In Brief

Universal credit failings leave thousands in debt

‘Complex’ flagship welfare programme forcing people into rent arrears - and food banks

The government’s flagship welfare programme, universal credit, is forcing people into debt because the applications process is so complex.

A study by Citizens Advice found a quarter of claimants had fallen into arrears because they hadn’t received their first full payment on time. A third of those questioned by the charity had struggled to provide the evidence needed to complete their claim.

The report comes just a day after whistleblowers said universal credit is so riddled with design flaws and process faults that it is practically guaranteed to generate mistakes and delays that will push vulnerable benefit claimants into hardship.

Service centre workers told The Guardian that glitches in the “cobbled together” IT system have commonly led to claimants’ benefit payments being delayed or wrongly reduced by hundreds of point.

“The IT system on which universal credit is built is so fundamentally broken and poorly designed that it guarantees severe problems with claims,” the paper said. “It is not working the way it was intended and it is having an actively harmful effect on a huge number of claimants.”

Universal credit was introduced by the coalition government back in 2013 as a way of streamlining Britain’s complicated welfare system by rolling six means-tested benefits and tax credits into one single monthly payment.

However, it has been beset by delays, technical problems and accusations from cross-party MPs of a “culture of indifference” at the Department of Work and Pensions. Some 70,000 disabled claimants have been underpaid by more than £500m over the past six years, they say.

Mistakes and delays can add an average of three weeks to a wait for a first benefits payment – and the delay is “pushing people into debt and to food banks”, says The Sun.

Existing problems have led to growing fears that the system will be unable to cope with the extra three million claimants expected to migrate to universal credit next year.

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