Letter to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, copying in local MPs.

I am writing to you to highlight a problem with Universal Credit that has come to my attention due to the Corona Virus.

I am a local Councillor who has been working hard to support my residents through this crisis. Since going into lock down many self-employed people have lost all income from their business. Many of these businesses are small with low income, meaning that the self-employed person have historically been claiming top up benefits. Due to the extensive delays in rolling out Universal Credit (UC), most remain on the legacy benefits, including working tax credit, child tax credit and housing benefit. However, as soon as they make a claim for the Job seeker (JS) or income support (IS) element of UC, all benefits they have been receiving are immediately stopped until the claim is processed.

There are substantial delays to the UC application process due to the current crisis, meaning that applicants are going to have to wait beyond the inbuilt 5-week delay. This is leaving many families on the edge of real financial hardship, forced into debt and having to use food banks. Under the legacy system of six separate benefits, a newly unemployed person would just make the new claim and the existing benefits in place would continue to be paid through the administration process and adjusted at the end.

I urge you, during this time of crisis, to change the process so that those claiming legacy benefits can be moved on to Universal Credit without a break in their payments.

There is also a problem with the loan for Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI). People with mortgages moving onto Universal Credit do not qualify for this help for 42 weeks. This is much longer then the mortgage holiday of two months most residents have been offered by their mortgage providers. The entitlement to his loan should be brought in line with the other benefits, meaning that it could be claimed immediately, thus keeping homes safe from repossession. As SMI was changed from being a benefit to be a repayable loan, it is hard to understand why the substantial delay remains in place.

I urge you, during this time of crisis, to reduce the time delay to the entitlement of SMI, making it payable faster than after 42 weeks.

Councillor Katie Cooper

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