CITIZENS Advice Scotland (Cas) is calling for the abolition of the five-week wait and the introduction of a non-repayable assessment period grant for everyone claiming Universal Credit to stop people being swept into serious debt.

The recommendations come in a new report from the charity, including a first of its kind survey of Citizens Advice Bureau (Cab) clients who had sought Universal Credit advice.

While some elements of Universal Credit’s design such as its conditionality and its ID verification requirements were “switched off” during the pandemic, other aspects remained in force. The most significant for people claiming Universal Credit was found to be the five-week wait for the first payment, with this being repeatedly singled out by survey respondents as causing stress and anxiety:

  • Almost half (48%) said they had to borrow or take an advance to get through the five-week wait.
  • Among those that borrowed to get them through the five-week waiting period until they got their first payment, the majority (65%) said they will find it difficult to repay the loan.
  • Single people, homeless people, and people without a final wage were more likely to require loans during the five-week wait, saddling them with debt before their UC payments have even begun.
  • Single-parent families were also more likely to borrow during the five-week wait, meaning children in those families may face significant financial hardship before the first payment.

Cas social justice spokesperson Nina Ballantyne said: “Cas has long campaigned to end the five-week wait for the first payment, and today’s research shows the considerable detriment it continued to cause people throughout the pandemic.

“The five-week wait punishes the most vulnerable; those without savings and without family or friends to borrow from and those who are paid weekly who don’t have a final monthly salary payment to rely on. Many are also reluctant to take on additional debt.”