Exclusive: Anger over valid Universal Credit claims being wrongly shut down

The i - 11 Nov 2017

Ministers faced fresh anger over Universal Credit after it was revealed that valid claims were being wrong shut down and taking months to reinstate.

Senior MP Frank Field said the bureaucratic blunders had left families with little to live on for long periods, forcing them into debt and relying on foodbanks.

He told i : “These are some of the worst cases of maladministration I have ever seen in the welfare system.”

The problems emerged as the government accelerates the implementation of its flagship welfare programme, which combines six benefits and tax credits into a single payment designed to “make work pay”.

David Gauke, the Work and Pensions Secretary, has rejected calls from the opposition and some Tory MPs for the roll-out to be delayed to tackle flaws in the system.

Mr Field, the chairman of the Commons work and pensions select committee, intervened after Jobcentre officials told him claims were being closed down in error and taking several months to ‘rebuild’.

He was contacted by four claimants in his Birkenhead constituency who had been affected by the mistakes. One waited four months for a payment following the error.

Two were forced to use foodbanks, two fell into rent arrears and all four fell behind with Council Tax payments. The landlord involved in one case told the Labour MP that he might have little choice but to evict his tenant.

Mr Field, a former welfare reform minister, added: “What we need from the government is a plan to rescue Universal Credit, or more importantly to rescue the living standards of those of our fellow citizens who, as these cases show, are being pushed to the brink of destitution.”

In a letter to Mr Gauke he called for action to tackle such administrative defects.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “The technical issue raised in this letter affected a very small number of people and were resolved. Support, including benefit advances, were available to those who needed them.”

She said: “Universal Credit is designed to be responsive to people’s individual circumstances and claims can be reopened within a day when needed.”

It is currently claimed by about 600,000 people, but will be extended to all benefit claimants by 2022. All new claimants in every Jobcentre Plus will be put on UC by November 2018. Chancellor Philip Hammond is facing calls for action to reform the UC system in his Budget on 22 November.

Nigel Morris, The i