More on the Universal Credit Regulations

I’ve been spending more time with the new regulations; there are 496 pages of documents, and I don’t claim to have grasped all the implications. In my previous post I listed several points. Looking through the regulations again, I could see three more issues.

The first concerns the relationship of National Insurance benefits to Universal Credit. While Universal Credit is in payment, it will still be possible for one or both of a couple to claim contribution-based JSA or ESA under the old rules. Notes from the DWP explain that “whilst there are no policy changes the opportunity is being taken to simplify and tidy up the existing provisions.” As these benefits have different eligibility criteria, rules for application and different time-periods for payment, the combined effects are unpredictable, and the result is a hotch-potch.

The second concerns periodicity. Universal Credit is going to be paid monthly in arrears. However, qualifying conditions are generally expressed in days or weeks. The work capacity assessment and availability are subject to weekly earnings (37(2), 80(2), 86(1)); part time work is defined in hours per week (37(6), 80(3), 81); sanctions are expressed in days. Rent free weeks are still being averaged out across a year, so that most people in social housing will not get a rent allowance based on their actual rent.

The third is the extent of discretion. The words “reasonable” or “unreasonable” occur 45 times in the UC draft regulations and 17 times more in the payment regulations. It is difficult to see how this level of administrative discretion can be sustained without an adequate system for redress and appeal.

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