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Written Question
Universal Credit
25 Nov 2021

Questioner: Barry Sheerman (LAB - Huddersfield)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what recent estimate her Department has made of the effect of ending the £20 uplift to universal credit on the levels of in-work poverty.

Answered by David Rutley

It is not possible to produce a robust estimate of the impact of removing the temporary £20 uplift on levels of in-work poverty. Projecting the impacts of policies on poverty involves projecting forward the impact of the pandemic on every household’s income which is not possible to do with confidence, not least because the latest comprehensive data on net incomes for households is from 2019-20, before the pandemic began.

With the success of the vaccine rollout and in the context of record job vacancies, we are committed to helping people get back into work and to progress in their careers. This approach is based on clear evidence about the importance of employment, particularly where it is full-time, in substantially reducing the risks of poverty. Our multi-billion-pound Plan for Jobs, which has recently been expanded by £500 million, will help people across the UK to find work and to boost their wages and prospects.

We are taking decisive action to make work pay by cutting the Universal Credit taper rate from 63p to 55p, and increasing Universal Credit work allowances by £500 per annum. This is essentially a tax cut for the lowest paid workers, worth around £2.2 billion in 2022-23 and means that 1.9m households will keep, on average, around an extra £1,000 on an annual basis. These changes are combined with a rise in the National Living Wage to £9.50 per hour.


Written Question
Food Poverty: Children
25 Nov 2021

Questioner: Barry Sheerman (LAB - Huddersfield)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, (a) what assessment he has made of the adequacy of the Government's steps to end child food poverty and (b) if he will make it his policy to expand free school meals eligibility to include more children.

Answered by Will Quince

This government is committed to supporting those on low incomes and continues to do so through many measures, such as spending over £111 billion on welfare support for people of working age in 2021/22.

As our recovery gathers pace and with record vacancies, our focus is now on continuing to support parents progressing into work. This is because we know that work, particularly where it is full-time, substantially reduces the risks of child poverty and improves long-term outcomes for families and children. Our multi-billion-pound Plan for Jobs, which has recently been expanded by £500 million, will help people across the UK to find work and to boost their wages and prospects.

We recognise that some people may require extra support over the winter as we enter the final stages of recovery, which is why vulnerable households across the country will be able to access a new £500 million support fund to help them with essentials. The Household Support Fund will provide £421 million to help vulnerable people in England with the cost of food, utilities and wider essentials. The Barnett Formula will apply in the usual way, with the devolved administrations receiving almost £80 million (£41 million for the Scottish Government, £25 million for the Welsh Government and £14 million for the Northern Ireland Executive), for a total of £500 million.

To support low income families further, we have increased the value of Healthy Start food vouchers from £3.10 to £4.25, helping eligible low income households buy basic foods like milk, fruit and vitamins. We are also investing over £200 million a year from 2022 to continue our Holiday Activities and Food programme which is already providing enriching activities and healthy meals to children in all English local authorities.

We support over 1.7 million pupils from the lowest income families to concentrate, learn, and achieve in the classroom through the provision of free school meals. An additional 1.3 million infants receive a free meal under the universal infant free school meals policy

Under this government, eligibility for free school meals (FSM) has been extended several times.

In 2018, the government introduced new eligibility criteria for families on Universal Credit, following a consultation in 2017. It was estimated that this will be more generous in its reach by 2022, in comparison to the legacy benefit system. We included generous protections, which mean any family eligible for FSM transitioning to Universal Credit from a legacy benefit will continue to have access to FSM even if they move above the earnings threshold.


Written Question
Social Security Benefits: Migrants
25 Nov 2021

Questioner: Stuart C McDonald (SNP - Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what steps she is taking to ensure that EU citizens with status and British citizens living in the UK who have received letters from the Department stating that they must apply for immigration status, following the UK's departure from the EU, within 28 days or their benefits will stop, do not have their entitlements terminated.

Answered by David Rutley

Following the end of the grace period on 30 June 2021, EU, EEA and Swiss citizens have been required to have a valid UK immigration status in order to access non-contributory benefits, such as Universal Credit.

