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Benefit delivery: Committee publishes Government response

12 July 2016

The Work and Pensions Committee has published the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) response to its report on Benefit delivery, published on 21 December 2015.

View Committee report and the Government's response

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee said:

"We note that the DWP took six months to respond to this report, the central point of which was about delivering the correct benefits on time, and the hardship that is caused by delays.This response is very timely in one sense though, in that the NAO has just reported that total underpayments have increased to their highest level to date.

The DWP has said it considers setting a target for reducing underpayments unnecessary despite our recommendation, and same recommendation by the Public Accounts Committee. That low income people and families struggling to make ends meet were underpaid £1.8 billion in benefits last year strongly suggests otherwise.

The Auditor General has also refused to sign off the Department’s accounts for the 24th year running, at least partly due to unacceptably high levels of benefits error. We welcome the additional pledges DWP has made but will be watching to make sure they act on them."

Background

The Work and Pensions Committee's report on benefit delivery says that  the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) must redouble its efforts to remedy benefits delays and mistakes, including setting a new target for reducing underpayments.

Over the last five years, the Department has undertaken a series of ambitious reforms to the welfare system against a backdrop of cuts to its administration and programme funding. The Department expects Universal Credit to simplify the benefit system, but it will not be fully implemented for several years and has already been subject to repeated delays.

The Committee siad:

"It has been difficult to hold DWP to account on benefit delays because of a lack of available data. DWP should immediately produce at least ESA Work Capability Assessment and Mandatory Reconsideration clearance time statistics, and Short-Term Benefit Advance application statistics.

DWP should immediately set a target for reducing underpayments, which can have an enormous impact on claimants and their ability to pay for essentials, especially since it has had a target for reducing overpayments since 2010

The DWP expects Universal Credit, its flagship reform, to simplify the benefit system and make it less open to mistakes. However this inquiry has flagged up the limitations to Universal Credit in improving benefit delivery, including the impact of "built-in delays" to a claimant's initial payment.

At any rate, Universal Credit will not be fully implemented for several years and it has already been subject to repeated delays. Until it is fully implemented, DWP must not neglect the delivery of "legacy benefits", which some claimants will receive for at least another 6 years.”