Getting to grips with Universal Credit

I head up our welfare benefit team, which includes a Universal Credit officer, and we provide advice and support around benefit issues.

Having spent almost 25 years with the organisation, it’s safe to say that Universal Credit has definitely been the biggest change that I’ve dealt with.

It’s not one size fits all

I’m often asked how Universal Credit has affected our customers, and the bottom line is that it works for some, and not for others.

Generally, those that are tech savvy and comfortable using the internet have found it easier to get to grips with it.

And for some, the structure of a monthly payment also works.

We have many customers experiencing the opposite. Lower levels of computer literacy and a pattern of being paid either weekly, or twice a month, means Universal Credit has a more adverse impact.

So one of the flaws is that Universal Credit has been designed with the assumption that the world of work is based on monthly pay, but a lot of our customers are paid in different patterns.

And whilst many customers are very good at budgeting, the unpredictability of how much money they could have each month understandably causes problems.

Getting better

On average, our customers in receipt of Universal Credit have higher arrears, but we are seeing a gradual reduction.

We believe that’s because we’ve put a lot of effort into preparing people for moving on to Universal Credit in the first place and we have a triage system to support new claimants who could be struggling.

We have worked hard to build relationships with service centres and job centres and we are starting to see some positive results as we work together to support vulnerable customers.

Here to stay

Most people accept Universal Credit is here to stay and it’s unrealistic to think about scrapping it now.

The simplicity of one benefit is a good idea and some elements should be retained, but I think more personalisation and understanding is needed – solving problems can be difficult when you are dealing with large, remote service centres.

We regularly feed into policy discussions via the National Housing Federation (NHF) and some things have happened already as a result of these efforts, but it’s slow progress.

We need government to see that getting Universal Credit right is an urgent problem.

– Rachel Robertson, Income Manager