As part of our extensive efforts to contact all those believed to be without status, people naturalised as British citizens, Irish citizens or with an existing valid immigration status may have received letters asking them to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS). The letters urged people with an immigration status to contact DWP to confirm their status and no action was taken with respect to their benefit payments as a consequence of receiving these letters.

We have since updated our data lists to ensure people with an existing immigration status do not receive further correspondence. No action will be taken to suspend or terminate the benefits of people with a valid immigration status.

The Department’s extensive engagement with this cohort, including targeted letters, outbound calls, SMS text messages, digital journal messages, face to face appointments and home visits, has been to ensure that people acquire the correct status and maintain their benefit entitlement by doing so.

Before suspending a claim, DWP officials will seek information on the customer’s immigration status held by the Home Office and contact the customer themselves to determine whether or not an individual holds a valid immigration status, or has applied to the EU Settlement Scheme. These steps are repeated at the termination stage, to ensure claims are not closed for individuals who hold a valid immigration status.


Written Question
Social Security Benefits: EU Nationals
25 Nov 2021

Questioner: Jonathan Reynolds (LAB - Stalybridge and Hyde)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, whether the EU citizens with Settled Status who were recently informed in error that they would lose their benefits have been contacted by her Department and given assurances about their entitlement.

Answered by David Rutley

Following the end of the grace period on 30 June 2021, EU, EEA and Swiss citizens have been required to have a valid UK immigration status in order to access non-contributory benefits, such as Universal Credit.

As part of our extensive efforts to contact all those believed to be without status, people naturalised as British citizens, Irish citizens or with an existing valid immigration status may have received letters asking them to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS). The letters urged people with an immigration status to contact DWP to confirm their status and no action was taken with respect to their benefit payments as a consequence of receiving these letters.

We have since updated our data lists to ensure people with an existing immigration status do not receive further correspondence. No action will be taken to suspend or terminate the benefits of people with a valid immigration status.

Individuals wishing to evidence their eligibility for benefits should contact DWP and/or HMRC as appropriate to their individual circumstances.

When considering whether or not to suspend a claim, DWP officials will seek information on the customer’s immigration status held by the Home Office and contact the customer themselves to determine whether or not an individual holds a valid immigration status, or has applied to the EUSS. These steps are repeated at the termination stage, to ensure that no claims are closed for individuals who hold a valid immigration status.


Written Question
Children: Poverty
25 Nov 2021

Questioner: Chi Onwurah (LAB - Newcastle upon Tyne Central)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what assessment her Department has made of trends in child poverty rates throughout the covid-19 outbreak in (a) Newcastle upon Tyne Central constituency and (b) the North East; and what steps the Government is taking to reduce child poverty.

Answered by David Rutley

Official child poverty statistics, covering the period 2020/21 in (a) Newcastle-upon-Tyne and (b) the North East, will be published in March 2022, as part of the Department’s (a) Children In Low Income Families and (b) Households Below Average Income publications, subject to the usual checks on data quality.

This Government is committed to supporting low-income families, including through spending over £110 billion on welfare support for people of working age in 2021/22 and by increasing the National Living Wage by 6.6% to £9.50 from April 2022.

In addition, Universal Credit recipients in work will soon benefit from a reduction in the Universal Credit taper rate from 63% to 55%, while eligible in-work claimants will also benefit from changes to the Work Allowance. These measures represent an effective tax cut for those on low incomes of around £2.2 billion in 2022-23, and will benefit almost two million of the lowest paid workers by £1000 a year on average.

Our multi-billion-pound Plan for Jobs, which has recently been expanded by £500 million, will help people across the UK to find work and to boost their wages and prospects.

We recognise that some people may require extra support over the winter as we continue our recovery from the impacts of the Covid pandemic, which is why vulnerable households will be able to access a new £500 million support fund to help them with essentials. This includes £421 million for the Household Support Fund, which will help vulnerable people in England with the cost of food, utilities and wider essentials. Newcastle Upon Tyne Council are receiving £2,898,403.85 of this funding.

