Riverside calls for an end to the five week wait after survey shows two fifths of UC claimants are forced to use foodbanks

  • Survey finds that two-fifths of Riverside’s UC claimants (41%) have had to rely on help from food banks
  • More than 80% said the wait for their first Universal Credit payment had caused them financial hardship
  • Arrears for Riverside’s UC claimants are more than three and a half times higher than those who are not claiming – average arrears of £666 compared to £185 for claimants of other benefits
  • Riverside fears 2m more people could be driven to foodbanks if five week wait not reduced

One of Britain’s largest providers of social housing and homelessness services has called on the Government to end the five-week wait for Universal Credit amid concerns that this waiting period is driving people into hardship, debt and increasing usage of foodbanks.

An in-depth survey of residents’ experiences of Universal Credit by The Riverside Group, has discovered that two claimants in five (41%) have had to rely on help from food banks in order to feed themselves and their family after moving on to the new six-in-one benefit.

The study of more than 360 residents also showed that more than 90% of claimants were waiting for more than four weeks for their Universal Credit payment with 43% waiting more than six weeks.

In total four-fifths of claimants (81%) said the wait for their first Universal Credit payment had caused them financial hardship with more than three-quarters (78%) saying they had to rely on loans from family, friends or from a private loans provider.

Almost two thirds of claimants (63%) have seen an increase in debt since moving on to Universal Credit and almost three-quarters of claimants (71%) said they found it more difficult to keep up with household bills.

Statistics revealed in May showed that more than two million Brits are now receiving Universal Credit with an additional five million set to get the benefit between now and 2023, when the Government estimates that there will be a total of seven million recipients.

If Universal Credit is not reformed and the findings of Riverside’s survey were extrapolated across the five million additional recipients of UC this would lead to:

  • 2.05m additional people in Britain having to rely on help from food banks and other voluntary organisations.*
  • 3.1m more people seeing an increase in debt.
  • 3.5m more Brits finding it more difficult to keep up with household bills.

As a result of these findings The Riverside Group has become the latest organisation to join the Trussell’s Trust’s #5WeeksTooLong campaign. The campaign is calling for an end to the five week wait for initial Universal Credit payments in order to reduce the number of people who are forced to use foodbanks.

In April 2019, The Trussell Trust revealed that the number of emergency food parcels it has given out across Britain has risen by almost three-quarters (73%) from 913,138 food parcels in 2013/14 to 1.58m in 2018/19.

Among the main reasons which users of Trussell Trust foodbanks gave for needing emergency food were delays or changes to benefits being paid (37%).

Arrears for Riverside tenants claiming Universal Credit are more than three and a half times higher than those who are not claiming UC, with average arrears of £601 for UC claimants, compared to £173 for those households not in receipt of UC.

While UC claimants await their first payment they are entitled to apply for up to a full month’s payment as an advance. The Department of Work and Pensions then makes deductions from future Universal Credit payments, over a 12-month period, until the advance is repaid. Almost two-thirds (61%) of respondents to Riverside’s survey said the repayment process was causing them financial hardship by reducing the amount they have to live on each month.**

As one claimant told us: “I knew and accepted paying it back but it only pushes you into hardship over a longer period. I do regret having advance payment but I had no other option.”

Other Riverside UC claimants, who have asked not to be identified, have given plenty of examples of the way which Universal Credit has affected them

Another claimant said: “We don’t have enough money to support us so we are having to visit the food bank more regularly. [We are] having the odd meal at a friend’s house but we go days without eating or showering because I can’t afford to put enough gas on to last enough through; I’ve had to sell most of my things to try and get us by.” ***See Notes to Editors for further quotes

The Riverside Group is calling on the Government to make three main changes to improve the roll-out of Universal Credit by:

  1. Ending the five week wait for Universal Credit
  2. Increasing data sharing between housing associations, local authorities and DWP. Informing housing associations when tenants are notified of their need to claim Universal Credit allows housing associations to plan in support for residents before, and during, the claim process which could help to alleviate the hardship caused by five week wait.  If housing associations only find out when they get a rent verification notice, it is often too late to help their tenants avoid getting into debt.
  3. Extending Universal Support funding to social housing landlords which provide welfare advice and support services. Housing associations know their residents well and are often better placed to support them than the local Citizens Advice Bureau, who are increasingly overwhelmed. Providing this funding to housing associations could provide additional resilience to the Universal Support programme.

Hugh Owen, Director of Strategy and Public Affairs at The Riverside Group, said: “Our findings clearly show that our tenants are experiencing increased financial difficulty because of the wait for Universal Credit. The five week wait means that many people are going without food or heating and are getting into debt to cover their bills.

“Living with increasing debt is simply not sustainable. As a result of the hardship being experienced by our tenants, Riverside has joined The Trussell Trust’s #5WeeksTooLong campaign.

“While we have always welcomed the simplicity that moving to an integrated benefit such as Universal Credit is intended to bring, the way it is being implemented in practice means that instead of acting as a safety net, it is dragging people into debt.”