process and make changes whilst it is underway if they are needed

This is about what kind of country we are. We’re rightly proud in the UK of the systems we’ve created to protect each other. The foundations of our benefits system demonstrate not only that we’re a country that believes no one should be left without enough money for essentials like food, but that we put those principles into practice.

Universal Credit should be the next stage of this tradition. If the Government has already assessed people as in need of support under the old benefits system, it has a responsibility to ensure that crucial support continues and no one is left with a gap in their income whilst moving over.

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