Prime Minister's Questions, factchecked

18th Oct 2017

Is Universal Credit being paid on time?

“At the beginning of this year only 55% of people were getting their first payment on time now that is over 80%.”

Theresa May, 11 October 2017

This is right, although she’s only talking about the group of people claiming the newest ‘full service’ rollout of Universal Credit. The portion of claimants getting their payment on time has still improved across the board.

The share of people making new claims through the Universal Credit full service who received their full payment on time increased from 54% in the first week of January to an estimated 81% in the second week of September.

On time means one calendar month and seven days after the claim starts. If a person is required to look for work (or better paid work) they have to wait an extra seven days between making a claim and the claim starting. So, overall, the waiting time is supposed to be five to six weeks.

Full service means the person is living in a job centre area which is set up to let anyone claim the new benefit (rather than only people who meet certain conditions). This isn’t the case everywhere because the new payment is still being rolled out across the country. The alternative is called live service.

If we look at Universal Credit payments overall (full service plus live service) the change is smaller, 65% in January and 76% for the latest figures from June.

Were 1.4 million stuck on out-of-work benefits under Labour?

“But let's just think about the Labour party's record on this whole issue of welfare. Under the Labour party 1.4 million people spent most of the last decade trapped on out-of-work benefits.”

Theresa May, 11 October 2017

The Prime Minister seems to be referring to the number of people on out-of-work benefits throughout the last decade under the Labour Party—so between 2000 and 2010.

A report published by the Coalition government in 2010 said: “New analysis shows that 1.4 million people in the UK have been on an out-of-work benefit for nine or more of the last 10 years.” It says that this was according to internal research by the DWP. We haven’t seen a copy of this research but we’ve asked for it.

How many people are on out-of-work benefits?

When the Labour government first came to office in May 1997 the claimant count (the number of people claiming benefits because of unemployment) was around 1.6 million. At its lowest point it was about 780,000 in February 2008 and at its highest it returned to around 1.6 million in October 2009.

If you look at all out-of-work benefits—including incapacity benefits for example—the trends are similar. Around five million people claimed these benefits in 1999 (the earliest these figures are available), and that figure was almost the same in 2010. It’s fallen to under four million since then.

These figures don’t tell us anything about how many people were on out-of-work benefits continuously from one year to the next.

How much does the Universal Credit helpline cost?

“Absurdly, the universal credit helpline costs claimants 55p per minute for the privilege of trying to get someone to help them claim what they believe they are entitled to.”

Jeremy Corbyn, 11 October 2017

The helpline for Universal Credit applicants was a 0345 number at the time we checked this claim. A few days later the government announced that it would change to a freephone number, and all other Department for Work and Pensions phone lines would follow.

Numbers starting with 0345 cost up to 9p a minute if you’re phoning from a landline. If you’re phoning from a mobile it can cost anything from 3p to 55p a minute.

Ofcom says that numbers beginning with 03 can be included in free call packages from landlines and mobiles if a person is signed up to this. Mr Corbyn called for the helpline to be made free for all.

Since Jeremy Corbyn spoke at Prime Minister’s Questions the Department for Work and Pensions has said that “The #UniversalCredit hotline is charged at local rates, so calls are free for many people as part of their call packages… People can ask for free call backs from DWP”.

The government recommends that people should use the helpline if they want to ask any questions about applying for Universal Credit or need help with their online application.

Is Universal Credit leading to rent arrears?

“Half of all council tenants on Universal Credit are at least a month in arrears in their rent.”

Jeremy Corbyn, 11 October 2017

This figure refers to around 105 UK councils and comes from freedom of information requests made by the Observer. We don’t know what the case is for the rest of the country.

The Observer reported that half of all council tenants on Universal Credit, in 105 councils, are at least a month behind on rent. 30% are two months behind. We’ve asked the Observer for more information on this.

We can’t say if this picture is the same for the country as a whole and not all councils in the UK have rolled out Universal Credit yet.

Universal Credit is replacing several benefits, including Housing Benefit, over the next few years.

It is paid once a month in England and Wales and there is a five to six week waiting period for the first payment. It can be paid every two weeks in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Universal Credit is also paid directly to the claimant, while Housing Benefit goes directly to the claimants’ landlord if they live in council houses.

In the 105 councils responding to the requests from the Observer, those on Housing Benefit were significantly less affected by rent arrears. 10% of council tenants receiving Housing Benefit rather than Universal Credit are a month behind, and less than 5% two months behind, according to the Observer.

A minister in the Department for Work and Pensions, Caroline Dinenage, said in November that "The Department for Work and Pensions is currently undertaking work to investigate the reality of rent arrears in universal credit. It aims to understand the true level of rent arrears for tenants, what is causing them, and any impacts universal credit may be having."