Written questions and answers

Written questions allow Members of Parliament to ask government ministers for information on the work, policy and activities of government departments.

Historical written answers can be found in Hansard.

Find the latest written questions and answers for the 2017-19 session below. We welcome your feedback on this service.

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Unique Identifying Number – Every written question in the House of Commons has a UIN per Parliament. In the House of Lords each written questions has a UIN per parliamentary session.
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Q
Asked by Karin Smyth
(Bristol South)
Asked on: 15 July 2019
Department for Work and Pensions
Children: Maintenance
Commons
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, whether her Department has plans to undertake a public consultation on changing the sequence by which deductions from benefits are ordered to ensure that child maintenance payments take priority over debts to private companies.
A
Answered by: Alok Sharma
Answered on: 23 July 2019

Under Universal Credit there is a structured approach to deductions from benefit, which simplifies the current complex arrangements of the legacy system.

The aims of the deductions policy in Universal Credit are to protect vulnerable claimants by providing a last resort repayment method for arrears of essential services, to enforce social obligations and to recover Government debt in a cost effective manner.

Deductions are made following the priority order, which determines the order in which items should be deducted. ‘Last resort’ deductions, such as rent or fuel costs, are at the top of the priority order, ensuring that claimant welfare is prioritised, followed by social obligation deductions, such as child maintenance, and finally benefit debt, such as Social Fund loans and benefit overpayments.

We prioritise the welfare of claimants, as this is the best way to support them and to help them to move towards work and off benefits.

The Deduction Priority Order can be found here (p. 72) - https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/683470/benefit-overpayment-recovery-guide.pdf

Q
(Coventry South)
[N]
Close

Named Day

'Named day' questions only occur in the House of Commons. The MP tabling the question specifies the date on which they should receive an answer. MPs may not table more than five named day questions on a single day.

Asked on: 18 July 2019
Department for Work and Pensions
Social Security Benefits: Disability
Commons
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what assessment he has made of the effect of the two-child limit for universal credit and tax credits on disabled parents with more than two children.
A
Answered by: Alok Sharma
Answered on: 23 July 2019

It is the Department’s view that providing support for a maximum of two children or qualifying young persons in Universal Credit and Child Tax Credit ensures fairness between those supporting themselves solely through work and those receiving benefits.

The Government assessed the impact of the policy from an equality and human rights perspective throughout its development and in preparation for its implementation. The Department published statistics related to the first year of policy implementation in June 2018 and will publish updated statistics on 31st July.

An impact assessment of the policy of providing support for a maximum of two children in Child Tax Credits and Universal Credit, which considered the impact of the policy on families and other protected groups, including those with disabilities, was published in July 2015 and is available at:

https://www.parliament.uk/documents/impact-assessments/ia15-006e.pdf

Q
Asked by Chris Ruane
(Vale of Clwyd)
[N]
Close

Named Day

'Named day' questions only occur in the House of Commons. The MP tabling the question specifies the date on which they should receive an answer. MPs may not table more than five named day questions on a single day.

Asked on: 18 July 2019
Department for Work and Pensions
Universal Credit: Northern Ireland
Commons
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what assessment she has made of the merits of twice monthly universal credit payments in Northern Ireland.
A
Answered by: Alok Sharma
Answered on: 23 July 2019

Social security matters are the responsibility of the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland. The Department for Communities therefore delivers Universal Credit with the support of DWP and its Universal Credit Programme. Mitigations agreed as part of the Fresh Start Agreement allow the Department for Communities to deliver UC differently from the way it is delivered in GB, and responsibility for evaluating the effectiveness of the mitigations package rests with them.

Q
(Morley and Outwood)
Asked on: 12 July 2019
Department for Work and Pensions
Welfare Assistance Schemes
Commons
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what steps her Department is taking to (a) promote and (b) fund local welfare assistance.
A
Answered by: Alok Sharma
Answered on: 22 July 2019

The reforms to the Social Fund in 2013 allowed local authorities in England and the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales to deliver their own local provision for people who are in need of urgent help. Local authorities are best placed to decide how to promote and target flexible help to support local welfare needs. The Government has no further plans to review provision.

The Local Government Finance Settlement for 2015-16 identifies a notional amount relating to local welfare provision in each upper-tier and unitary authority’s general grant, totalling £129.6 million for England. The notional allocation for local welfare provision remains at £129.6 million in England in the Local Government Financial Settlement until 2019/20. There are no plans to ring-fence this notional allocation.

