1,000 FOIs and counting: Newsrooms unite to reveal crisis behind Universal Credit
Dozens of newspapers including the i, The Scotsman, the News Letter and The Yorkshire Post are today jointly publishing a major investigation into Universal Credit.
The JPIMedia Investigations team, which is made up of journalists working at JPIMedia titles across the UK, have produced a package which brings together key interviews, hard-hitting case studies and the results of more than 1,000 Freedom of Information requests.
Key findings include:
- More than half a million calls to the Universal Credit helpline have gone unanswered in the first three months of this year
- Universal Credit claimants behind on rent in local authority-owned homes owe, on average, twice the amount of those on the old Housing Benefit
- In Northern Ireland a huge 92 per cent of Universal Credit claimants living in Housing Executive homes are in rental arrears, a finding that its independent advice network described as “dynamite”
- Local authorities are missing out on many millions of pounds a year in unpaid council tax from those on Universal Credit, despite the system initially aiming to save the taxpayer money
- Errors and system glitches remain a major concern, with one claimant told by staff in an official Universal Credit call centre to falsely claim he had zero income to get around a problem with their system
In a landmark move for a JPIMedia Investigation, the findings are being published in an interactive, in-depth read online.
It is a critical time for Universal Credit, as the initial phase of the lengthy process of moving some 3m existing benefit claimants onto the system begins with a trial in July.
The Department for Work and Pensions has insisted Universal Credit is “a force for good” in helping people move into work, and has reportedly refreshed its marketing campaign to make people reconsider its value.
Margaret Greenwood MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “This important investigation is a shocking reminder that Universal Credit is clearly failing.”
Claire Wilde, News Editor for Data and Investigations, JPIMedia added: “This proved a great launch investigation for JPIMedia’s refreshed team. Our investigation shines a light on the justified misgivings of this new benefits system.
We look forward to continuing to collaborate across our different titles to ensure we do our bit pushing for change in the interest of the communities we serve.”
Other titles publishing versions of the investigation include: Yorkshire Evening Post, Lancashire Post, Blackpool Gazette, Peterborough Telegraph, The News (Portsmouth), Sussex Express and Sunderland Echo.