The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) continues to make decisions that defy belief. As the rollout of Universal Credit continues, the DWP stands accused of forcing through “inadequate” and “flawed” policy.
DWP thinking is “flawed”
Universal Credit, the DWP’s flagship welfare payment, combines six old means-tested benefits, including tax credits. From the outset, it’s been dogged by controversy. From a damning National Audit Office report to its links with increased foodbank use and rent arrears, the benefit has already caused difficulty for millions of people.
On 6 May, the Mirror reported that the DWP fails to take into account a quirk of the calendar. Universal Credit claims now include rent payments (formerly housing benefit) and the DWP calculates payments based on a 52-week year. But in some years, people who pay rent weekly – including those living in council or social housing – owe 53 weeks’ rent. For example, this year includes 53 Mondays, so many people on weekly tenancies need to make 53 weekly rent payments.
Housing associations warned this means tenants may risk falling into rent arrears. The National Housing Federation fears this could affect around “290,000 households”.
The Mirror reported that Adam Jenner, head of income and home ownership at Islington Council, called this situation “very concerning” and claimed DWP thinking was “flawed”. Jenner said:
The fundamental problem is that it appears the DWP disagrees with the fundamental workings of the Gregorian calendar…
there are 52.143 weeks in a year. For the DWP to claim that they will only pay on the basis of 52 weeks is a rejection of this fact.
No year contains 53 weeks. Landlords who charge rent weekly on a Monday, every five or six years seek 53 rent payments in a year, but the additional payment covers the tenancy for the first few days of the following year.
Allegedly it’s still “considering whether changes are required”. But at the moment, this is government policy. And it’s not the only ongoing issue with DWP decisions.
On 1 May, a report from the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) slammed DWP communication with Universal Credit claimants. It said people are:
routinely in the dark about how much they should receive, how their awards are calculated and if and how they can challenge DWP decisions, because the Department’s communications with claimants are opaque and inadequate
CPAG analysis of 1,110 cases found that DWP information to Universal Credit claimants is “frequently inadequate, payments may be wrong, and go unchallenged”. It warned that this puts many people “at risk of sliding into debt”.
In a foreword to the CPAG report, former Lord Justice of Appeal Stephen Sedley said:
It’s a fundamental principle in a democracy that governmental bodies must have reasons for their decisions. It’s equally fundamental – or should be – that they should be able to explain what those reasons are.
Sedley was clear about the implications of these findings, especially for children:
People in need are left to guess at and grope for things which should be clear and tangible. The consequences…feed into the stress and worry that so many people managing on low incomes experience, which in turn can affect family life for children growing up in these environments.
The consequences of DWP decisions
As the i reported, Savannagh Burke, a single mother with a three-month-old baby, says trying to survive on Universal Credit means:
After paying my rent and other bills I am left with around £10 a week to live off… It’s just not possible.
In cold weather, Burke has to wrap her baby in extra blankets because she can’t afford heating. Another single mother in Brighton said Universal Credit “isn’t enough to live on” and has been forced to use foodbanks. As The Canary has documented for some time, these aren’t isolated cases.
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