We have also increased the value of Healthy Start Food Vouchers from £3.10 to £4.25, helping eligible low income households buy healthy foods such as milk, fruit and vitamins, and are investing over £200m a year from 2022 to extend our successful Holiday Activities and Food programme, which provides enriching activities and healthy meals to children in all Local Authorities in England.


Written Question
Long Covid: Disability
24 Nov 2021

Questioner: Mohammad Yasin (LAB - Bedford)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what assessment she has made made of the potential merits of classifying Long Covid as a disability, for the purposes of giving employment protections under the Equality Act 2010 to affected people.

Answered by Chloe Smith

‘Long Covid’ is not classed as a disability. COVID is still a relatively new condition and work is ongoing to understand its long-term effects. Making such a determination would therefore be premature.

As research into the long-term health symptoms and impacts of COVID-19 is ongoing, we will continue to monitor and consider the Government’s support provisions and approach in line with the emerging evidence.

As part of the Government's response to the pandemic, individuals may be eligible for SSP where they are sick or self-isolating due to coronavirus, including where they have tested positive for coronavirus but otherwise feel well. Statutory Sick Pay is payable from the first day of sickness absence from work, rather than the fourth, where an individual is self-isolating due to coronavirus. The usual eligibility criteria continue to apply.

If an individual requires further financial support while off work sick, for example where their income is reduced while on Statutory Sick Pay, they may be able to claim Universal Credit depending on their personal circumstances. Where they are not eligible, for example because they earn below the Lower Earnings Limit, they may also be able to claim New Style Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit.


Written Question
Private Rented Housing
24 Nov 2021

Questioner: Damien Moore (CON - Southport)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what steps her Department plans to take to help ensure that (a) managed payments to landlords are paid in full in a timely manner and (b) universal credit claimants do not enter rent arrears as a result of payment delays.

Answered by David Rutley

The Universal Credit payment structure is a fundamental part of its design. It mirrors the world of work, where people are paid money directly which they may then put towards housing costs. Ensuring similarities between paid employment and receiving benefits removes an important barrier which could prevent claimants from moving into paid employment. For those who cannot manage their single monthly payment, Alternative Payment Arrangements, and more specifically a Managed Payment to Landlord, is available at the start, or at any point during a Universal Credit claim. Such arrangements can be requested by either the claimant or the landlord and are considered on a case by case basis.

The vast majority of managed payments to landlords are paid on the same date as the claimant is paid their Universal Credit monthly award. Payment timeliness is usually dependent on claimants completing their commitments within the set time frame as instructed by DWP. Claimants are notified to complete any outstanding action via their preferred choice of communication, i.e. journal message/text, to ensure there are no delays in payment. If claimants have any further concerns, they may phone the Universal Credit helpline or speak to their work coach.

All Universal Credit claimants have the opportunity to discuss any concerns about how to budget their monthly payments with their work coach and/or via their Universal Credit Journal. Work coaches will identify any financial issues the claimant has and signpost claimants to any relevant local face-to-face provision or support that is available, as appropriate.


Written Question
Water Direct Scheme
24 Nov 2021

Questioner: Liz Twist (LAB - Blaydon)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, if he will make an assessment of the potential merits of expanding the Water Direct scheme; and if he will ensure that that scheme enables customers to pay water bills through deductions from universal credit regardless of whether they are in debt with water chargers.

Answered by Rebecca Pow

Water Direct is not intended as a budgeting tool or an alternative method of paying bills for those receiving benefit.

All water companies offer WaterSure and social tariffs to help reduce bills for households who struggle to pay their bills in full. Water companies also offer a range of financial support measures to assist households to better manage their budgets including payment holidays, bill matching, benefit entitlement checks and money/debt advice referral arrangements.


Written Question
Refugees: Afghanistan
23 Nov 2021

Questioner: Ben Everitt (CON - Milton Keynes North)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what progress she is making to (a) backdate benefit payments to Afghan refugees and (b) reduce the delay in payments to those refugees.

