NACCOM has submitted evidence to the National Audit Office’s inquiry into Universal Credit, and the five-week wait to receive the first payment. Jessie Seal, our Campaigns and Policy Coordinator, explains why it’s vital that the Government provides a joined-up asylum and benefits system that doesn’t put newly recognised refugees at risk of homelessness and destitution, as is currently the case.

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The introduction of Universal Credit has forced people who are poorest into prolonged periods without cash and this is devastating for people who are newly recognised refugees. These periods of destitution stop people from being able to move forward, gain stability and look after their families with security.

Across the political spectrum, charities, think tanks and politicians agree that the current five-week wait for payments serves no-one. Reports from member organisations across the network highlight that the current system of Universal Credit leaves people at risk of experiencing destitution and homelessness once they are granted refugee status.

The point at which someone is granted refugee status is fraught with challenges and stress. People must transition from asylum support to mainstream benefits, find new accommodation and begin to rebuild lives that have often been left in limbo by prolonged periods waiting for their asylum claim to be assessed. People must achieve this in a short 28-day timeframe during their asylum support notice period, whilst not receiving Universal Credit payments for 35-days.

For people who have additional vulnerabilities, such as limited English language skills, being a survivor of torture, and/or mental or physical health needs, navigating the benefits system can be overwhelming without additional support.

The National Audit Office (NAO) has carried out several ‘value for money’ studies and is currently assessing the process of making a Universal Credit claim and getting to the first payment. Using information from our annual members’ survey, our Mind the Gap and Mind the Gap – One Year On reports, and on-going communication from members, NACCOM submitted evidence to this study, which can be found here.

It is clear that Universal Credit is putting people at risk and unfairly penalising people who should be safe having been granted international protection. We call for a joined up asylum support and mainstream benefits system that supports people as they are granted refugee status and works to prevent homelessness, rather than creating it.