Welsh housing minister Rebecca Evans has warned the secretary of state for work and pensions that Universal Credit is putting financial pressure on vulnerable people.
In a letter to secretary of state Esther McVey, she noted that the increase in food bank use was twice as rapid in areas where Universal Credit has been introduced.
According to the National Audit Office (NAO), food bank use had grown by 30 per cent in 12 months in Universal Credit areas, but only 12 per cent in areas where it had not been rolled out.
Ms Evans described the situation as “extremely worrying”.
She called on Ms McVey to make support more readily available for claimants who have hit financial difficulty or need assistance making digital claims.
“A Universal Credit claimant survey from Esther McVey’s own department shows that four in 10 claimants were experiencing financial difficulties, and that 46 per cent of new Universal Credit claimants need help to make their claim online,” said Ms Evans.
“I have asked the secretary of state to make Universal Support for people who claim Universal Credit available as widely as possible to help those people who are experiencing difficulties in managing their finances, and for those who are struggling with digital access.
“The recent National Audit Office report was clear; local authorities, housing associations and landlords are all seeing an increase in rent arrears since the introduction of Universal Credit.
“This chimes with many concerns raised and reported to me by the housing sector in Wales.”
The letter comes after Ms McVey was criticised by the NAO for making incorrect statements about its report in parliament.
Ms McVey had told MPs that it was “unfortunate [that it] was unable to take into account the significant changes recently implemented in Universal Credit” when compiling its report, saying these changes had addressed many of its concerns.
But auditor general Sir Amyas Morse said the report had been “fully agreed” with DWP officials and was based on the latest information from the department.
Earlier this week the four UK housing federations, including Community Housing Cymru, called for a reform of the Universal Credit system, saying it was already causing “suffering and hardship” for people across the country.
Speaking about today’s letter to Ms McVey, Ms Evans continued: “The National Audit Office highlighted that the system is lacking in ways to identify vulnerable people, which makes it difficult to see how they are getting the right support from the outset when they apply for Universal Credit. I have asked the secretary of state to explain how she plans to rectify this.
“People who are more vulnerable can be offered alternative payment arrangements through Universal Credit, but we are seeing real inconsistencies in the way this is offered to claimants; the Department for Work and Pensions’ own claimant survey indicated that as many as 48 per cent of those surveyed had to request this themselves, rather than being offered it proactively.
“I am deeply concerned about the flaws of Universal Credit, and its impact on the most vulnerable people in Wales, and I will continue to press the UK government on addressing these.”