Five-week wait for Universal Credit is a “fatal flaw”, says Stephen Timms

Stephen Timms has called the five-week wait for Universal Credit a “fatal flaw”, and said that he hopes the government will change it following the launch of a select committee inquiry into the benefit.

In an interview with BBC News this morning, the Labour chair of the work and pensions select committee discussed the huge numbers of people applying for welfare and the problems with the system.

He stated that the waiting period for the benefit is “not acceptable”, that it wrongly assumes that people have “a months pay in the bank”, and claimed that “it will have to change”.

Commenting on the challenges facing the department for work and pensions (DWP) at the moment, Timms said: “I think the department is probably struggling to get money out of the door as fast as they should do.”

The number of applications for Universal Credit has reached more than 1.2 million since the start of the coronavirus crisis. The inquiry by the select committee will look into how the department is responding to this surge.

The MP for East Ham declared: “We’d really like to hear from people about how things are going, either today or tomorrow, so that we can take these things up with the department next week.”

Speaking about the specific problems with the benefit, he said: “You don’t get your first regular benefit payment for five weeks. I think that’s a fatal flaw in the whole system. You can ask for what they ask for an advance – in reality, it’s a loan.”

He added: “It assumes that’s everyone’s got a months pay in the bank when they apply and of course an awful lot of people have not. Ever since the 1940s we’ve had a social security system that’s been able to get people their first regular payment within a few days. And suddenly with universal credit, you have to wait five weeks.

“It’s not acceptable. It will have to be changed. The select committee is carrying out an inquiry as our first major inquiry of this parliament. I hope the government will change it… It’s not fit for purpose in it’s current state.”

The select committee launched the inquiry into the DWP’s response to the crisis last week following reports of unprecedented demand. Departmental figures showed that 2.2 million calls were made to the DWP on just one day at the end of March.

MPs on the committee are appealing for people who are experiencing claiming benefits for the first time during the Covid-19 crisis to get in touch, as well as those who have claimed previously. The deadline to send in views is April 16th.

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