Letter urges UK-wide benefit strategy.
The devolved administrations have united to call on the UK Government to ensure those who are entitled to financial support are receiving it.
Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has joined Ministers from Wales and Northern Ireland in writing to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Thérèse Coffey, asking to work together to create a benefit take-up strategy.
The devolved nations have also asked the UK Government to make permanent the current £20 a week increase for Universal Credit (UC) and extend it to the benefits which will eventually be replaced by UC, such as Working Tax Credits. The uplift was introduced to help low-income families cope with the extra cost of the COVID-19 outbreak, and is to come to an end in April 2021.
Ms Somerville said: “It’s vital that we make every effort to ensure everyone is aware of and able to access the support available to them.
“Maximising benefit take-up is a moral obligation, especially in these uncertain times when there is clear evidence of increased need for support.
“The £20 uplift was needed before the pandemic, and so it is vital now. People must be given the certainty that it will be made permanent and that they are not facing a cliff edge in a matter of months when this support is pulled.”
The Welsh Government's Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government Hannah Blythyn said:
“The pandemic will cast a long shadow on those who are most in need and has reiterated the importance of a robust financial safety net for individuals and families, ensuring existing funding programmes have the maximum impact on the lives of those in poverty.
"Having a strategic UK approach will ensure that everyone can get the support they need during this difficult time.”
The Scottish Government published its first Benefit Take-up Strategy in October 2019, and will publish the next one by October 2021.
The Welsh Government has outlined steps it will take to maximise the incomes of families living in poverty in its Child Poverty Income Maximisation Action Plan.
Northern Ireland’s benefit take-up initiative Make the Call has generated over £260 million in additional annual benefits for its residents since 2005. It aims to ensure that every individual and household is receiving all the social security benefits and other supports and services to which they are entitled. The most recent results for 2019/20 show that this has benefited just under 10,000 people who are now better off by an average of £88 per person per week.
The Department for Work and Pensions has no published approach to promoting UK benefits or supporting people to access the money which they are due.
Many people need to be in receipt of a DWP benefit in order to claim other benefits – for example the Scottish Child Payment, where eligibility is reliant on receipt of UC, or Pension Credit which means people can claim a Council Tax reduction, or those over 75 qualify for a free TV licence. So it is vital people are aware of what they are entitled to.
The letter can be read in full (see attached).
As part of their Benefit Take-up Report – published 11 March 2020 – the Scottish Parliament’s Social Security Committee recommended that the UK Government develops a strategy that aims to maximise take-up of reserved benefits across the UK.
A report by the National Association of Welfare Rights Advisors, published in September 2020, showed a 40% reduction in claims for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) being made during the pandemic. Almost 90% of those surveyed have never seen a take-up advert for PIP.
Independent Age has called for ‘an ambitious action plan detailing how (the UK government) will work to increase the uptake of Pension Credit over the next five years’. More details here. This follows research which concluded that if Pension Credit take-up was lifted from 61 per cent to 100 per cent, then almost 450,000 pensioners could be lifted out of poverty, reducing pensioner poverty to its lowest ever level, and resulting in substantial savings to the NHS and social care systems over the long term.