Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Ministers may increase direct payment exceptions

More people might be switched from direct payment of benefit under universal credit than ministers first thought, a civil servant has said.

Graham Mowat, of the universal credit directorate at the Department for Work and Pensions, said there has been a ‘big shift’ in ministers’ thinking about the numbers of people who might struggle with direct monthly payments.

Under universal credit, due to be phased in from October, a number of benefits, including housing benefit, will be merged into one monthly payment paid direct to households. The DWP is however looking at alternative arrangements for claimants deemed to be unable to cope with direct monthly payments. These arrangements could include switching payment for housing costs to the landlord, splitting payments between partners or paying more frequently than monthly.

Mr Mowat, speaking at the National Housing Federation Finance Conference in Coventry yesterday, said: ‘In terms of alternate payment arrangements, we always said we would fund these, the big shift in the past year has been moving on ministerial, special advisors’, and secretary of state’s thinking about what the acceptable level of volumes might be, particularly at the outset.

‘[There is] also a recognition now from ministers that there might be some people who are on alternate payment arrangements into the longer term.

‘The big change has been the volumes and we are working at the minute to try and get those volumes into the public domain.’

Mr Mowat also said he acknowledged the communications from the DWP on universal credit have not been ‘up to the mark’ and there will be more in the future.

He defended the aims of direct payment of benefit to tenants.

‘In 1982, when people were still responsible for paying their own rent, before we started to pay it directly [to landlords], the vast majority of people paid the rent,’ he said.

‘One of the things universal credit seeks to do is to focus more on what people can do as opposed to what they can’t - to focus on people’s capability and to dispel this notion that everybody on benefit is vulnerable and incapable.’

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