Universal Credit claim warning: Boss admits claimants could receive less than they expect
Neil Couling, change director general and senior responsible owner Universal Credit warned people who received redundancy payments or a final pay packet in the month they applied for Universal Credit may receive less than they were expecting. He said “you can never get to 100 percent” and admitted that people may think “that’s not quite what I was expecting” when they see their first payment total.
He said new claimants may be “confused” by what they are entitled to as the department prepares to pay out for new claims from April 22.
He said: “I think there’ll be a few confused people out there for the first couple of weeks here because they haven’t had the experience of how universal credit works before, so we are going to try to explain all of that to them.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman warned that initial payments are “going to be an issue”, as some people “may be surprised that it is not as much as they were expecting”.
She said this would be due to any income or redundancy payments a claimant may have received affecting the amount they are entitled to.
The DWP received a record 1.4 million claims as coronavirus continues to grip the UK and thousands are forced out of work.
Mr Couling said it would be “just impossible” to cut the five-week wait for payments for first-time claimants.
He predicted the cost of paying out new claims could rocket by “billions” a year over the next few months.
He said: “It will be billions because of the nature of the expenditure on universal credit.
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“The average universal credit payment is £800 a month. So say if you did 800 times 12, times the million or so people who will be entitled, you can roughly approximate that just from that kind of calculation.”
Mr Couling insisted the welfare system would “take the strain” of new claimants, saying: “That is what it was designed to do”.
He also said he is “confident” that the department is in “a very good place” to exceed the 87 percent of Universal Credit payments which, on average, were received fully and promptly before the pandemic.
Asked whether 87 percent of claimants will be paid in full and on time, Mr Couling said: “I think we’ll do better than that, definitely.
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“Looking ahead at the current estimates the system gives me at the moment, we’re already at the levels of payment that, as you said, there are in peacetime.
“So I think we’re going to do better than that, I’m really confident about what we’ve done.”
Pushed on his confidence, Mr Couling added: “We’ve cleared all the identity checks, we’ve cleared the verification checks.
“So I’m pretty bullish on this, I think we’re in a very good place”.
Mr Couling admitted his department is “climbing a really big mountain” but is in “good shape” ahead of the peak week.
He said: “Next week, that’s the real peak week.
“So we had about 270,000 claims in the first week of the pandemic, we had 540,000 roughly in the second week, then about 380,000, and last week was about 220,000.
“So that’s the kind of mountain we’ve got to go up. I’m increasingly confident we’ll do the half a million based on the rate at which we’re clearing the cases, how hard people are working across DWP and the extra resources.
“Be in no doubt…I would lay serious amounts of money, we’re going to get these claims done and it is our duty to get them done and everybody inside DWP is working their socks off to get this done.”
Mr Couling confirmed that the department has received 1.4 million Universal Credit claims, compared to the 220,000 normally filed in an average month, including “about three times the normal rate of claims for people who are self-employed”.
He said the monthly assessment period for those who first submitted claims on 16 March has concluded and, from Wednesday, they “can see on their online account how much they are due and that will be paid on April 22”.
As of April 12, the department had already paid 513,000 advances.
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