Grouped Questions: 276565 | 276576
Q
(Morley and Outwood)
Asked on: 12 July 2019
Department for Work and Pensions
Welfare Assistance Schemes
Commons
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, if she will allocate additional funding for local welfare assistance.
A
Answered by: Alok Sharma
Answered on: 22 July 2019

The reforms to the Social Fund in 2013 allowed local authorities in England and the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales to deliver their own local provision for people who are in need of urgent help. Local authorities are best placed to decide how to promote and target flexible help to support local welfare needs. The Government has no further plans to review provision.

The Local Government Finance Settlement for 2015-16 identifies a notional amount relating to local welfare provision in each upper-tier and unitary authority’s general grant, totalling £129.6 million for England. The notional allocation for local welfare provision remains at £129.6 million in England in the Local Government Financial Settlement until 2019/20. There are no plans to ring-fence this notional allocation.

Grouped Questions: 276564 | 276576
Q
Asked by Dr Rupa Huq
(Ealing Central and Acton)
Asked on: 12 July 2019
Department for Work and Pensions
Welfare Assistance Schemes
Commons
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, whether her Department has made an assessment of the potential merits of supplementing the Local Welfare Assistance Scheme with a centrally allocated fund.
A
Answered by: Alok Sharma
Answered on: 22 July 2019

The reforms to the Social Fund in 2013 allowed local authorities in England and the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales to deliver their own local provision for people who are in need of urgent help. Local authorities are best placed to decide how to promote and target flexible help to support local welfare needs. The Government has no further plans to review provision.

The Local Government Finance Settlement for 2015-16 identifies a notional amount relating to local welfare provision in each upper-tier and unitary authority’s general grant, totalling £129.6 million for England. The notional allocation for local welfare provision remains at £129.6 million in England in the Local Government Financial Settlement until 2019/20. There are no plans to ring-fence this notional allocation.

Grouped Questions: 276564 | 276565
Q
Asked by Mike Amesbury
(Weaver Vale)
[N]
Close

Named Day

'Named day' questions only occur in the House of Commons. The MP tabling the question specifies the date on which they should receive an answer. MPs may not table more than five named day questions on a single day.

Asked on: 16 July 2019
Department for Work and Pensions
European Social Fund
Commons
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what estimate she has made of the number of employment support projects that are funded by the European Social Fund.
A
Answered by: Alok Sharma
Answered on: 22 July 2019

European Social Fund (ESF) projects aim to increase labour market participation, promote social inclusion and develop the skills of the potential and existing workforce, including amongst the most vulnerable people in society.

To date, 363 projects have set out to achieve this within the current England ESF programme (this figure excludes technical assistance projects), amounting to total investment worth £3.65 billion, around £2 billion of which is EU funded. This figure will increase as further projects are agreed and delivered over the lifetime of the programme.

Q
Asked by Steve McCabe
(Birmingham, Selly Oak)
[N]
Close

Named Day

'Named day' questions only occur in the House of Commons. The MP tabling the question specifies the date on which they should receive an answer. MPs may not table more than five named day questions on a single day.

Asked on: 17 July 2019
Department for Work and Pensions
Universal Credit: Fraud
Commons
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, pursuant to the Answer of 15 July 2019 to Question 275665 on universal credit: fraud, what recourse is available to people who without their full knowledge have had their information used to make a fraudulent claim.
A
Answered by: Alok Sharma
Answered on: 22 July 2019

The Department takes benefit fraud very seriously and ensures that all cases are investigated thoroughly.

If a claimant has been the victim of fraud, and has not benefitted financially in any way, they will not be asked to repay the money. The Department considers all cases on their own merits and decisions are made on the strength of the evidence provided.

The Department remains committed to tackling the issue of fraudulent Universal Credit advance claims. We have set up a dedicated team of investigators to work on advances fraud cases, released a campaign on social media to raise awareness and remind people of the importance of safeguarding their identity and have been working with Social Media sites to shut down pages which promote this fraud, having shut down 52 so far.

If any claimant has concerns about the safety of their personal information, they should speak to a member of Jobcentre staff or get help from Action Fraud.

Q
Asked by Chris Ruane
(Vale of Clwyd)
[N]
Close

Named Day

'Named day' questions only occur in the House of Commons. The MP tabling the question specifies the date on which they should receive an answer. MPs may not table more than five named day questions on a single day.

Asked on: 17 July 2019
Department for Work and Pensions
Universal Credit
Commons
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what proportion of claimants of universal credit that have taken an advance payment have seen payments reduced by (a) up to 20 percent (b) between 21 and 30 per cent, (c) 31 to 40 per cent and (d) over 40 percent of the initial amount in each of the last three years.
A
Answered by: Alok Sharma
Answered on: 22 July 2019

Universal Credit (UC) new claim advances provide access to a payment for those in financial need, which can be accessed on the same day, until their first UC payment is due. Claimants can access up to 100% of the total expected monthly award, for which they can pay back over a period of up to 12 months.

