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Universal Credit claimants face 'rigid, unbending, uncaring response' to problems, Labour claims, after government's single mum court battle

The Department for Work and Pensions

2 min read

Universal Credit claimants who encounter problems with the system face a 'rigid, unbending, uncaring response', Labour has claimed, after the government lost a court battle with four single mums.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Reynolds said ministers were "unwilling to listen to the experiences of people who actually use the system", which replaced the six main 'legacy' benefits in 2018.

It follows a Court of Appeal ruling on the system's rules around payment and assessment periods, which fail to take into account fluidity around the pay-days of working claimants.

Four single mums secured a victory over the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) on Monday, after they said the fixed assessment date for Universal Credit meant their allowance was cancelled in months when they were paid early by their employers, due to weekends and bank holidays. 

Labour MP Stephen Timms, who tabled an urgent question on the case on Thursday, said in such cases the benefits system records claimants as having had "a 100% pay rise", meaning they receive nothing the following month and have to begin their assessment all over again. 

Lady Justice Rose, who delivered the court ruling, described the system as "perverse" and "irrational".

Mr Reynolds, who said he had dealt with the same problem on behalf of one of his constituents, told the Commons he "could not believe the regulations would work in the way that they do".

"This issue goes to the heart of problems with Universal Credit, which is that time and time again we are told by ministers that Universal Credit is more flexible, is more agile, that it can be adapted to meet new requirements and respond to problems that are identified," he added.

"But it when it comes to making seemingly simple changes such as these, claimants are faced with a rigid, unbending, uncaring response."

The DWP reportedly argued that changing the Universal Credit online computer calculation system would "undermine the principle" of the benefit, cost at least £7.5m and require thousands of calculations to be administered manually.

Welfare minister Will Quince told MPs the government did not intend to challenge the court ruling and that it was "working as quickly as possible to identify solutions".

"The fix will not be a simple one and we are facing unprecendeted pressure, but I will of course keep the House updated as that work progresses," he said.

"I have to say, the system and our people across the DWP have worked incredibly hard and the system has worked as it should have done, with 90% of claimants paid in full and on time."

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