St Mungo’s together with Riverside, YMCA and The Salvation Army have today released research, which outlines a number of difficulties our residents face when attempting to make and maintain a claim for Universal Credit.
As a coalition of providers responsible for more than a quarter of supported housing for people with experience of homelessness in the UK, we have set out recommendations to government to help improve vulnerable claimants’ experience of Universal Credit in practice.
Conducted by social security experts, Policy in Practice, the findings are based on interviews with people living in supported housing, support workers, benefit and income advisers, and Work Coaches from Jobcentre Plus.
The research found that residents in supported housing often face challenges in adapting to new processes following periods of homelessness, as well as ongoing problems with mental health and substance use. It also found that:
- claimants face difficulties in communicating their specific circumstances to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which can negatively impact their claim for Universal Credit’s personal elements;
- administrative processes such as providing identification and setting up online claims are problematic for claimants, with restrictions placed on existing forms of communication with the DWP limiting how quickly issues can be resolved; and
- that an increasing amount of time is being spent by support workers on Universal Credit related issues, which can negatively impact on other essential support activities.
When discussing the complexities of Universal Credit and its potential effect on her efforts to make a claim, one research participant said: “I couldn’t have done it [alone]. I would have given up”. This is a situation, which would have left her without money to meet even basic living costs.
Together with Riverside, YMCA and The Salvation Army, we suggest that the current barriers can be largely overcome and recommend the DWP treat supported housing providers as partners in helping their residents manage their claim.
In exchange, with much better communication channels, supported housing providers would be able to remove some of the administrative burdens currently faced by the DWP, actively supporting residents to adapt to Universal Credit’s unique requirements.
The benefit of support was emphasised by a research participant who said: “I can’t fault [her support worker]. She takes care of, everything, like tax questions, because it’s all new to me. And bills too, setting up my water bill, because I’ve never had to do that before, so she’s helped me with that too.”
The complexities involved with making and maintaining a Universal Credit claim has resulted in a significant amount of work already being undertaken by services to help people overcome barriers such as digital exclusion, lack of identification, and lengthy assessment periods. However, too often this progress is limited by a complex administrative system which assumes that claimants have the experience and life skills to cope.
Read the report ‘Universal Credit: making it work for supported housing residents’ here.