2 August, 2018

Universal Credit is far from perfect but it can be improved

As with so much in life we face a choice. We can either engage constructively with Government to make something better or simply throw rocks from the sidelines. With thousands of Home Group’s customer base already on Universal Credit (UC) we believe our responsibility is clear. Is Universal Credit perfect? Certainly not. But the process of untangling a complex web of benefits as well as promoting a profound cultural shift was always going to difficult.

Despite the difficulties we ought not to lose sight of that we are trying to achieve. A simpler benefit system that allows people to keep more of their earnings from work. With so much of the present coverage centering on concerns over implementation that can feel as though it is being overshadowed.

But the goal remains a noble one and one that ought to retain broad public and political support. Our customers would understandably like to see a more generous taper which allows them to keep more money and give greater incentives for those in work or transitioning to it. That’s an argument as much between DWP and the Treasury as it anything else.

My approach isn’t really about that political balance or argument. It’s very much about the practical steps we can take now and at little or no cost to make the situation better for us and our customers.

DWP have made welcome steps forward such as dropping the seven day waiting period and introducing transitional payments, but there is still a lot of work to do. I hope Justin Tomlinson MP will be in place long enough to be able to really get to grips with the complexities of Universal Credit as consistent leadership will really help in delivering it.

A lack of staff retention has the ability to derail even the best company’s plans and in Government the succession of changes since the departure of Lord Freud has certainly held Universal Credit back.

Housing associations have a unique relationship with our customers. The role we can play in helping deliver and improve Universal Credit is substantial, but we also need to be able to plan, which is why we need confirmation on the post-December rollout approach. Longer-term planning would allow us to understand where to focus our resources and is a key part of how housing associations can help customers transition to UC.

We can also improve how our customers transition during a change of circumstance. Seasonal jobs have the potential to force claimants into a new claim period every year, causing detrimental impact to their financial circumstances and wellbeing.

DWP could improve the managed payments process by offering clearer guidance on payment cycles at a customer level via the portal. Measures to ensure the consistency of service and timeline irrespective of location would also help. The current approach varies broadly, introducing delays, discrepancies and uncertainty for claimants.

As one of the UK’s largest housing providers we work in over 200 local authorities and recognise the desire to tailor the approach to suit local circumstances. However, the approach to Universal Support (PBS) varies so much across the UK, with different regional and local authority approaches which add to the uncertainty whilst delivering little by way of benefit.

I’m not in any way seeking to down play the challenges UC brings to our business. We have seen the average level of arrears rise by £295 during the claim period. If this continues we could see our arrears levels rise from 4 to 9 per cent. That won’t help us build the 10,000 homes we want to deliver over the next few years. It’s also why we have to work constructively to get things right.

So let’s drop the rocks and opt for the less glamorous approach of engaging with the detail and concentrate in working with the system we have in place. There is a lot of work to do to get Universal Credit to where we want it to be, but there’s no doubt that when we do get it right, it will become the most efficient and effective way to deliver our welfare system.

My approach isn’t really about that political balance or argument. It’s very much about the practical steps we can take now and at little or no cost to make the situation better for us and our customers.

DWP have made welcome steps forward such as dropping the seven day waiting period and introducing transitional payments, but there is still a lot of work to do. I hope Justin Tomlinson MP will be in place long enough to be able to really get to grips with the complexities of Universal Credit as consistent leadership will really help in delivering it.

A lack of staff retention has the ability to derail even the best company’s plans and in Government the succession of changes since the departure of Lord Freud has certainly held Universal Credit back.

Housing associations have a unique relationship with our customers. The role we can play in helping deliver and improve Universal Credit is substantial, but we also need to be able to plan, which is why we need confirmation on the post-December rollout approach. Longer-term planning would allow us to understand where to focus our resources and is a key part of how housing associations can help customers transition to UC.

We can also improve how our customers transition during a change of circumstance. Seasonal jobs have the potential to force claimants into a new claim period every year, causing detrimental impact to their financial circumstances and wellbeing.

DWP could improve the managed payments process by offering clearer guidance on payment cycles at a customer level via the portal. Measures to ensure the consistency of service and timeline irrespective of location would also help. The current approach varies broadly, introducing delays, discrepancies and uncertainty for claimants.

As one of the UK’s largest housing providers we work in over 200 local authorities and recognise the desire to tailor the approach to suit local circumstances. However, the approach to Universal Support (PBS) varies so much across the UK, with different regional and local authority approaches which add to the uncertainty whilst delivering little by way of benefit.

I’m not in any way seeking to down play the challenges UC brings to our business. We have seen the average level of arrears rise by £295 during the claim period. If this continues we could see our arrears levels rise from 4 to 9 per cent. That won’t help us build the 10,000 homes we want to deliver over the next few years. It’s also why we have to work constructively to get things right.

So let’s drop the rocks and opt for the less glamorous approach of engaging with the detail and concentrate in working with the system we have in place. There is a lot of work to do to get Universal Credit to where we want it to be, but there’s no doubt that when we do get it right, it will become the most efficient and effective way to deliver our welfare system.


There’s no doubt that when we do get it right, it will become the most efficient and effective way to deliver our welfare system

There’s no doubt that when we do get it right, it will become the most efficient and effective way to deliver our welfare system