‘Huge problem’: Rough sleepers unable to access crucial benefits support

Budget 2021: Sunak announces Universal Credit taper cut

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Certain administrative barriers from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are becoming a “huge problem” for those looking to get financial assistance, according to homelessness charity Lotus Sanctuary. This issue has been compounded by the massive changes to Universal Credit, the most commonly claimed benefit payment, in recent weeks. Earlier this month, the Government went ahead with its plan to reduce Universal Credit payments to claimants by £20 a month.

In response to the pandemic, Chancellor Rishi Sunak introduced the £20 uplift to support struggling households in the early days of the crisis.

Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, Gurpaal Singh Judge, founder and CEO of Lotus Sanctuary, outlined the difficulties many rough sleepers face when interacting with the DWP when it comes to accessing benefits.

Mr Judge specifically highlighted the five week wait claimants face before getting their first Universal Credit payment.

 

He explained: “Before Universal Credit, this was two weeks. The extra three weeks create a huge problem especially when it comes to paying bills and rent.

“We’ve seen people’s debt problems amass due to the five week turnaround in payment which in turn forces a person at risk of homelessness into homelessness.

“Prison leavers experience huge problems, especially given that they are expected to apply for the benefit on the day they leave prison but naturally have no immediate access to the internet.

“A homeless prison leaver trying to access private sector accommodation will be turned away given the five week turnaround in the first payment.

“Many people who have referred to us report that they experience a lack of clarity on the benefits they are entitled to and general confusion from DWP staff around this also.

“A homeless prison leaver trying to access private sector accommodation will be turned away given the five week turnaround in the first payment.

“Many people who have referred to us report that they experience a lack of clarity on the benefits they are entitled to and general confusion from DWP staff around this also.

“Our referrals team say that over half of the people referred into our service are being paid the wrong amount of the benefit and they also struggle to amend this due to lack of customer service from the DWP, as there is no dedicated helpline.

Furthermore, the homelessness expert emphasised the various administrative barriers which prevent the DWP from offering support to those who are most at risk.

Mr Judge said: “The application system is all online, given that a lot of people who need to claim Universal Credit don’t have access to laptops or the internet this causes a further delay in applying.

“Rough sleepers have reported having benefits removed due to not being able to attend early morning appointments.

“The barrier being that a rough sleeper living on the streets with no access to transport is being penalised for not being able to attend an appointment, with no thought or recognition given to their circumstances.

“We’ve heard of rough sleepers being offered appointments at the same time as soup kitchens opening their one hour slot for hot food, leaving the person with the choice of food or benefits.

“Again, just a general lack of knowledge by the DWP of the struggles of the homeless.”

Currently, more than 5.8 million people in England, Scotland and Wales receive some form of Universal Credit payment.

Both people in and out of work can get the payment, with 40 percent of Universal Credit claimants currently in employment.

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