Wednesday 15 April 2020 11:50 am

Universal Credit boss promises improved payment delivery for new claimants

A higher proportion of new benefits claimants will receive their payment on time than before the coronavirus outbreak, according to the boss of Universal Credit.

In normal times, 87 per cent of new Universal Credit claimants get their first payment on time, which is after five weeks from applying, according to figures from the Department for Work and Pensions.

Universal Credit director general Neil Couling CBE told a group of journalists today he was “bullish” about this figure increasing during the coronavirus crisis, despite the large increase in new claims.

There has been 1.4m new Universal Credit claims in the past month, which is almost a tenfold increase from before the Covid-19 outbreak and lockdown.

“We’re already at the levels of payment in peace time, so I think we’re going to do better than that,” he said.

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Couling also said there was no chance the four-week assessment period for new claimants could be reduced, despite calls from a litany of advocacy groups to provide faster access to benefits.

The Universal Credit director general said the assessment period is “integral” to the benefits system and that “if you play about with architecture of Universal Credit you won’t be able to pay the vast millions we have to pay every month”.

“I’ve explained patiently to the select committee many times that the month-long assessment period is integral for how it works,” he said.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has had to modify its operations during the coronavirus outbreak to register new benefits claims.

Job Centres have been shut down, with all new applications done over the telephone.

Couling said there was 270,000 new Universal Credit applications in the week starting 16 March, which he estimated was the first of the Covid-19-related claims.

Work and and pensions secretary Therese Coffey told the BBC yesterday that she was confident that people who applied in that first week, and were eligible for payment, would receive their claims next week.

She said: “I’m confident the system is working, I’m confident that people will start to get their money next week, and also, anyone who has asked for an advance has been able to get it in the last few weeks as well.”