Universal Credit helpline charges dropped

Prime Minister Theresa May says benefit recipients calls will be made free following widespread criticism of 55p-a-minute rates

The government’s Universal Credit – the streamlining of six benefits into one payment – has been subjected to a barrage of criticism, mainly due to the six-week delays getting first payments sorted.

Following a week of pressure over charges inflicted on those calling the government’s Universal Credit helpline in an attempt to get information.

Prime Minister Theresa May has now announced charges – up to 55p-a-minute – will be dropped, and said the helpline will be made free over the next month.

Leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn claimed May had “bowed to Labour pressure” on the charges, and urged her to go further by halting the planned roll-out of the scheme.

“The fundamental problems of Universal Credit remain – the six week wait, rising indebtedness, rent arrears and evictions,” he said at this afternoon’s PMQs.

“Will the prime minister now pause Universal Credit and fix the problems before pressing ahead with the roll-out?”

It is a system that is working, because more people are getting into work

May insisted Universal Credit “was a simpler system, it’s a system that encourages people to get into the workplace…It is a system that is working, because more people are getting into work.”

Kayley Hignell, head of policy at Citizens Advice, said the dropping of charges was “very welcome.”

Alison Garnham, chief executive also backed the free helpline, but warned that the government “will need to go much further to address widespread, cross-party concerns about Universal Credit.”

Labour has called on Tory and Lib Dem MPs concerned about delays to back an opposition day vote in the House of Commons in a bid to introduce a six-week pause on the roll-out.

For more on the problems with the Universal Credit roll-out, see next week’s edition of The Big Issue, out Monday, October 23.

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