Benefits system failure revealed with nearly 7,000 local advance payments made

New figures reveal that East Lothian residents have received nearly 7,000 advance payments totalling more than £2.5 million since Universal Credit began full service, one of the highest anywhere in Scotland.

The data, released in a Freedom of Information request, also reveals that more than 200,000 advances, totalling some £80 million, have been made across the whole of Scotland. In May 2019, there were 184,537 Scots on full service Universal Credit.

Advance payments for Universal Credit were introduced by the Department of Work and Pensions as a mechanism to prevent people falling into hardship during the five-week wait for their first payment.

These latest figures follow reports that scammers are fraudulently claiming advance loans through misuse of the system.

The county’s MSP and MP have warned this latest revelation is yet further evidence that Universal Credit is failing those that it is intended to help.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“As a UC pilot area, East Lothian was one of first places to experience the damaging chaos caused by the new benefit, with hundreds of people driven into further debt and poverty.

“Across the country tens of thousands are still suffering the misery of Universal Credit – made to choose between paying the rent, heating their home or eating. 

“The government should accept its UC system has failed and urgently reform the system to make it fair for all.”

Martin Whitfield MP said:

“It’s beyond belief that over £2.5 million has had to be paid out in advance loan payments for local residents since Universal Credit was rolled out into full service. 

“More and more people are being pushed into hardship – and the system is clearly set up in a way that means it is not helping those who need it. Those on UC shouldn’t be forced into claiming advance payments that have to be paid back.

“The UK government must halt this shambolic system and take immediate steps to fix it and ensure those in greatest need do not lose out.”

The figures emerged in the same week that Martin Whitfield MP is hosting a Universal Credit roundtable event with key local stakeholders to discuss problems with the new system and explore additional ways of supporting people who are struggling with it.