Answered by David Rutley

The Department has played a key role in Operation Warm Welcome, including legislating to exempt those arriving under the Afghan relocation and resettlement schemes from the usual residency tests, which restrict access to certain benefits for arrivals to the UK, including Universal Credit. This means that eligible individuals will meet the residency requirements and are able to access benefits when they arrive in the UK.

DWP work coaches have supported all those in bridging hotels who need to make a claim, with currently over 2,900 claims for Universal Credit on the caseload, which covers roughly 4,500 claimants (families are treated as a single claim).

Immediately after a claim for Universal Credit has been taken, the full support of the Department is available, including job searches and training, as well as other support. The Home Office have issued cash cards to those arriving under the Afghan relocation and resettlement schemes for expenses until such time as their first Universal Credit payments, meaning those relocated are supported financially as soon as they enter the UK.

Accommodation and meals are paid for, as well as the provision of other additional essential items for those in bridging hotels, such as nappies, baby food/milk and toiletries including women’s sanitary products.

As for those who were placed in local authority accommodation before claiming Universal Credit, the local authorities will provide financial support, including weekly cash support up until the first Universal Credit payment.


Written Question
Children: Day Care
23 Nov 2021

Questioner: Tulip Siddiq (LAB - Hampstead and Kilburn)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what plans her Department has to introduce a non-repayable childcare grant for parents on low incomes entering work on a similar basis to the measure introduced in Northern Ireland in October 2021.

Answered by David Rutley

In England, Scotland and Wales, help with upfront childcare costs for starting work is available on a discretionary basis through a non-repayable Flexible Support Fund award for eligible Universal Credit claimants. This is a payment that covers costs until the claimant receives their first salary, up to the prescribed limits.

Universal Credit childcare costs provide more generous childcare support than was available under Tax Credits, reimbursing up to 85% of eligible childcare costs.

The childcare offer in England provides 15 hours a week of free childcare for all three and four year olds and disadvantaged two year olds, doubling to 30 hours a week for working parents of three and four year olds.

By comparison, the less generous Northern Ireland funded pre-school education offer provides 4.5 hours per day, 5 days per week during term time, and is available to parents of three and four year olds in their immediate pre-school year.

In light of the current childcare offers available in Great Britain, there are no plans to introduce a similar measure to that in Northern Ireland.


Written Question
Social Security Benefits: Overpayments
22 Nov 2021

Questioner: Colleen Fletcher (LAB - Coventry North East)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what estimate she has made of the number of people affected by administrative errors made by her Department which led to the overpayment of benefits in each of the last five years.

Answered by David Rutley

Ensuring benefit correctness is a DWP priority and we are focused on paying people their correct entitlement from the outset of a claim. Indeed, despite a period when we have faced the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19, fraud and error in the benefits system remains low, with 95% of benefits, worth more than £200 billion, paid correctly in 2020/21.

In line with this commitment to correctness, we operate a Quality Assurance Framework, which sets out the Department’s quality controls in relation to official error. This includes an assurance regime where levels are measured and reported monthly, with lessons learnt helping deliver continuous improvement.

The following table, taken from our National Statistics on Fraud and Error in the Benefit System, shows the percentage of cases overpaid Universal Credit (UC) as a result of Official Error for the Financial Year Ending (FYE) 2017 to FYE 2021.

Financial Year

% of cases overpaid UC as a result of Official Error

2016/2017

4.9%

2017/2018

5.3%

2018/2019

5.7%

2019/2020

4.1%

2020/2021

2.2%

The National Statistics on Fraud and Error also show that Universal Credit Official Error as a percentage of benefit expenditure fell in 2020/21, from 1.3% to 0.9%.

Further information on fraud and error in the benefits system can be found in the Department’s annual statistical publication at:

Fraud and error in the benefit system: financial year 2020 to 2021 estimates - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Where Official Error overpayments do occur, the introduction of the 2012 Welfare Reform Act means that all overpayments of Universal Credit, including cases where the overpayment is a result of Official Error, are recoverable.

Where recovery is made by deduction from Universal Credit, there is a limit placed on the overall amount that can be deducted. Formerly 40% of the Universal Credit Standard Allowance, this was reduced from 30% to 25% in April 2021. Moreover, a priority order is applied, which determines the order in which deductions can be made. ‘Last resort’ deductions, such as rent or fuel costs, are at the top of the priority.