The Department has taken a number of steps to ensure that advances meet the needs of claimants and that recovery arrangements are personalised and reasonable. The maximum rate of deductions cannot normally exceed 40 per cent of the Universal Credit standard allowance and does not reduce other components of an award, such as money paid for children, housing or when someone is caring for a severely disabled person. From October 2019 this will be reduced to 30 per cent and from October 2021 we are increasing the maximum recovery period for advances from 12 to 16 months.

However, the Government recognises the importance of safeguarding the welfare of claimants who have incurred debt, so last resort deductions can be applied to protect vulnerable claimants from eviction and/or having their fuel supply (gas/electricity) cut off, by providing a last resort repayment method for arrears of these essential services. In these cases, when it is considered to be in the best interests of the claimant and their family, deductions may be taken above the 40 per cent limit.

If a claimant is in financial difficulty as a result of the level of deductions being made they can contact the Department to request that a reduction in deductions be considered.

The latest available data for eligible claims to UC Full Service is provided in table 1:

Table 1

Month Payment Due

Feb-17

Feb-18

Feb-19

%

%

%

up to 20 percent of Standard Allowance

42%

49%

47%

between 21 and 30 per cent of Standard Allowance

20%

19%

18%

31 to 40 per cent of Standard Allowance

35%

31%

33%

over 40 percent of Standard Allowance

3%

1%

2%

Notes

1. The latest month for which data is available is February 2019.

2. When categorising claims into the groups above, the figures for the percentage of the Standard Allowance for individual claims have been rounded to the nearest percent.

3. Deductions include advance repayments and all other deductions, but exclude sanctions and fraud penalties which are reductions of benefit rather than deductions.

4. A claim can have more than one type of deduction applied to a given payment e.g. the total deduction could be the total of both an advance repayment and another deduction type.

5. Figures are for Universal Credit Full Service only; Universal Credit full service was fully rolled out by the end of 2018.

Q
(Preston)
Asked on: 10 July 2019
Department for Work and Pensions
Social Security Benefits: Fraud
Commons
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what steps her Department is taking to protect the rights and identities of benefit claimants from people making fraudulent claims using other people's identities.
A
Answered by: Alok Sharma
Answered on: 19 July 2019

Most welfare losses, across Government, arise from a failure to report changes of circumstances. Universal Credit provides a single, digital interface through which claimants can more easily report these changes. As such, once Universal Credit is fully rolled out, we expect cross-welfare losses to fraud, error and overpayments to be reduced by around £1 billion.

The Department takes benefit fraud very seriously and is committed to taking appropriate action. We have a dedicated team of investigators working on this issue and are working with the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure that, where appropriate, the perpetrators of this fraud are prosecuted. Prosecutions for benefit fraud can result in prison sentences.

The Department has been working to improve knowledge and awareness of advances fraud amongst Jobcentre and Service Centre staff. Guidance has also been issued to ensure that staff are aware how to refer cases of suspected fraud to the Department’s fraud team.

Q
Asked by Steve McCabe
(Birmingham, Selly Oak)
Asked on: 10 July 2019
Department for Work and Pensions
Universal Credit: Fraud
Commons
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, pursuant to the Answer of 8 July 2019 to Question 272738, what recourse is available to a member of a joint claim whose partner has deliberately prevented them from being made aware of a universal credit advance; and in what circumstances a member of a joint claim who was unaware of an advance of universal credit is no longer liable for repaying that advance.
A
Answered by: Alok Sharma
Answered on: 19 July 2019

Both members of a couple are given individual notice at the time of taking out the advance, via their Universal Credit (UC) journal, which includes the amount of the advance and of their liability to repay the advance. They will also be alerted individually to this UC Journal entry via the contact details provided for each claimant.

The Department will consider all reported cases on their own merits and decisions are made on the strength of any evidence provided.

Q
Asked by Gareth Thomas
(Harrow West)
Asked on: 11 July 2019
Department for Work and Pensions
Welfare Assistance Schemes
Commons
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, if she will establish a nationally funded local welfare assistance scheme similar to the former Discretionary Social Fund; and if she will make a statement.
A
Answered by: Alok Sharma
Answered on: 19 July 2019

The reforms to the Social Fund in 2013 allowed local authorities in England and the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales to deliver their own local provision for people who are in need of urgent help. Local authorities are best placed to decide how to target flexible help to support local welfare needs. The Government has no further plans to review this provision.

