Research report on the claimant experience of Universal Credit – and how to improve it

19 June 2020

This research report features one of the largest surveys of Universal Credit claimants ever conducted. The survey, conducted jointly by nine housing associations across England, looks at how the move to Universal Credit impacts people’s lives. It was conducted prior to the coronavirus crisis but offers useful lessons for policymakers and landlords about the experience of the claim process and how it could be improved.

Key findings

  • The vast majority of claimants did not have any money saved to live on over the five-week waiting period, meaning that many had to borrow money. While the advance payment is available and around half of our sample claimed it, we found that many were not aware of it. As a result, borrowing from family and friends was more common. There is no reason to believe that those who claimed during the current crisis did not do the same, meaning the impact of their job loss may reach to their friends and family as well.
  • There was a very high incidence of struggling to afford necessities following the claim, as well as alarmingly high levels of high-interest borrowing. Most claimants had a deduction of some kind and these can be a particular cause of financial difficulty, despite changes to make them less punitive.
  • Many claimants reported that the experience of claiming Universal Credit worsened, or in some cases even triggered, health conditions. Most notably this was mental health concerns such as depression or anxiety, but some also reported physical health problems.
  • The vast majority of claimants made their claim as soon as their circumstances changed. Of the minority that did delay, the most common explanation was that they didn’t know what to do. This suggests that delayed claims due to negative perceptions of Universal Credit are probably not a major driver for the increase in rent arrears observed by landlords.
  • Claimant satisfaction both with Universal Credit and with the landlord’s support services is mostly driven by responsive and helpful support services.

Based on this research we make the following recommendations for the government and landlords:

  • End the five-week wait for money.
  • Make sure people have enough to live on.
  • Provide adequate funding for advice and support on how to claim Universal Credit and eligibility criteria.
  • Improve the effectiveness of communication from the DWP.
  • Landlords should support residents to make and manage their claim as well as inform them of all the support available.

Further information on these recommendations are detailed in the full report.

We will use this report in our ongoing conversations with government officials, presenting solutions that will improve experience of claiming Universal Credit. It will also be submitted in evidence to the DWP select committee inquiry on the five-week wait.

On top of this research, have been running short surveys to monitor the impact of coronavirus on rent arrears and any relationship this may have with Universal Credit. If you would like to find out how you can participate in the next one, contact Anya on the details below.