We know that Universal credit is a mess, but what about HMRC’s Real Time Information system ? The following contribution from Stephen Timms based on a Freedom of Information request is very interesting. It seems that over 5% of payments to individuals by HMRC were reported being paid late. HMRC does not monitor the missing or incorrect payments, but we know that Universal Credit is being underpaid. So not only claimants have to contend with long waiting times, but when they are paid via RTI, over 5% are paid late, and an unknown number of claimants don’t receive anything, or an incorrect payment, mostly at their disadvantage. What experts are saying, is that 5,7% is an unacceptably high rate of late payments. The number of late, missing and incorrect payments should be well lower than 1% if UC is going to work
Stephen Timms’ contribution comes from yesterday debate on UC
“Under universal credit, everybody’s monthly pay is automatically sent to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs through the pay-as-you-earn RTI—real-time information—system, and HMRC then sends that to the DWP so that it can do the universal credit calculation. There have been rumours for some time that the RTI system does not work very well. I have tabled questions about that, but the Minister has flatly denied that there is a problem.
It emerged last month, through a freedom of information request submitted by a member of the public, Mr John Slater, that there is a thing called the “Late, Missing and Incorrect RTI Project”. If RTI is late, missing or incorrect, we have a problem, because it is not possible to do the required universal credit calculation. I therefore tabled a question for the Minister:
“To ask…what the remit and activities of the Late, Missing and Incorrect RTI Project are.”
The Minister sent back an answer telling me that it did not exist and that there was no such thing. Fortunately, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs was more forthcoming on this point. I got a written answer last week from the Treasury, dated 16 October, to my written question 107309, which stated that:
“The vast majority of Real Time Information submissions are accurate and on time. However, a very small number of data quality issues create discrepancies and these can have an effect on an individual’s tax and benefits position.”
Indeed they can, because if the information is wrong, people’s benefit calculations will also be wrong.
The following day, 17 October, also from the more helpful of these two departments, the Treasury answer to my question 107475 stated that:
“during the 2016/17 tax year approximately 590m payments to individuals were reported via RTI. 5.7% of these were reported late. HMRC does not hold the information in respect of missing and incorrect reports.”
If over 5% of them were just late, never mind the ones that were missing or incorrect, we do have a serious problem.
Looking through all the submissions we received, briefing us ahead of this debate, I was struck by the one from the Child Poverty Action Group, referring to,
“difficulty making claims for universal credit, with many online claims seeming to ‘disappear’.
Universal credit being underpaid because ‘real time information’ provided by HMRC regarding income is not always reliable or accurate.
Claimants being paid the wrong amount of universal credit for no apparent reason.”
What is happening is that the IT is not doing what it is supposed to do.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) referred to the anonymous report in The Independent a couple of weeks ago by someone working in a jobcentre, who talked about the grim reality of administering universal credit, rather by contrast with the enthusiasm with which Tory Members have told us that people are working on this. That writer made the point that when there is a discrepancy between what people were paid and what HMRC says they were paid—in other words, an RTI problem—it takes ages to sort that problem out. Members representing constituencies where universal credit has been fully rolled out report endless mistakes, delays and errors, which take weeks and weeks to resolve.
Another reason why this project’s roll-out should be paused and then fixed is to stop these problems being inflicted on tens of thousands more.