Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) is calling for the abolition of the five-week wait and the introduction of a non-repayable assessment period grant for everyone claiming Universal Credit to stop people falling into serious debt.
The recommendations come in a new report from the charity, including a first of its kind survey of CAB clients who had sought Universal Credit advice.
While some elements of Universal Credit’s design such as its conditionality and its ID verification requirements were “switched off” during the pandemic, other aspects remained in force. The most significant for people claiming Universal Credit is the five week wait for first payment.
This waiting period is a problem that was repeatedly singled out by survey respondents as causing stress and anxiety.
Key findings found:
CAB said the five-week wait frequently forces its clients into debt, hardship, and serious arrears.
For those who claimed an advanced payment from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) this is recovered from their next 12 Universal Credit payments, if applied for before April 12, 2021 and 24 months for new claimants after that date.
For claimants repaying the advance over 12 months, CAB said those already living on the breadline saw their incomes drop for a year as a result of the wait for first payment.
Something which has been multiplied by the coronavirus pandemic, where people from higher-earning backgrounds will be claiming for the first-time and will face a much sharper income shock than normal.
CAS Social Justice spokesperson Nina Ballantyne said: “CAS has long campaigned to end the five-week wait for first payment, and this new research shows the considerable detriment it continued to cause for people throughout the pandemic.
“The five week wait punishes the most vulnerable, those without savings and without family or friends to borrow from and those who are paid weekly who don't have a final monthly salary payment to rely on.”
She continued: “Many are also reluctant to take on additional debt. People we spoke to said they had no choice but to take on debt from an advance payment or struggle hand to mouth during the five-week wait because they had nowhere else to turn.
“Abolishing the five-week wait and replacing it with a non-repayable grant would level up Universal Credit to function as an immediate social security safety net.”
CAB added that this non-repayable grant would keep people out of absolute poverty, make it easier to find good work and ensure everyone is part of the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
For help and advice on all financial matters, visit the CAS website here.
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