Universal Credit: Government not seeking to define 'vulnerability'
February 5, 2013
The Government said today that vulnerable people will get the support they need under Universal Credit but that it is not seeking to define "vulnerability" for the purposes of administering the new benefit.
The definition of what constituents vulnerable and how it is applied under Universal Credit has been a topic of huge debate since welfare reform minister Lord Freud announced in 2011 that those identified as such will continue to have their housing costs paid directly to their landlord.
Despite calls to "publish a clear definition of vulnerable groups" by the Department for Work and Pensions select committee, the Government said today that "any attempt to do so would risk some people with complex needs falling outside the prescribed definitions".
It said: "As a result full guidance, including financial and vulnerability factors that would trigger a conversation with a claimant about their budgeting needs (including whether they need an alternative payment), will be made available to support staff handling these cases. Third parties including caseworkers and landlords will also be able to make a case for additional budgeting support. We are already working with housing associations about how we can work together to identify these families prior to the introduction of Universal Credit."
On the other two big issues identified by the select committee, digital and financial inclusion, the Government had further updates in its response, including details of plans for WiFi-enabled jobcentres and home visits for those without the internet.
It said it is installing Internet Access Devices (IADs) in Jobcentres to help support those who don't have home access to the internet. At present, 706 sites have had these installed, it said, with a target of providing 2,167 new devices for customers.
It said it was also exploring the idea of providing WiFi access in Jobcentres, as well as having tablets and laptops available for claimant use. The Government wants the main route to access Universal Credit to be through digital channels and sees the reform as a way to tackle digital exclusion.
However, It said today it will offer claimants the option to claim over the phone or in person, or in exceptional circumstances it will use home visits.
On the issue of bank accounts - with the default position to pay the monthly benefit directly into accounts - it said it was "seeking providers who can supply products with extra budgeting functions to support claimants as they move to Universal Credit."
It said: "The Government is continuing to consult financial providers across the private, social and third sectors about the arrangements for these products, including the structure of any payments by Government, and will announce the detailed approach and requirements shortly."
allpay is continuing to explore the possibility of offering budgeting accounts to social tenants under Universal Credit and has been in discussions with the DWP about its plans for new products. Once we receive the update and tender from the DWP, we will have a clearer idea of our position on offering the accounts.
We have launched a survey that seeks to present the sector’s opinions of Universal Credit, how it will impact on the way tenants pay their rent in the future and what processes landlords believe they will have in place by 2017 as a direct result of the reform.
We are aiming to publish the findings at the National Housing Federation's Housing Finance conference next month.