'Flaw' could hit Northern Ireland's working Universal Credit claimants in pocket this Christmas, says charity
A "fundamental flaw" could inflict hardship on Northern Ireland's working Universal Credit claimants this Christmas, an advice charity has warned.
Advice NI has said that employees who are paid early could be affected as they may be treated as receiving two monthly wages in one assessment period, resulting in them being awarded reduced or no Universal Credit payments.
The charity said that this is a "fundamental flaw" which "could inflict hardship on claimants and cause further damage in terms of public confidence in the Universal Credit system".
However, a Department for Communities (DfC) spokesperson denied the issue was a system flaw and said it was "part of the design and build of Universal Credit".
The spokesperson said that anyone who lost money as a result would receive an increase in other months where no money is earned.
"Universal Credit is paid twice monthly in arrears, and is calculated using assessment periods. An assessment period is a period of one month and any income received within that month is used in the calculation of a customer’s Universal Credit entitlement," the spokesperson said.
"Where two sets of earnings are received in one month a customer will receive less benefit to reflect this. However customers will then receive an increase in Universal Credit in those months where no earnings are received."
Advice NI Chief Executive Bob Stronge said that the system would cause claimants stress at Christmas.
"Whilst there may be months with no wage packet and other months with one wage packet which will lead to an increased Universal Credit award, Advice NI believes this issue will undoubtedly lead to claimants having a lack of certainty about finances and will undoubtedly cause distress and hardship for some at Christmas," he said.
The charity said that the process undermines the purpose of Universal Credit.
A judicial review on the issue found that the UK Government "wrongly assumed that where salaries for two different months were received during the same assessment period, the combined salaries from the two months were to be treated as earned income in respect of that assessment period".
The Government's Department for Work and Pensions has been given leave to appeal the decision. A date for the appeal hearing is currently pending.
The Universal Credit benefit was introduced in Northern Ireland in September 2017 for new benefit claimants.
The new system merged six previous benefits into one and has come in for criticism with many recipients complaining of delays in their first payments and cuts to their benefits.
Advice NI would ask anyone who is worried about Universal Credit or any other aspect of welfare reform to contact the independent welfare changes helpline on freephone 0808 802 0020.
Belfast Telegraph Digital