Q
Asked by Ian Lavery
(Wansbeck)
Asked on: 09 July 2019
Department for Work and Pensions
Social Security Benefits
Commons
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what assessment she has made of the extent to which people are excluded from unemployment statistics as a result of not being eligible for social security benefits.
A
Answered by: Alok Sharma
Answered on: 17 July 2019

The UK’s official measure of unemployment is produced by the independent ONS and based on the International Labour Organisation’s long-standing definition of unemployment: persons without work, available for work in the next 2 weeks, and who have actively sought work in the last 4 weeks.

The latest available statistics were released by the ONS on 11 June 2019 and show an unemployment rate (for ages 16+) of 3.8% - the lowest since 1974. This statistic is estimated using responses to the Labour Force Survey and is unrelated to a person’s eligibility for social security benefits.

Q
Asked by Neil Coyle
(Bermondsey and Old Southwark)
Asked on: 09 July 2019
Department for Work and Pensions
Flexible Support Fund and Universal Credit
Commons
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what plans her Department has to increase awareness of the (a) universal support and (b) flexible support fund.
A
Answered by: Alok Sharma
Answered on: 17 July 2019

Alongside the Universal Credit telephony and face to face support for non-digital and vulnerable claimants, The Help to Claim service is being delivered from 1 April 2019 by Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland. Some aspects of this were previously delivered by Local Authorities before 31 March 2019 under the name “Universal Support”.

DWP works together with Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland through the Help to Claim partnership to ensure that support is signposted for claimants and partners: this is not a fund but a support offer for claimants making their claim to Universal Credit through to receiving their first payment.

The Flexible Support Fund (FSF) is a discretionary fund that work coaches can use to support eligible claimants to get closer to or move into work. On 11 January 2019, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions announced that the FSF could also be used more widely to pay for upfront childcare costs until the claimant receives their first wage. The availability of this fund is actively promoted in jobcentres and to all claimants who might benefit.

Q
Asked by Chris Ruane
(Vale of Clwyd)
[N]
Close

Named Day

'Named day' questions only occur in the House of Commons. The MP tabling the question specifies the date on which they should receive an answer. MPs may not table more than five named day questions on a single day.

Asked on: 09 July 2019
Department for Work and Pensions
Universal Credit
Commons
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what estimate she has made of the cost to her Department of fraudulent universal credit claims since the roll-out of universal credit.
A
Answered by: Alok Sharma
Answered on: 17 July 2019

The Department is open and transparent about the cost of fraud and error in the benefit system, publishing our National “Fraud and Error in the Benefit System” statistics each year which detail the amount we estimate is lost to both fraud and error across all benefits.

The latest publication to Gov.uk was made on 9 May 2019 and contains estimates of fraud and error in Universal Credit. The publication can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/fraud-and-error-in-the-benefit-system-financial-year-2018-to-2019-estimates

As UC expenditure increases, we would also expect to see an increase in the value of fraud and error. We also expect a further increase as UC involves significantly expanding the Department’s caseload and expenditure to include Tax Credits, which were previously administered by Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs.

The design of UC is expected to lead to a reduction in overpayments across welfare. UC allows us to adjust benefit entitlement in line with changing circumstances in real time. Internal and external data matches are increasingly helping to inform benefit payments and alerting staff to check for any undeclared changes in people’s circumstances.

Q
Asked by Chris Ruane
(Vale of Clwyd)
[N]
Close

Named Day

'Named day' questions only occur in the House of Commons. The MP tabling the question specifies the date on which they should receive an answer. MPs may not table more than five named day questions on a single day.

Asked on: 09 July 2019
Department for Work and Pensions
Universal Credit
Commons
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what estimate she has made of the number of fraudulent universal credit loan claims since the roll-out of those loans.
A
Answered by: Alok Sharma
Answered on: 17 July 2019

Advances are designed to ensure that the most vulnerable claimants receive the money they need to live on during their transition to Universal Credit (UC).

It is important to make clear that the vast majority of claims to UC Advances are legitimate.

As at the end of June 2019, potential fraudulent advance claims equate to less than 1 per cent of all Universal Credit claims.

The Department takes this issue very seriously and will investigate all claims where fraud may have been committed. Indeed, we have set up a dedicated team to investigate this specific type of fraud.

We are also committed to the use of penalties such as prosecutions and tough financial penalties to discourage this fraudulent behaviour.

Q
(Coventry South)
[N]
Close

Named Day

'Named day' questions only occur in the House of Commons. The MP tabling the question specifies the date on which they should receive an answer. MPs may not table more than five named day questions on a single day.

