Published: 23/11/2017 11:40 - Updated: 23/11/2017 11:49

Universal credit changes in Budget given guarded welcome

Written byEmma Crichton


Chancellor Philip Hammond delivers the Budget
Chancellor Philip Hammond delivers the Budget


Small changes to reduce the number of people in debt on universal credit have been cautiously welcomed, while others say they do not go far enough.

UK Chancellor Philip Hammond announced a U-turn on some of the most controversial aspects of the new benefits system, including reducing the waiting time for the first payment from six weeks to five.

Those who previously claimed housing benefit before switching to universal credit will still receive the old benefit for up two weeks while waiting for their new benefit, Mr Hammond revealed during the Autumn Budget announcement yesterday.

Advanced payments will also be improved and will now cover up to the full value of their claim, rather than a maximum of half, and will need to be paid back within one year, instead of the current six months.

It is hoped the £1.5 billion changes will reduce rent arrears owed by universal credit claimants, which have mounted to £1 million in Highland Council alone, more than half of the £1.9 million overall rent debt owed to the local authority.

But many people have reported waiting months for their first payment and Ross, Skye and Lochaber MP Ian Blackford, who leads the SNP group at Westminster, said the roll out of universal credit must be stopped.

"The damaging and destructive universal credit system must be halted and fixed," he said.

"I welcome some of the things we have heard today but it simply doesn’t go far enough - Universal credit as it is not fit for purpose."

Inverness was one of the first pilot areas in the UK to trial universal credit in 2013 and the new system was rolled out Highland-wide in July.

Citizen’s Advice Scotland chairman Rory Mair welcomed the changes and asked that they be introduced as soon as possible.

"Taken together, these measures will make a real difference to those claimants who are currently experiencing hardship," he said.

"This shows that the government is listening to the concerns raised by the Citizens Advice network and others and is willing to respond constructively.

"We would urge that the changes be introduced as quickly as possible however, so that claimants do not have to go for long periods of time without income.

"There are also other problems with Universal Credit which we believe still need to be addressed, and we will continue to press for these changes."

Despite the U-turn, Mr Hammond continued to defend universal credit, calling it a "long overdue and necessary reform".


Britain is sitting on a cliff edge, according to Highland MP Ian Blackford, who slammed the UK Government for a lack of progress in securing a deal for leaving the European Union.

During the Autumn Budget announcement, when chancellor Philip Hammond announced he has earmarked £3 billion to steer the country out of the UK in the next two years, the SNP Westminster leader said Britain looks set to leave the EU with no benefits at all.

"There is nothing in this budget that deals with the challenges that we face," he said.

"We have the impending UK exit from Europe and we know that the government is preparing for no deal but the chancellor made no mention of how the economy would cope with that.

"The cliff edge is before us and the chancellor sits transfixed unable, or incapable, of rising toe the challenge."

The chancellor dubbed Brexit a future "full of change, full of new challenges and above all full of new opportunities".

He added that he is prepared to pay more than the £3 billion already set aside "as and when it’s needed".

Police and fire VAT:

SCOTLAND’S police and fire services will not have to pay VAT from next April, in another U-turn of this year’s Budget.

Scottish MPs have been calling for the tax bills to be scrapped, as they are the only emergency services in the UK liable to pay VAT, but the UK Government has insisted that their Scottish counterparts were aware this would be the case when single national bodies were created.

Despite the SNP opposition’s campaigning for the tax to be scrapped and reimbursed, chancellor Philip Hammond said it was getting his "ear bent" by the newly elected Scottish Conservatives that convinced him to scrap the charge, although the VAT already paid will not be reimbursed.

"I’m getting used to getting my ear bent by 13 Scottish Conservative colleagues, most recently on the issue of Scottish police and fire VAT," he said.

"The SNP knew the rules, they knew the consequences of introducing these bodies and they ploughed ahead anyway.

"My colleagues have persuaded me that the Scottish people should not lose out because of the obstinacy of the Scottish Government so we will allow VAT refunds from April 2018."

But SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said the government should have scrapped the charge in 2015 when his party proposed an amendment asking for it to be abolished.

"You were given an amendment to finance bill in 2015 which would have removed VAT from police and fire in Scotland," he said.

"The Conservative party manifesto supported the creation of Police Scotland and it was the vindictiveness of a Tory government that imposed that VAT in Scotland.

"It is a disgrace that we have had £140 million taken out of frontline spending ahead of this announcement.

"VAT should never have been charged and the sole blame for that lies with the Conservative government."

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