Anyone with overpayment deductions who does experience financial hardship is encouraged to contact the Department’s Debt Management unit. Where a person cannot afford the

proposed rate, a lower amount can be negotiated.

*Note that the data supplied in this response is derived from unpublished management

information which was collected for internal Departmental use only and has not been quality assured to National Statistics or Official Statistics publication standard. The data should therefore be treated with caution.


Written Question
Food Poverty
22 Nov 2021

Questioner: Colleen Fletcher (LAB - Coventry North East)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what steps her Department is taking to tackle levels of food poverty in (a) Coventry North East constituency, (b) Coventry, (c) the West Midlands and (d) England.

Answered by David Rutley

This Government is wholly committed to supporting low-income families by spending over £110 billion on welfare support for people of working age in 2021/22 and by increasing the National Living Wage by 6.6% to £9.50 from April 2022.

With the success of the vaccine rollout and record job vacancies, our focus now is on continuing to support people into and to progress in work. Our multi-billion-pound Plan for Jobs, which has recently been expanded by £500 million, will help people across the UK to find work and to boost their wages and prospects.

In addition, Universal Credit recipients in work will soon benefit from a reduction in the Universal Credit taper rate from 63% to 55%, while eligible in-work claimants will also benefit from changes to the Work Allowance. These measures represent, for the lowest paid in society, an effective tax cut of around £2.2 Billion in 2022-23, and will benefit almost two million of the lowest paid workers by £1000 a year on average.

We recognise that some people may require extra support over the winter as we enter the final stages of recovery from the impacts of the Covid pandemic, which is why vulnerable households across the country will now be able to access a new £500 million support fund to help them with essentials. This includes £421 million for the Household Support Fund, which will help vulnerable people in England with the cost of food, utilities and wider essentials. Coventry City Council are receiving £3,224,222.30 of this funding.

To support low income families further we have also increased the value of Healthy Start Food Vouchers from £3.10 to £4.25, helping eligible low income households buy basic foods like milk, fruit and vitamins, and we are investing over £200m a year from 2022 to continue our Holiday Activities and Food programme, which is already providing enriching activities and healthy meals to children in all Local Authorities in England.


Written Question
Universal Credit: Harrogate
22 Nov 2021

Questioner: Helen Hayes (LAB - Dulwich and West Norwood)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, with reference to her oral contribution of 8 November 2021, Official Report, column 8, if she will publish the learnings from the pilot work on the managed migration from legacy benefits to universal credit that took place in Harrogate.

Answered by David Rutley

I refer the Hon Member to the answer I gave on 1st November to question number 64687.


Written Question
Universal Credit: Harrogate
22 Nov 2021

Questioner: Helen Hayes (LAB - Dulwich and West Norwood)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, with reference to her oral contribution of 8 November 2021, Official Report, column 8, how the Harrogate pilot informed the Government's plan on resuming the managed migration to universal credit.

Answered by David Rutley

I refer the Hon Member to the answer I gave on 1st November to question number 64687.


Written Question
Flexible Support Fund
22 Nov 2021

Questioner: Tulip Siddiq (LAB - Hampstead and Kilburn)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, how many parents have been granted payments through the Flexible Support Fund to pay for (a) the full upfront cost of childcare or (b) part of those costs when they entered employment in England and Wales in the last 12 months.

Answered by Mims Davies

The information requested is not collated centrally and could only be provided at disproportionate cost.

The Department is fully committed to supporting parents moving into work and improving their earnings once employed. Universal Credit pays up to 85% of childcare costs for working parents, compared to 70% in legacy benefits, and childcare costs can be claimed up to a month before starting a job.

In cases where people need to pay for childcare upfront, prior to starting work, Work Coaches may be able to use the Flexible Support Fund for eligible claimants to meet these costs until their first wage is received. Budgeting advances are also available to eligible claimants who require help with upfront costs, for example when altering hours worked or changing childcare providers.