The Committee’s report – published several months before the rollout of Universal Credit full service with its 6, now 5, week in-built wait for payment began, in Spring 2016 – also concluded that such delays meant that the 28 days for asylum-seekers granted status in the UK to transition from Home Office subsistence payments to work or other benefits, and potentially find a new home, was not sufficient.
Rt Hon Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said:
“Three and a half years ago, we pointed out to Government that its own research showed 28 days is simply not enough for some refugees to access the support they will desperately need, at least at the start, from the benefits system – and that the result was more people left destitute by the ticking clock of bureaucracy. The Government promised us in 2016 that it would act – but now we discover that the only “help” on offer is a Jobcentre appointment, and that this “offer” isn’t even reaching half of those who need it.
“The Government is simply sticking its head in the sand. It knows that the 28 day period just isn’t long enough for people who’ve fled persecution, violence and war. But it counts it as a success if some refugees manage to get themselves into debt from the word go, by taking a Universal Credit advance. When will it face facts, and make some real changes?”
After a series of correspondence spurred by questions on the move-on and the results of DWP’s investigation in both Houses of Parliament, the Chair wrote again to Secretary of State Amber Rudd in April this year urging the Government to publish the results of the evaluation it agreed to conduct almost three years ago. In the attached letter of 3 June, families and children minister Will Quince describes how, “the investigation was carried out, and the main issue found was that in many cases refugees were leaving it until the move on period was well underway before making contact with DWP which then resulted in their benefit claim not having been processed by the end of the period”. He goes on to explain that “In response to that we have set up the Post-Grant Appointment Service which aims to contact refugees at the start of the 28 day” move on period.
The evaluation, finally supplied to the Committee this week, sets out: “For the reasons already highlighted, the Post Grant Appointment Service (PGAS) has been in place since early 2017. A high-level description of the service after a person is granted refugee status and the Biometric Residence is issued is as follows: A letter is sent to the refugee to notify them that their Home Office support will stop in 28 days, along with advice about how they can access DWP benefits. The paperwork also advises the refugee that assistance is available if they wish to apply for benefits and provides telephone contact details of the PGAS...”
There is no mention of changing or extending the duration of the move-on period itself.
The Chair has now written back to Will Quince with a series of new questions about the impact on refugees who will now be moving onto Universal Credit rather than legacy benefits. The Chair notes that 40-50% of the eligible refugees were not successfully contacted by the contractor providing the PGAS, and asking what new or different measures Government is going to take to improve these outcomes.
In its December 2015 report on benefit delivery (Universal credit not the solution to delivery problems, report finds) the Committee concluded that delays to benefit payments risked “exposing people to hunger and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) must redouble its efforts to remedy benefits delays and mistakes, including setting a new target for reducing underpayments. Over the last five years, the Department has undertaken a series of ambitious reforms to the welfare system against a backdrop of cuts to its administration and programme funding. The Department expects Universal Credit to simplify the benefit system, but it will not be fully implemented for several years and has already been subject to repeated delays.”