The All Party Parliamentary Group on Universal Credit has published a detailed report on Universal Credit, including something in the region of 50 reasonable proposals to help the system work better. The group has notable expertise in the field, and there is no recommendation I wouldn’t agree with, but I don’t think it goes anything like far enough. The fundamental design flaw, which they point to at the outset, is this:
many claimants say they cannot understand how their UC is worked out, and it is subject to so many variations that it is far harder to budget on UC that it was on tax credits.
That instability of income is built in to the system. Some of the fluctuations would be damped down by the group’s proposals, including modifications to work allowances, a review of the treatment of self-employed people and 53-week years, but they would not prevent the wild fluctuations in the amounts being paid month by month. To stop that happening, the system needs
(a) to make payments on a uniform date, rather than a personalised one which varies with weekends and bank holidays;
(b) routinely to make rental payments direct to landlords, as Housing Benefit did; and
(a) to relate entitlement to a preceding period, rather than the current one. As this report says,
This mismatch of pay cycles and assessment periods and the ‘whole-month’ approach to changes of circumstances, can leave people struggling to budget with unpredictable and arbitrary awards.