Policy in Practice was founded to make government policy, and in particular the welfare system, easier to understand.

More than a decade on from the white paper introducing Universal Credit, and ahead of the launch of a Bright Blue’s new Commission on Social Security, Deven Ghelani looks at one person’s journey through the welfare system and whether it has become easier for claimants to navigate. You can access the original Twitter Thread and follow Deven Ghelani here.

So… I helped someone with their #UniversalCredit application in March and I thought I would use it to reflect on what’s changed (and what hasn’t) in the benefit system in the last ten years or so…

(TL:DR – Not enough)

Most you will know I got interested in the benefit system as a claimant myself. I found the legacy system to be complex, confusing and changing all of the time.

Sadly, I found this to be still too true today. This makes it hard for people to make the best decisions.

The person I was helping I’ll call ‘S’, she is a carer working ~16+ hours a week. Her rent is £740, she pays £70 and Housing Benefit picks up the rest, or it did…

In 2017, her Housing Benefit fell to £625 / month due to combination of higher earnings and overpayments.

This left her with a monthly shortfall of ~£45+ / month.
She wasn’t told, and received an arrears statement in March 2021 for £2,770.

‘How am I supposed to pay that’? she asked.

How was she supposed to know about DHPs?

I called Housing Options and was redirected to an online form which I helped her to complete. She was told she would be called back in ten days. This didn’t happen.

She used @policy_practice‘s benefit calculator and was told she would be better off under Universal Credit.

I still had to to encourage her to apply for #UniversalCredit … and wish she had come to me a year earlier!

S’s claim was cancelled and was unable to confirm her identity. She wasn’t notified until I checked back in with her a week later. 6/n (GOV.UK/Verify)

We reapplied.

S will be notified on April 27th and paid on May 1st. Her rent is due on the 22nd. I explained that it is her responsibility to pay her rent. She doesn’t want to take an advance. We are counting on her landlord being understanding.

So what did I learn?

1. The drivers of needing support are still complex.

In this case it was an arrears statement, but overall people rely on the benefit system for reasons outside of their control, and find out about the need to access support far too late.

Universal Credit has improved things (the claim itself was straightforward, and helped S to access more support) but can still improve.

A myriad of cuts in support cause hardship and drive demand for advice. Support grants are confusing and inaccessible to too many. 9/n

Our work @policy_practice can improve – it needs to reach people earlier and give them the confidence to act, as well as advising them on what to do.

Changes coming on this front. Huge thanks to @nesta_uk #rapidrecoverychallenge and @trustforlondon for their support.

A decade ago the benefit system was complex, confusing and difficult to understand.

This is sadly still too true today.

Arbitrary policies need to be reviewed and a true baseline of support established – and fast.

We’ll post an update to this story in May to let you know how S’s Universal Credit application and support from the local authority turns out.

Next steps

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To learn more about the new Commission on Social Security visit Bright Blue here.

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