11.On the face of it, Universal Credit (Exceptions to the Requirement not to be receiving Education) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/827) simply clarify the sequence in which decisions must be made for a claim to Universal Credit to be allowed in specific circumstances. The instrument was, however, brought into immediate effect. The reason for the urgency was not fully explained in the Explanatory Memorandum (EM) which said only that it was being brought into immediate effect “because of the need to ensure the continuity of existing policy so as to maintain the effective administration of UC at a time when the Department has considerable capacity constraints because of the need to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
12.We asked the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for a fuller explanation. They declined to explain the urgency, so we wrote to the Minister. The correspondence is set out in Appendix 2.
13.The Minister told us:
“DWP sought to bring the S.I. into force as soon as possible after it had been made and laid to ensure that the regulations met the original policy intent following a decision to concede a claim for judicial review challenging regulation 14(b) of SI 2013/376.”
Contrary to the Minister’s letter, this explanation was not contained in the EM and, had it been, we would have been satisfied and not pressed the department for further explanation.
14.It is deeply regrettable that, in this case, the full explanation was not provided from the outset. It is essential, if we — and the House — are to perform our scrutiny role effectively, that departments should answer the questions we ask on behalf of the House fully, accurately and promptly. Unless this standard is met, the democratic principles of transparency and accountability are compromised and confidence in the government of the day commensurately diminished.
3 Mirrored in Northern Ireland by the Universal Credit (Exceptions to the Requirement not to be receiving Education) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 (SR 2020/SR 166).