Universal Credit is a benefit that provides financial support for people on a low income or who are out of work. It replaces a number of so-called “legacy” benefits.
The Government is about to embark on the next stage of rolling out Universal Credit. It’s vital that there is a smooth transition for disabled people – however, we’re concerned about how this process will work.
We outline the changes we want to see to ensure disabled people do not face financial hardship during the next phase of Universal Credit roll-out.
What is Universal Credit and what is changing?
Universal Credit is a single benefit that replaces six means-tested benefits: Income Support, Income-related Jobseekers Allowance, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Housing Benefit, Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit.
There are a number of changes to the design and delivery of Universal Credit compared to “legacy” benefits. The benefit is being rolled out gradually, and there are currently 1.2 million claimants of Universal Credit.
Under a process called “managed migration”, all remaining claimants on “legacy” benefits will be moved on to Universal Credit. The regulations determining this process will have to be approved by Parliament before they are implemented.
What needs to change to ensure “managed migration” works for disabled people?
The Government has made a welcome commitment to get one million more disabled people into work by 2027. Universal Credit has a role to play in making this happen by ensuring that people are supported as they move into employment or increase their working hours.
However, there are a number of risks with the current regulations which could leave disabled people without adequate financial support as they move on to Universal Credit. Below are three key changes we want to see to the regulations for “managed migration”.
Ensure disabled people do not face gaps in financial support
Under the proposed regulations, all claimants moving over to Universal Credit will be required to make a new claim for the benefit within a period of one to three months. After this point, payment of “legacy” benefits will come to an end.
We are worried about this change, as we know many disabled people face difficulties with making a claim for Universal Credit. In a survey carried about by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), 53 per cent of those with a long-term health condition agreed that they needed more support setting up their claim, compared to 43 per cent of claimants overall.
Whilst the application deadline can be extended, there is a substantial risk that many disabled people could be left without any financial support, if they are unable to make a claim within the allocated time frame. This is particularly worrying as we know disabled people are more likely to experience debt and have fewer savings on average.
We want the Government to ensure payments of legacy benefits continue until a Universal Credit claim has been made successfully, so that disabled people do not face financial hardship as they move on to the benefit.
Improve the use of Universal Support
There is support available to individuals who need extra help in making a claim for Universal Credit. This is called Universal Support.
Whilst this is positive, we are concerned about whether the Government will be able to successfully identify claimants who would benefit from this offer of support, including many disabled people. For instance, disabled people in the Support Group of Employment and Support Allowance generally have limited communication with the DWP, meaning it is less likely that any communication and support needs are recorded.
We want to see the DWP proactively offer this service to all individuals at the start of the “managed migration” process. If somebody does not respond to DWP communications, then this should automatically trigger a referral to Universal Support.
Increase access to transitional protection
Transitional protection is extra money paid to top up someone’s award so they are no worse off when they move on to Universal Credit through “managed migration”.
In order to qualify for this support, an individual must ensure their claim is correct on their first attempt. If their claim is disallowed, then transitional protection will not be applied to any subsequent award.
However, research by the DWP shows that people with a long-term health condition were less likely to have completed their claim in one attempt – 46 per cent of respondents compared to 54 per cent of those without a long-term condition.
This means it is very likely that many disabled people will face barriers meeting the qualifying criteria for transitional protection due to challenges with the application process.
We want the Government to ensure that transitional protection is available for all claimants moving on to Universal Credit, irrespective of whether their initial claim is denied.
What will Scope be doing next?
We’ve been raising our concerns with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, as well as Ministers within the DWP. We’ve also been speaking to a number of MPs and Peers.
We will be continuing to campaign to ensure that there is a smooth process for disabled people as they move on to Universal Credit.
What are your experiences of applying for Universal Credit? Share your story by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.