Parliamentary committee enquiry into Universal Credit payments and domestic abuse

By agency reporter
March 27, 2018

The Work and Pensions Committee has launched a short inquiry into the impact of the way Universal Credit payments are made, as a single payment to a whole household, on survivors of domestic and financial abuse.

Under the rules for applying for Universal Credit (UC) couples must make a joint claim, and receive a single payment monthly into one account. The couple nominates the account they would like payments to be made into when they begin their claim.

Several organisations have raised concerns that this system gives abusive partners further opportunity to exert financial control over their spouse.

Withholding of funds by the paid partner can make it more difficult for victims of abuse to access money to meet their own and their children's needs, and to leave abusive relationships. Refuge reports that one in five women and one in seven men experience this type of 'financial abuse'. Disabled people are more likely to be affected. 

Survivors of domestic abuse can request their payments be made separately as part of the Alternative Payment Arrangements option. The guidance given to the staff deciding claims, Work Coaches,  states that split payments should only be considered in cases where the claimant  notifies DWP of financial mismanagement, financial abuse or domestic abuse. Whether this request is granted is at Work Coaches' discretion.

Women's Aid suggests that applying for separate payments forces survivors to disclose abuse, which can put them at risk.  When separate payments are approved, partners are notified of the change on their online account and monthly payments are halved. The partner can also then request that the single monthly payment is reinstated. 85 per cent of domestic abuse survivors Women's Aid surveyed said that requesting separate payments would worsen the abuse at home.

This inquiry aims to consider the effects of single household payments in Universal Credit on survivors of domestic and financial abuse. The Committee would like particularly  to hear about how easy it is for victims of abuse to access separate payments, and possible recommendations for improvement

The Committee welcomes written submissions on any or all of the following questions:

  • What is the nature and scale of the issue?
  • Are some groups of claimants more likely to be affected? How can this be addressed?
  • How could access to separate payments be made easier for survivors of domestic abuse?
  • How should separate payments be explained to the non-requesting partner? Should they be able to request a return to joint payments?
  • What process could be put in place to ensure claimants who request separate payments are protected from further harm?
  • Should there be a time limit on separate payments? If so, what kind of time-frame should that be?
  • Should Jobcentre staff pro-actively offer separate payments? In what circumstances would this be appropriate?
  • What more could be done to protect disabled claimants from financial abuse under UC?
  • Are proposals to make payments separate by default a good idea? How should payments be split?

If you have experienced domestic abuse whilst on Universal Credit, or are currently claiming tax credits and concerned about transitioning onto single payments under UC, the Committee would like to hear from you via an online form. All comments will be kept anonymous, and will not be published on the Committee's webpage.

* The online form/questionnaire for survivors of domestic abuse is here

* Written submissions can be made here

* Guidance on making a written submission is here

* Work and Pensions Committee http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/

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