Public Accounts CommitteeWritten evidence from Citizens Advice Bureau


Citizens Advice’s proposals for what steps the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) needs to take to improve the implementation of universal credit (UC)

Provide clear information on how many people they expect will need support moving onto universal credit and flag up when it will be introduced so that organisations like Citizens Advice can make provisions to support people.

Ensure every aspect of UC is tested before it is rolled out and not rush to meet the 2017 deadline if it means putting its project in danger

Commit sufficient resources to the Local Support Services Framework (LSSF) to help people prepare for UC, make their claims on-line and manage their money better.

Allow people the right to decide whether they want their benefits paid fortnightly for at least the first year as they move to UC.

Allow people the right to decide if they want their rent paid directly to their landlord for at least the first year as they move to UC.


In the year to April 2013, Citizens Advice Bureaux helped people with 2.3 million problems with benefits and 1.9 million problems with debt and related financial support needs. When 8 million households are told by the Government that their benefits are going to be stopped and they need to apply for UC we are therefore likely to be the first place they turn to for help.

The National Audit Office (NAO) report is worrying reading because it is our clients who will suffer if the rollout of UC does not go smoothly.

However, UC is too important a project to abandon just because it has hit difficulties. Citizens Advice has long called for a simpler system for claimants and a benefits system which really makes work pay. We believe that if the Government takes this opportunity to look again at the structure of the new benefit and the support people get moving onto it, then UC could go a long way towards achieving these aims.

Citizens Advice surveyed over 1,700 of our clients who will start to receive Universal Credit from October and asked them whether they felt they would be able to cope with five possible problem areas—budgeting, monthly payments, banking, staying informed and internet access.1

We found that 92% of future Universal Credit recipients said they felt unprepared for the new system in at least one area. 38% will need support with all of the possible problem areas. This is just the first stage of a pilot we are carrying out in three areas (Birmingham, Ynys Mon, North Dorset) to test out how we can support people with these changes.

One big concern is that the planned delay in the start of the national rollout means that more complex cases may be back-loaded and rushed onto UC in time for a 2017 deadline. So far the Government has not announced when they are going to be testing the system on anyone but single people who have no children and do not have any housing costs to pay. These are the people who the system is likely to be simplest for so it would be a mistake for the Government to take too much confidence from finding that 90% of new claims from this group are started online.

The Government has taken the right decision to reassess the rollout of the early stages of UC. It should take its time to reassess how UC is structured and what support people will need. The Government should make sure that every aspect of UC is tested before it is rolled out and not rush to meet the 2017 deadline if it means putting its project in danger.

Specific Comments

Lessons from the Pathfinders

The only people who have been moved on to UC so far are single people who have no children and do not have any housing costs to pay. They are likely to need the least support and be the simplest for people to manage. It would therefore be a mistake for the Government to take too much confidence from finding that 90% of new claims from this group are started online.

Our survey of our clients has shown that 9 out of 10 of those moving onto UC will need some level of support with 66% needing some support claiming on line.2

We are running pilots in three areas to test how prepared people are for UC and how successful our interventions are to help them prepare. We have included the first findings in this brief and will update the committee when more findings come out of the pilots.

According to NAO report the Government is also yet to test many of the computer systems needed for UC to work. We believe that it is vital that both the systems and the more complex cases are tested before a full national rollout.

To be able to pilot more complex cases on the actual real UC IT system will take time. There is a danger that to meet the 2017 deadline the Government will either not test the system properly or backload all the more complex cases into 2017, overloading support services as people struggle to cope with the demand.

The Local Support Services Framework

The Government recognises that some vulnerable people will have difficulties with these changes and has committed to support claimants through Local Support Services Frameworks (LSSF).

The original plan was to publish the framework in October, this was meant to set out how claimants will be supported locally. DWP have said that they will fund these local partnerships to support vulnerable claimants and it is vital that they put in sufficient resources so that everyone who needs help can get it.

The LSSF has now been pushed back and the Government are going to publish a more limited update in October and a fuller framework in Autumn 2014.

CABs will be keen to be part of these partnerships as they already have a successful track record of advising vulnerable people and working with councils and job centres. Bureaux can build on existing partnerships with their local councils, health providers and job centres to prepare for the role out of UC. To be a success, it is vital that Citizens Advice knows what level of support we are expected to provide and when it will be needed in plenty of time to make the necessary preparations.

Getting the support right as people are moving onto the new system will be more cost effective than intervening later once they have got into debt. It would be even more cost effective for the Government to allow people to choose how they receive their benefits so they do not get forced into a position where they get into debt.

Cost effective ways of simplifying the system for claimants and reducing demand for support

This pressure could easily be reduced by allowing claimants to choose whether or not they want to receive their benefit payment more frequently than monthly or have their housing costs paid directly to their landlord. With sufficient support this will only be a temporary measure for most claimants as they are given help to cope with managing under the new model.

Impact of Direct Payments

Our survey of claimants showed that 78% of people on benefits who come to their local CAB are not ready to manage changes in the money they receive.

The Direct Payment Demonstration Projects found that asking people to manage their own rent led to a significant increase in arrears.

Around a quarter of surveyed housing association tenants said they would need support to manage with payment changes. 43% of these wanted a great deal of support, and 70% wanted face to face support.3

The same survey showed that housing association tenants most commonly sought advice about money management, bank accounts or debt problems from CAB. No other source of advice came close.

Despite picking only people who had bank accounts, who were therefore more likely to cope with direct payments, over 20% of those in the housing demonstration projects had to switch back to having their rent paid for them.

Lord Freud said the most “interesting” finding is that it is going to be “quite resource intensive to support tenants”.

When direct payments were introduced to the Private Rental Sector between 2007–2011 people reported to Citizens Advice a significant increase in the number of problems with paying their arrears to private landlords.

Type of problem

Increase from 200708
to 200809

Increase from 200708
to 200910

Increase from 200708
to 201011

Rent arrears to private landords




Housing Benefit




Impact of monthly payments

Our survey showed that 74% of people on benefits who come to their local CAB are not ready to keep track of their money on a monthly basis.

DWP’s own survey showed that 41% of all claimants thought getting benefits paid monthly would make budgeting harder, 10% said it would be easier, 40% said it would be no different.4

Initial evidence from pilots that CABs have been involved in suggest that well designed local support can help people manage their money monthly.

The need to help people make their claims on-line

Our survey showed that 66% of people on benefits who come to their local CAB are not ready to get online to manage a UC account.

According to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, 30% of current claimants would be able to make online claims without support, 33% with some support and 37% would need significant support.5

Tameside is a good example of where a CAB is working closely with their local council to deliver help to get people on line.

Already in some areas CABs are reporting that those claiming Job Seekers Allowance are being told they have to apply on-line even when they lack access to computers and/or computer skills.

Currently the online system for UC does not allow people to save in mid claim. This would cause real problems if this is not fixed before a wider role out.

Jonathan Blay

September 2013

1 gration.htm

2 gration.htm

3 Sources: RR 822 Direct Payments Demonstration Projects: Findings from a baseline survey of tenants in five project areas in England and Wales.

4 RR 800 Work and the welfare system: a survey of benefits and tax credits recipients.


Prepared 6th November 2013