Government backs down on Universal Credit wait

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The Government is to cut the controversial six-week wait for Universal Credit payments in the comings days in a bid to see off a Conservative rebellion.

A Government source familiar with the plans told Sky News there would be “some movement [on the wait time] in the early part of next week” after intensive behind-the-scenes discussions with a group of up to two dozen rebel MPs.

The source said ministers were working on plans to cut the wait to five weeks or less in a significant concession to backbench MPs.

And Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke is also said to be looking to do more on advance payments for claimants as the roll-out of Universal Credit is expanded from five to 50 job centres a month.

Universal Credit combines six benefits into one single benefit and is designed to simplify the welfare system and to “make work pay”.

It was the flagship welfare reform of David Cameron’s coalition government, but has been plagued with delays since its inception and criticism over its design.

One flaw is the six-week wait time which has been criticised across the political divide amid concerns it is pushing claimants into arrears on rent and council tax and referred to food banks.

:: Charity warns Universal credit rollout could see food banks struggle this winter

Bromley Borough Foodbank in Orpington

Image:There are fears the wait is also forcing people to use food banks

A quarter of all claimants are having to wait more than six weeks to receive their payments.

The system is designed to mirror the way wages are paid, but a new Sky Data poll found more than three in four respondents thought the six-week wait was too long, with only 8% saying it was about right.

The expected reduction in the wait time will be the second major concession within weeks.

Last month Mr Gauke announced those calling the Universal Credit helpline would no longer be charged up to 55p a minute.

The expected reduction in the wait time comes after a sustained campaign by prominent backbenchers Heidi Allen, Sarah Wollaston, Johnny Mercer and Stephen McPartland.

Three of the rebels had a private meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May last month to outline their concerns.

Since then Mr Gauke and Damian Hinds, the ministers responsible for the policy, have been in “constant contact” with MPs as they work up a plan to tweak the system, according to one person familiar with the discussions.

David Gauke is appointed Works and Pensions Secretary

Image:Works and Pensions Secretary David Gauke is working on the changes

:: Six-week wait for Universal Credit shake-up will cause ‘Christmas disaster’

Under the proposed changes, ministers could scrap the seven-day waiting time before a new claim can be lodged and shorten the processing time at the end of a four-week assessment to ensure recipients have to wait for a month rather than six weeks to receive their benefit.

Mr Gauke may also do more to ensure claimants are offered advance payments in order to tide them over as they wait to be paid.

Ms Allen has secured a backbench debate in the House of Commons on Universal Credit on Thursday.

She told Sky News: “We know the Government have listened fully to our concerns so many of us are hopeful we will hear positive news soon.

“Ahead of the Budget next week, we will be having a backbench debate on this issue. Perhaps there will be an opportunity for an update there.”

Mr Mercer said he was “confident” that the wait time would be reduced, while Mr McPartland went further saying he “believes it will be reduced from six to four weeks”. “We’re keen to see that happen,” he said.

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Government backs down on Universal Credit wait

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