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25 March, 2020 Open access

Making universal credit advances non-recoverable is ‘operationally not feasible’

Giving evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee about the DWP's response to COVID-19, Secretary of State says there is also a policy question about whether it would be right at this time

Making universal credit advances non-recoverable is 'operationally not feasible', according to Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Dr Thérèse Coffey.

In a Work and Pensions Select Committee evidence session held this morning - focusing on the DWP's response to the coronavirus outbreak - Chair of the Committee Stephen Timms questioned the Secretary of State about whether she had considered turning universal credit advances into non-repayable grants. 

Responding, Dr Coffey said -

'There has been an element of consideration on that ... one is a technical situation, the second is to be open to consideration of aspects of fairness to the ... what taxpayers put in to the system. So my understanding is that we think that's operationally not feasible in the short-term, and there's a policy question about whether it would be the right thing to make this significant change right now.'

Also in attendance, DWP Permanent Secretary Peter Schofield added -

‘To make a change, even the sort of change you were just describing requires reprogramming, resetting or manual processes which we simply … wouldn’t be able to manage. So the key thing for us now, and it may be a difficult message to give, but from an operational point of view, it's to stick with the framework we’ve got, stick with the policies we’ve got and then the automation will work, will deliver for the … people that are reaching out for help right now. We can do that as long as we don’t change the system …’

NB - during the evidence session, Dr Coffey also -

The Work and Pensions Committee evidence session can be viewed at

Stop press (26 March 2020): the Committee has today published a letter from Dr Coffey to Mr Timms, dated 24 March 2020, sent in response to his letter of 18 March 2020 requesting information in advance of the evidence session.

Stop press (27 March 2020): a transcript of the Work and Pensions Committee Oral evidence session, The DWP’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, HC 178 Wednesday (25 March 2020) is now available from