Ministers 'set to reduce' six-week wait for Universal Credit payments

Updated: 

The controversial six-week wait for Universal Credit payments could be cut to five weeks or less, it has been reported.

The Department for Work and Pensions declined to comment on a Sky News report suggesting the change could come early next week, but minister Damian Hinds stressed that the Government was "continually looking to improve the system".

A source close to Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke played down suggestions that he was acting in response to intensive behind-the-scenes discussions with as many as two dozen rebel MPs.

Top 10 constituencies with the most people on Universal Credit
(PA Graphics)

Mr Gauke has been meeting a range of MPs, including many from the new intake who came into Parliament in June, to explain the policy, the source said.

With Chancellor Philip Hammond due to deliver his Budget on November 22, Sky quoted an unnamed "Government source familiar with the plans" as saying there would be "some movement" on the wait time in the early part of next week.

Mr Gauke has previously warned MPs that any reduction in the wait time would have cost implications.

Responding to reports of imminent concessions, Mr Hinds said: "I won't be commenting on Budget speculation but we have made clear that no one has to wait for six weeks before they get their first full payment because they can get an advance which is interest-free and recovered over six months.

3 million households are set to benefit from changes to Universal Credit: https://t.co/sKXWjNUFOipic.twitter.com/dzTNXSWBgW

-- DWP Press Office (@dwppressoffice) April 10, 2017

"We have always said that we are continually looking to improve the system and the bottom line is that Universal Credit is working and getting more people into work."

Universal Credit was the flagship welfare reform of David Cameron's administration, replacing a range of six benefits with a single payment designed to ensure that work always pays.

But it has been mired in delays, and the six-week wait for a first payment has been blamed for forcing many claimants into rent arrears and reliance on food banks.

After starting with pilot areas, the DWP is pressing ahead with the roll-out of Universal Credit across the country despite calls from Labour for a pause, sparking warnings that new claimants could land in money difficulties over the Christmas period.

Frank Field, chairman of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, last month told Mr Hinds that the main food bank in his Birkenhead constituency was seeking 15 tonnes more supplies to cope with the impact of the arrival of Universal Credit over the coming weeks.