Putting residents’ voices at the centre of changes to Universal Credit

Justin Freeman, 19 June 2020

The coronavirus crisis has placed an array of unique demands on society and one thing is clear – our response must be bold and decisive. If we don’t take every opportunity to challenge ourselves, and others, to do better, we’ll never create the real change we need to improve people’s lives.

The Universal Credit system recently required a huge amount of additional resource to cope with the pressures put upon it from the crisis, and has coped admirably in the circumstances. However, there is clear evidence for the need to improve it further.

We need to use the limited amount of time we have now, before an inevitable future spike in claims when the furlough scheme ends, to make some necessary changes.

We have a responsibility to listen to the experiences of those who have claimed Universal Credit before. We must make sure that residents’ voices are heard in discussions around the future of the benefit. That’s why the NHF’s new report, No Time to Wait, is so timely.

It is a research report that features one of the largest surveys of Universal Credit claimants ever conducted. Conducted jointly by nine housing associations across England, it looks at how the move to Universal Credit impacts people’s lives.

We listened to thousands of claimants – so what do they tell us needs to change?

  1. End the 5-week wait for money.
  2. End the overall Benefit Cap.
  3. Provide adequate funding for advice and support.
  4. Improve communications to claimants from the Department for Work and Pensions.
  5. Ensure that landlords help residents make and maintain a claim.

I am hugely grateful to the residents who took part in this research. They told us, openly and honestly, about the good and the bad, the support they received and the distress they experienced, in the hope they could help make the future better for others. These vital changes will help improve lives and build inclusive, healthy and prosperous communities.

At ForHousing, we understand the value of feedback from tenants. They’ve shaped both our Corporate Plan, and our Group Wellbeing Strategy, and we continue to involve them in how we deliver services and activities. Soon, we’ll be publishing a new Tenant Voice Strategy which will ensure that tenant’s views, as always, will be central to all that we do.

We believe that a stable home is essential for putting down roots in a community and getting the most out of life. We know that financial resources don’t just provide access to food and fuel, but are essential to health and wellbeing, alongside education, training and employment opportunities.

Now is the time to be bold and create change. We must continue to challenge the norm to provide better opportunities for those who need them. We must listen to the voices heard so clearly in ‘No Time to Wait’. It is, simply, the right thing to do.

The NHF is using this new report in their ongoing conversations with government officials, presenting solutions that will improve the experience of claiming Universal Credit. It will also be submitted in evidence to the DWP select committee inquiry on the five-week wait.

I encourage you to use this report in any conversations you are having too – to put residents’ voices at the centre of any changes to Universal Credit.