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COVID-19: Committee reviews DWP response

The Work and Pensions Committee at Westminster published a report into the Department for Work of Pensions' response to the coronavirus outbreak earlier this week.

Response to coronavirus outbreak

As in Northern Ireland, other parts of the UK experienced a surge in applications for Universal Credit as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The committee pays tribute to and thanks the Department's hardworking frontline staff who have "successfully withstood enormous and unprecedented pressure", and commends Ministers for quickly making decisions that mitigated some of the worst impacts of the crisis.

The report makes recommendations for areas in which the Department could improve. These include recommendations covering Universal Credit, legacy benefits and the no recourse to public funds condition. 

Universal Credit recommendations

The report recommends that the Department

  • revisit the identity verification and online claim processes, with a particular focus on the needs of those people who are digitally excluded, to ensure that it is fit for purpose
  • set out how it intends to maintain the improved speed with which first payments of UC were made to applicants when staffing levels return to pre-pandemic norms
  • assess and report on the impact of debt recovery suspensions 
  • review the Universal Credit "advances" system and consider what changes are needed to make it more flexible, so that in times of crisis like these it can react quickly to meet claimants’ needs
  • urgently take steps to compensate people who had mistakenly claimed Universal Credit, when they would have been better off staying on their existing benefits or tax credit awards; either by returning these people to their existing benefits, or the equivalent financial position
  • publish a review of the operation of the MIF and the impact it has had on self-employed Universal Credit claimants.

Other recommendations

The report makes a number of other key recommendations, including that the Department

  • uprate legacy benefit rates so claimants are not worse off then Universal Credit claimants who benefitted from increased allowances announced by the Chancellor in response to the pandemic
  • suspend the No Recourse to Public Funds condition on public health grounds for the duration of the pandemic and publish an estimate of how many people subject to this condition are homeless
  • take steps to ensure that the benefit cap, in combination with increase to benefit rates, does not leave households worse off than they were before the crisis.

The full report is available from the Committee's website.

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Coronavirus, Outside NI