Wales

Universal credit: 'Thousands' without Christmas payments

A man with his head in his hands looking at a jar of money labelled Christmas Image copyright Getty Images

Many new universal credit claimants across Wales face a Christmas without payments because of the minimum six-week waiting period.

Among those affected are claimants in Swansea who are due to switch to the new system on 13 December.

Due to the six-week application time, they and any other new applicants in Wales, will not be paid until January.

One social landlord asked: "Who puts a turkey on the table?" The DWP said advanced payments were available.

Universal credit merges six benefits for working-age people into one new payment, which is reduced gradually as you earn more.

It is being introduced gradually across the UK, but organisations including Citizens Advice have called for a suspension of the rollout.

Delays in claimants receiving their first payments are among the criticisms, with the government's own research finding the minimum six-week wait was a major factor in pushing some claimants into rent arrears.

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Media captionPaul Langley of Coastal Housing in Swansea says many tenants on universal credit are in rent arrears

Paul Langley, head of welfare reform at Coastal Housing in Swansea, said the housing association was concerned about how the rollout of the full service in Swansea next month would affect tenants.

"So close to Christmas, anybody who will need to make a claim won't receive any money this side of Christmas," he said.

"So [there is] concern there about how do they buy toys? How do they feed themselves? How do they [pay for] gas, electric, and who puts a turkey on the table?

"That's a real problem. That changes our focus from supporting people with financial plans, budgeting, how they're going to make their priority bills, to just sustaining a decent way of life, really.

"That might mean the use of food banks, or other assistance, financial or support from as many agencies as possible, to get through the Christmas and new year period."

Image copyright Getty Images

As well as those migrating to the new system, any new claimants in Wrexham, Flintshire, Newport, Neath Port Talbot and Torfaen, which have already switched to universal credit, will also be affected.

That number is likely to run into thousands based on Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures for the past six months which show 2,000 new claimants are applying every month in Wales.

Hayley Macnamara, policy manager at Community Housing Cymru, which represents housing associations, said the six-week waiting period was causing "extreme hardship".

She said while it welcomed the government's recent commitment to reduce the waiting time to five weeks from February, it wanted the further rollout of universal credit paused to "amend the significant issues with the policy".

A DWP spokesman said universal credit was moving people into work faster and helping them stay in work longer.

He added: "No-one who needs support has to wait six weeks. In December, claimants can request an advance of up to 50% of their first payment and a further 50% in January if they need it, repayable over 12 months."

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