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Universal Credit – what’s happening next?

Jasmine Basran, Senior Policy Officer

16.11.2018 1015 XX

Last week, the Government published new draft regulations for the next stage of the roll-out of Universal Credit, also known as ‘managed migration’. This followed a wide-ranging consultation on previous regulations, and the new proposed regulations will be put to a vote in Parliament.

The managed migration process will mean that by 2023 everyone will be moved onto Universal Credit. There are still around six million people on the current benefits system. This is a huge challenge by any means.

What do the new draft regulations say?

There are a number of positive changes that have been made to the draft regulations. Crisis fed back on the first draft both directly to Government ministers and through the Social Security Advisory Committee’s consultation. The consultation had over 450 responses from individuals and organisations wanting to make sure the next stage of Universal Credit works for everyone.

The initial draft regulations suggested that most people would have to make a new claim for Universal Credit within one month of receiving a notice that Universal Credit is replacing their benefits. Though extensions were possible for homeless people, we were worried that this just didn’t give enough time for people coping with chaotic and often dangerous living conditions. It also placed the responsibility on the individual to notify the Department of Work and Pensions of their housing situation.

We’re pleased to see the new draft regulations suggest a minimum of three months for everyone to make their Universal Credit claim, and for the possibility of this to be extended further for homeless people.

The Department of Work and Pensions has also said that if someone does miss their deadline for claiming Universal Credit, there will be a ‘grace period’ which they can claim Universal Credit for, once they make a successful application.

The first draft regulations also suggested that homeless people wouldn’t be able to receive transitional protection. Transitional protection is a ‘top-up’ if, when moving onto Universal Credit, you see a drop in your income. This was worrying as people would likely end up struggling to pay rent, for example in temporary accommodation. This would put people at risk of having to sleep rough.

The new set of draft regulations have changed this, so that people in temporary accommodation and homeless hostels will receive transitional protection.

What still needs to change?

While the new draft regulations mean the next stage of Universal Credit will better prevent and respond to homelessness, changes are still needed for the process work:

  • Minimising the risk of people having no income

The Government has still been unable to guarantee a way for people to move onto Universal Credit without the risk of their income from benefits being stopped. If people remain unaware of the change, or are unable to make a new claim for Universal Credit in time, their benefits will be stopped completely.

This will leave people without income for a significant period of time. We know from people’s experiences of Universal Credit so far that many people struggle when there is a delay in payment and face impossible choices as to whether to pay rent, to pay utility bills, or to feed and clothe their family. Either way, the risk of homelessness increases. We want this risk to be removed altogether; so that no one’s benefits are stopped until they have made a successful claim for Universal Credit.

The right support also needs to be in place so people can make a successful claim. Our work in Newcastle and Edinburgh has shown that a vital way of giving homeless people, and people at risk of homelessness, support for Universal Credit is by having housing and homelessness specialism in Jobcentres.

  • Making sure transitional protection helps prevent homelessness

Another key area is for transitional protection to work so that people don’t lose out when moving onto Universal Credit. The new draft regulations do improve transitional protection for homeless people, but we’re still concerned about where it falls short.

The current draft regulations still mean people can lose transitional protection if they see a rent rise, or if they are hit by the benefit cap. With Universal Credit already failing to cover the real cost of rent, being hit by a rent rise or the benefit cap will mean people will struggle even more to pay their rent. Losing transitional protection on top of this will only increase the risk of homelessness.

Watch this space…

Universal Credit must be a safety net that helps people maintain a stable home and prevent homelessness. We want to see changes in the draft regulations so that no one’s benefits are stopped and there is better transitional protection. We’ll also keep pushing for Housing and Homelessness Specialists in Jobcentres that are properly resourced, that ensure every Jobcentre is equipped to make Universal Credit work.

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