09 Jul 2020

Calls for “flawed” universal credit test to be suspended after concerns highlighted in Islington

Islington Council today (Thursday, July 9)  joins calls for the Government’s Habitual Residence Test (HRT) for universal credit to be suspended, after concerns about the test were raised in Islington.

Many EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens returning from living abroad have to pass an HRT before they can claim universal credit. Broadly speaking, this means they have to prove the UK is their main home and they have a “right to reside” before they can get benefits.

However last year the council became aware of concerns that Islington residents were having issues with the test, which led to them being incorrectly denied benefits, or facing significant delays.

The council commissioned the independent Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) to research the issue.  The IPPR’s report, published today and based in part on interviews with welfare claimants and advisers from Islington, identifies problems in the operation of the test.

The report finds “our conversations with claimants and welfare advisers outlined a process with considerable flaws, imposing unnecessary hardship on claimants.  Claimants and advisers have to navigate complex decisions, which are poorly explained.”  It also highlights poor communication of decisions.

The report’s introduction adds “there is a strong case for suspending the HRT in light of the mass redundancies and severe economic hardship resulting from the coronavirus pandemic”.

Cllr Satnam Gill, Islington Council’s executive member for finance, said: “This research has proved our worse suspicions about the unfairness of the Habitual Residence Test.

“It is a tragedy that around 45,000 people across the country have gone through this nightmare.  From our cases in Islington, we know the human cost of each person who falls foul of this flawed test.

“We are really concerned that the government has refused to answer questions to better understand the situation. We urge them to act on the report’s findings now, suspend the test and spare the suffering of more families.”

Cllr Andy Hull, who commissioned the IPPR report while he was Islington’s executive member for finance, said: "In the past year, around 45,000 people, mostly of European origin, have been denied social security after failing the Habitual Residence Test for Universal Credit.

"Some of them have been in the UK for over a decade but, as with the Windrush scandal, they haven't kept every document since they arrived. Claimants are being expected to collect large amounts of historic information to fulfil an opaque and subjective set of conditions, then afterwards never being told why they failed the test.

"With Covid-19 driving applications for Universal Credit up sharply, the number of people subjected to the Habitual Residence Test is set to increase. This Kafkaesque policy should be suspended amid the pandemic."

In 2018, Islington Council passed a motion calling for the Government’s Universal Credit benefit policy to be scrapped altogether and replaced.


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