East Ham MP Stephen Timms calls five-week wait for Universal Credit a “fatal flaw”

Stephen Timms, MP for East Ham

Stephen Timms, MP for East Ham - Credit: Archant

The five-week wait for universal credit is a “fatal flaw”, according to East Ham MP Stephen Timms.


In a BBC interview yesterday morning (Tuesday, April 14), Mr Timms — also chairman of the work and pensions select committee — identified urgency as the key issue during this coronavirus crisis:

“The big question in my mind is; are people who are asking for an advance, who need money urgently — are they getting it urgently or not?”

The department for work and pensions (DWP) claim that they have already processed 365,000 advanced payments.

Mr Timms believes, assuming this figure is accurate, that only a “small proportion of the people applying for universal credit have so far got an advance”.

He offered two possible reasons for this; either there is a lack of need or the department is struggling with the demand.

Veering toward the latter, the MP urged people to share their experiences with the select committee ahead of a meeting with the DWP next week.

Whatever the number of advanced payments already issued, Mr Timms believes they are only available because of a “fatal flaw” in the system.

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The politician says that such payments — “in reality, a loan” — are only an option because five weeks is too long to wait.

When questioned on the rationale behind this, Mr Timms said that it was designed to be like paid employment, where the person normally receives their first salary after a month.

He acknowledged that this was created on the false understanding that everyone has “a month’s pay in the bank when they apply”.

The reality, according to the MP, is that the current system is “not acceptable” and “will have to be changed”.

Coronavirus has exposed the flaws of an already-maligned system, with Mr Timms confirming that his committee’s first inquiry of this parliament will focus on the five-week delay.

As matters stand, the DWP say that “IT difficulties” would make the system hard to change.

Mr Timms was clear that, despite this issue, the government will eventually have to act as the system “is not fit for purpose in its current state”.