MP calls for claimant grants to cope with five-week Universal Credit delay

Grants should be available to help the “most vulnerable” cope with delays in Universal Credit payments without having to resort to foodbanks, MPs have heard.

Change UK acting leader Heidi Allen (pictured) said a Government bid to help Universal Credit claimants through a five-week delay in getting their first payment is “a debt”, and that they should not be made to pay it back.

MPs heard the delay in getting the first payment is pushing people to use foodbanks. But Work and Pensions minister Will Quince said there are “many and varied” reasons for their use.

Mr Quince told MPs he would like to see foodbank charity the Trussell Trust working more closely with job centres to help the Government understand the situation.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Quince said: “There are a range of reasons why people make use of foodbanks.

“The key for the DWP is to ensure that welfare claimants are able to access funds in a timely manner. That is why advances are available so that no one has to wait five weeks for their Universal Credit payment.”

Labour MP Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) said: “The Trussell Trust have said nearly half of all foodbank referrals are due to delay in benefits being paid when Universal Credit has been rolled out.”

She added: “Does the minister now accept that, and what ware you going to do about it?”

Mr Quince replied: “We continue to provide a strong safety net through the welfare system for those who need extra support. As I said, people use foodbanks for many and various, varied reasons.

“We review research carried out by organisations including the Trussell trust to add to our understanding of foodbank use.

“I intend to work far more closely with the Trussell Trust and other foodbank providers, including other stakeholders in this area.

“I want foodbank providers and job centres working far more closely together so we can better understand the issues.

Mrs Allen (South Cambridgeshire) said: “The advance payment is missing the point.

“The biggest driver of people going to foodbanks is the five-week wait. Because of the benefit freeze, the basic amount people have to live on, particularly the very vulnerable, is not enough.

“You can’t then expect them to live on less by taking away their advance payment, which is a debt.

“There is a very simple way to deal with this, 60% of claimants were already taking advancement, which tells you they can’t wait.

“The money is already going out of DWP’s door. Make it a grant. It shouldn’t be repayable for the most vulnerable people in society.”

Mr Quince replied: “Advances are not loans from a separate fund. They are the claimant’s benefit paid early, which is then recovered over an agreed period.

“They are in place to ensure those in genuine need are able to receive financial support and are not reliant on illegal or high cost lenders.”

He added that people feeling they are still unable to make ends meet can contact the DWP for further assistance.

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