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February – March 2024 : The little things READ ONLINE


Muddle and misery

Universal Credit guidance for homeless people has just been launched – but that doesn’t stop changes still being needed, writes Groundswell’s Martin Burrows

Universal Credit guidance for homeless people has just been launched – but that doesn’t stop changes still being needed

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has released new guides for homeless people and for supporting organisations when working with homeless people around Universal Credit (UC). This is a much-needed resource, but, substantive change is still needed.

Research for Gateshead council found the roll out of UC locally to be linked to depression, anxiety and increased suicide risk. Groundswell’s research exploring the impact of UC on people experiencing homelessness in London finds that the stories from the north east are not in isolation.

Groundswell, working with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and King’s College London, interviewed people who are homeless and people working in health and social care to understand how UC is being experienced. We heard that the stresses of UC accumulate. There are sanctions, cuts in payments, uncertainty and a lack of support from work coaches. Combined with other stresses from day-to-day survival while homeless, these can be a driver for anxiety, depression and suicide.

When people are homeless, they need a welfare system that can support them to move on from homelessness. Our findings reveal that, in fact, it is causing further hardship. People are having problems with their initial claims for Universal Credit and then having to wait a long time for payments.

There is also the pressure to be searching for work and meeting job-search targets, whilst trying to deal with other issues that come with the experience of homelessness and need to take priority, such as health. This is despite the physical and mental health of many people experiencing homelessness being far worse than that of the general population. We welcome the release of the Universal Credit and homeless people: guide for supporting organisations and the Quick guide to Universal Credit targeted at people who are experiencing homelessness. But it’s only online. Our research indicates that a key challenge of the current system is the online nature of managing a claim.

In a nutshell

Universal Credit (UC) was to have been rolled out by the end of 2018, but this date has been changed so the roll out will now finish in 2020.

 “On Universal Credit it’s five weeks till you see the first payment, but it has been reported that by next June it will be cut down to three weeks. Let us hope that this is true.” Ian Kalman, the Pavement writer

It is having a damaging impact on the lives of people experiencing homelessness.

“The extended timescales and the cost of running Universal Credit compared to the benefits it replaces cause us to conclude that the project is not value for money.” Rolling Out Universal Credit, National Audit Office (June, 2018)

Can you switch to Universal Credit without fear?

Info collected by Polly Bindman

Citizen’s Advice advise that there are four steps to getting Universal Credit (UC). You’ll need to:
1 Gather everything you’ll need to apply
2 Set up an online account
3 Use your account to start a claim
4 Arrange an interview at the Jobcentre within seven days of starting your claim. More info at

Need to know: you can only apply for UC online, and if you miss out one of the four steps you may not receive any payment. After you apply online, you should be given a phone number to arrange your interview at the Jobcentre. You only have seven days from the start of your online application to arrange the interview. Your interview will be with a member of staff called a work coach who you must meet regularly.

If you’re not confident with the internet to begin your Universal Credit claim, then you can ask your local council for help about getting online. If you can’t apply online, you might be able to apply using the phone. You will need to tell the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) why you can’t apply online. If you think you need to apply by phone, there is a free Universal Credit helpline (it used not to be free!), and somebody else can call on your behalf. For the full service Monday–Friday, 8am to 6pm:

Telephone: 0800 328 5644 | Textphone: 0800 328 1344

Tip: I was put on hold for over 30 minutes without managing to speak to anyone. It’s much easier online, and some libraries offer free internet services.