Asked on: 12 July 2019
Department for Work and Pensions
Universal Credit: Fraud
Commons
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what recent steps he is taking to tackle universal credit fraud.
A
Answered by: Alok Sharma
Answered on: 17 July 2019

The Department takes its obligation to prevent, detect and investigate fraud very seriously and will investigate all claims where fraud may have been committed. We have recently set up a dedicated team to investigate a specific type of emergent fraud, and we are also committed to the use of penalties such as prosecutions and tough financial penalties to discourage fraudulent behaviour.

The Department has also recently been working to further improve knowledge and awareness of Universal Credit (UC) fraud amongst Jobcentre and Service Centre staff. Guidance has also been issued to ensure that all staff are aware how to quickly refer cases of suspected fraud to the Department’s Counter-fraud team.

Most welfare losses, across Government, arise from claimants failing to report changes of circumstances. UC provides a single, digital interface through which claimants can more easily report these changes. UC also allows us to adjust benefit entitlement in line with changing circumstances in real time. Internal and external data matches are increasingly helping to inform benefit payments and alerting staff to check for any undeclared changes in people’s circumstances. Once UC is fully rolled out, we expect cross-welfare losses to fraud, error and overpayments to be reduced by around £1 billion per year

As of June 2019, potential fraudulent advance claims equate to less than 1 per cent of all Universal Credit claims.

Q
(Coventry South)
[N]
Close

Named Day

'Named day' questions only occur in the House of Commons. The MP tabling the question specifies the date on which they should receive an answer. MPs may not table more than five named day questions on a single day.

Asked on: 12 July 2019
Department for Work and Pensions
Universal Credit: Proof of Identity
Commons
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what steps he is taking to ensure accurate verification of universal credit claimants who request an advance.
A
Answered by: Alok Sharma
Answered on: 17 July 2019

As of June 2019, potential fraudulent advance claims equate to less than 1 per cent of all Universal Credit claims.

The Department has been working to improve knowledge and awareness of advances fraud amongst Jobcentre and Service Centre staff. Guidance has also been issued to ensure that staff are aware how to refer cases of suspected fraud to the Department’s Counter-fraud team.

We are developing our service iteratively and improving any areas in the service that may currently be presenting issues, to minimise the risk of fraud while ensuring that we can continue to provide financial support to those claimants who need it.

We cannot share advance detail of the specific security improvements we are making but this includes improving our process for verifying a claimant’s circumstances.

Q
(Coventry South)
[N]
Close

Named Day

'Named day' questions only occur in the House of Commons. The MP tabling the question specifies the date on which they should receive an answer. MPs may not table more than five named day questions on a single day.

Asked on: 12 July 2019
Department for Work and Pensions
Universal Credit: Fraud
Commons
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what steps her Department is taking to support victims of universal credit scams.
A
Answered by: Alok Sharma
Answered on: 17 July 2019

The Department takes benefit fraud very seriously and is committed to taking appropriate action when it is detected.

If a claimant has been the victim of fraud, and has not benefitted financially in any way, they will not be asked to repay the money. The Department considers all cases on their individual merits and decisions are made on the strength of the evidence provided.

The Department has been working to improve knowledge and awareness of advances fraud amongst Jobcentre and Service Centre staff. Guidance has also been issued to ensure that staff are aware how to refer cases of suspected fraud to the Department’s Counter-fraud team.

Most welfare losses, across Government, arise from claimants failing to report changes of circumstances, Universal Credit (UC) provides a single, digital interface through which claimants can more easily report these changes. As such, once UC is fully rolled out, we expect cross-welfare losses to fraud, error and overpayments to be reduced by around £1 billion per year.

Q
Asked by Ruth Jones
(Newport West)
Asked on: 08 July 2019
Department for Work and Pensions
Universal Credit: Wales
Commons
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Wales on the roll-out of universal credit.
A
Answered by: Alok Sharma
Answered on: 16 July 2019

The most recent detailed discussion took place on a visit to Wales on 4th April 2019, where the Secretary of State accompanied the Secretary of State for Wales to the Cardiff Charles Street Jobcentre Plus office, where they had a general discussion around Universal Credit.

The roll out of Universal Credit (UC) is now complete and is available in every Jobcentre across the country.

As planned, the testing of moving legacy claimants to Universal Credit will take place in Harrogate and will begin this month. The goal of the pilot is to learn as much as possible and to increase numbers as slowly and gradually as necessary. Testing the system and our processes will allow us to make sure we can provide the best possible service to those claimants who will need to move to Universal Credit from their legacy claim as planned, by the end of 2023.

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