As the festive season approaches, individuals applying for Universal Credit benefits find themselves facing serious problems. The five-week wait until the first payment comes through means that those applying for Universal Credit after this week may run into debt ahead of Christmas. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has urged people to "apply without delay" to mitigate these challenges.
However, the wait for the first payment is not the only concern. The logistics leading up to Christmas, combined with the financial strain experienced by people on benefits, paint a dire picture for many individuals.
Housing associations within the community have warned that the five-week wait may cause significant hardship for those facing shortfalls in income during the festive season. This delay in payment can exacerbate financial difficulties and impact individuals' ability to meet their basic needs.
Recent data reveals the extent of the issue, with 84% of housing association tenants claiming Universal Credit owing an average of £556 on their rent. This level of debt has increased over the past 12 months, despite some improvements to the new Universal Credit system. It is worth noting that this figure is more than double the amount owed by tenants receiving housing benefits through the old system.
While there have been efforts to improve the Universal Credit system, the increase in food bank usage and the surge in rent arrears highlight that it is still causing unnecessary hardship for people across the UK. These challenges underscore the need for further improvements to ensure the system adequately supports those in need.
A spokesperson for Universal Credit at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) emphasized the importance of prompt application. They stated, "If people believe they might be eligible to claim universal credit benefits, they should apply without delay. Advance payments are available for those in urgent need."
Highlighting the scale of the issue, the spokesperson shared that in December 2020, the DWP made payments totaling £874 million to approximately 1.2 million households. This demonstrates the significant number of individuals relying on Universal Credit during the festive season.