Westminster Letter


Across south Buckinghamshire, the roll out of Universal Credit is taking place in a couple of areas this September. In High Wycombe, the process began on 5 September, and in my own constituency the start date is 26 September.

Careful preparations have been made for the changes to come. That includes organisations like our Chilterns branch of the Citizens Advice Bureau and I was very grateful to have the opportunity to meet them this July, in advance of the introduction of the system locally.

The process is gradual because this is one of the biggest reforms of the welfare system since the 1940s. Whilst there have been criticisms from the National Audit Office, the independent review body which examines government spending, given the scale of the changes I feel that it was the correct decision to follow a “test and check” routine. The gradual introduction has given the opportunity to listen to what applicants have to say and to take remedial action when necessary. This has included introducing two weeks’ of support towards people’s housing costs when they transfer to Universal Credit.

The Universal Credit is the new replacement for six existing benefits. It covers child tax credit, housing benefit, income support, income-based JobSeeker’s Allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, and working tax credit.

98 per cent of claims are now made online, but for people who do not have access to a computer there is a Freephone number for the Universal Credit helpline. Around 80 per cent of new claims are paid in full and on time, but, if there are delays for information to be verified, many people receive a part-payment for the elements of the claim which have been resolved.

I shall be monitoring the change-over and ready to help any constituents who contact me about it.

(This article was first published in the Bucks Free Press)