Universal Credit claimants should get compensation if they are paid late, Tory think tank urges
Universal Credit claimants should be handed compensation if their benefits are not paid on time, a leading conservative think tank has said.
The centre-right Bright Blue group also called for all new claimants of the controversial welfare payment to be handed a 25% bonus to help them switch over to the scheme.
Universal Credit aims to roll six existing working age benefits into a single payment in a bid to simplify the welfare system.
But it has come under fire after a string of delays and warnings that its design is pushing claimants into hardship.
In their new report, based on interviews with 40 current Universal Credit claimants across England - Bright Blue said the system should also take into account "the obligations of the individuals and institutions that are delivering UC".
They call for the 'claimant commitments' that all Universal Credit users sign up to to be rewritten, making it clear that people have the right to push for compensation if they are not paid on time or if work coaches fail to set them up with "suitable training or work experience".
"Claimants should be able to seek redress via an Independent Case Examiner, who could investigate and determine whether financial compensation should be paid to them in a future UC award," the report said.
"The amount of compensation issued to UC claimants should to some degree mirror the amount lost by claimants because of sanctions. Specifically, the financial compensation offered to claimants as a result of non-compliance by DWP should be tiered according to the number of weeks a claimant has waited for their UC award."
The think tank also called for new claimants to be given a one-off "helping hand" payment equal to 25 percent of their first Universal Credit award "as soon as possible" after they register for the scheme.
The move would be aimed to addressing a key criticism of the current system, which forces claimants to endure a five-week minimum wait before they receive their first help.
Bright Blue director Ryan Shorthouse said the scheme had had "plenty of potential", with a majority of those claiming the benefit "coping with and adapting to Universal Credit.
But he warned: "Despite welcome improvements made by the Government in recent years, there are too many examples and too much evidence of significant hardship experienced by a sizable minority of those on Universal Credit.”
"The initial waiting period for the first Universal Credit payment is causing the most difficulty.
"There is a substantial minority of claimants who are older, unemployed and with mental and physical health conditions that are struggling with certain key design features, such as the online nature of Universal Credit and monthly payment in arrears.
"Especially as its fiscal approach towards welfare has happily been revised in recent years, the current Government has an important window of opportunity, before rollout accelerates, to invest in introducing significant changes to key design elements of Universal Credit."
In a bid to address mounting cross-party criticism of Universal Credit, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd in January unveiled a string of changes to the system.
She vowed not to extend the planned two-child limit for those claiming Universal Credit to children born before April 2017 and pledged to "carefully" roll out a more limited pilot of the scheme.
"I want Universal Credit to gain further support as we roll it out in practice," Ms Rudd said.
"This means delivering it in a way that meets the needs of claimants, who come from every conceivable background and who have incredible potential to achieve their ambitions."