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Universal credit pilot protests over DWP failings

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Great Yarmouth BC has told work and pensions secretary Damian Green that it should not have been chosen as a universal credit pilot due to its high deprivation levels.

It also said housing benefit should be removed from the pilot unless the Department for Work & Pensions’ handling of the controversial programme improved.

The council’s move came just before chancellor Philip Hammond used his autumn statement yesterday to cut the universal credit taper rate from 65% to 63%, allowing recipients in work to keep more of their earnings before their benefits start to reduce.

Mr Hammond also said the government had no plans to introduce further welfare savings measures in this parliament beyond those already announced.

Great Yarmouth leader Graham Plant (Con) and all three opposition group leaders wrote in a letter to Mr Green: “We would like to know why Great Yarmouth was chosen as a pilot area for universal credit, given that the borough has wards with some of the highest deprivation levels in the country.

“It would have been more appropriate to test the rollout in an area where there are fewer socio-economic challenges.”

The council said it had been adversely affected by a lack of communication and timely decisions from the DWP.

If the department’s performance did not improve “we request that the housing benefit element of universal credit be immediately suspended from the go-live system until the communication process can be resolved”.

Both the council’s housing department and private landlords had seen significant increases in rent arrears when credit payments to tenants were late, the letter said.

It added that homeless people’s needs were ill-suited to the universal credit regime and said they should be excluded from it.

A DWP spokesman said: “The reasons for rent arrears are complex and to link it to welfare reform is misleading.

“Universal credit is transforming lives with people moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the previous system. It is designed to mirror the world of work by giving people responsibility over their lives, and paying housing benefit directly to claimants is an important part of this process.”

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