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Chancellor announces measures to ease Universal Credit hardship

Thursday 23rd November 2017

In yesterday's budget, the Chancellor Philip Hammond announced a number of changes to Universal Credit. These address some of the problems currently being caused by lengthy delays before payments start.  

The Chancellor announced that:

  • New Universal Credit claimants in December will be able to receive an advance payment worth half of their monthly entitlement at the beginning of their claim, as well as a second advance payment for the other half in the New Year. This is aimed at supporting families making new claims who would otherwise be left without any financial support over the Christmas period.
  • From January 2018 advance payments (a loan that you can ask for while awaiting your first payment) will be more generous - covering the full amount of your monthly award rather than only 50 per cent. You will be able to access an advance payment within five days of making a claim.
  • Claimants will be allowed 12 months to repay any advance payments they receive, rather than only six months.
  • From February 2018 the government will remove the seven-day waiting period so that entitlement to Universal Credit always starts on the first day of your claim. This should also mean that the wait for payments to start should drop from six weeks to five weeks.
  • From April 2018, families on housing benefit will continue to receive this benefit for two weeks while they are waiting for their Universal Credit payments to start. Thereafter help with their rent will be met by Universal Credit.
  • The government will also look at making it easier for claimants to have the housing element of their Universal Credit award paid directly to their landlord.  

The Chancellor also said that Universal Credit will be rolled out more gradually than previously announced and won't now be completed until December 2018.

Contact's welfare rights specialist Derek Sinclair said: "These measures will be welcomed by families currently facing severe financial hardship in the initial weeks of their Universal Credit claim.

"However, if the government really wants to make Universal Credit fit for purpose it will need to make much bolder changes to the new benefit, starting with scrapping cuts to payments for disabled children that will leave more than 100,000 families worse off."

Other budget measures announced

The budget also included details of increased funding for disabled facilities grants, the system of home adaptations for disabled people. The government will provide an extra £42 million of funding for this in 2017/18.

However, this was the only extra funding announced for social care. In response Amanda Batten, CEO of Contact and Chair of the Disabled Children's Partnership says: "Families with disabled children will be hugely disappointed to see that, once again for the umpteenth budget in a row, the chancellor has overlooked the overwhelming lack of health and social care support they receive.

"Families we work with every day tell us that the year-on-year cuts to these vital, life-changing services is taking a toll on their health and wellbeing. Our research shows that two-thirds of parents with disabled children worry daily about being able to meet their disabled child's needs. It's unacceptable that four in five families have issues accessing the care services they need.

"Due to a lack of funding coming from the chancellor, many local authorities and clinical commissioning groups are cutting health and social care services like short breaks (respite) services to the bone - or simply removing them altogether.

"If the ever-widening funding gap in these services continues to be ignored, families will inevitably tip into crisis and need more expensive services, such as a residential or inpatient care, as a result. It's a lose, lose situation."