1.MPs’ postbags are filled with letters and emails from constituents who are struggling to access benefits. In many cases, the individuals we hear from are entitled to benefit support but encounter delays and errors before they receive their payment. Examples can be found throughout this report. The evidence we received for this inquiry suggests that these cases are not isolated but demonstrate difficulties regularly experienced by claimants.
2.In this inquiry, we did not seek to question the merits or adequacy of particular benefits or which groups of people should be eligible for them. We simply investigated whether people receive what the system intends them to in a timely and accurate fashion and, if not, what should be done about it. We describe the timeliness and accuracy of payments as “benefit delivery”.
3.Over the last five years, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP or the Department) has undertaken a series of ambitious reforms to the welfare system against a backdrop of cuts to its administration and programme funding. This pattern, which is undoubtedly a challenge, is set to continue over the next five years. Our concern is that the basic day-to-day delivery of benefits should not be neglected in drives for efficiency and change.
4.The Department’s flagship reform, Universal Credit (UC), has been hailed as the solution to a wide range of problems in the welfare system, including over-complication and error. Even the most fervent proponents of UC do not, however, expect it to solve all problems of benefit delivery, not least because it will not replace all working age benefits. It is also no immediate answer: the programme has been subject to repeated delays and even on the current timetable some claimants face another six years on what the Minister for Welfare Reform described as a “carbunclised benefit system”.
5.This Report sets out major problems with benefit delivery and recommends changes to address those problems. In addition, we have made recommendations where we think there are further opportunities to improve delivery as part of Universal Credit. We would like to thank everyone who assisted us with this inquiry. Our conclusions are set out in bold type and our recommendations, to which the Government is required to respond, are set out in bold italic type.
1 NAO, , HC77, May 2015
2 (Lord Freud, Minister for Welfare Reform)
Prepared 18 December 2015