Citizens Advice call for halt to Universal Credit roll out

CEO of Ashfield Citizens Advice Kathryn Stacey.
CEO of Ashfield Citizens Advice Kathryn Stacey.

Payment delays for the Government’s new Universal Credit is a ‘disaster waiting to happen’ in Ashfield, an advice charity claims.

The flagship reform of the benefits system, rolls together six benefits, including unemployment benefit, tax credits and housing benefit into one, online-only system.

Roll out of universal credit in Ashfield is due in August 2018.

But this week Citizens Advice have called for a suspension of the programme, citing major concerns that families risk being pushed into a spiral of debt due to a minimum six-week wait for an initial payment and processing delays.

Cricicism of the new system centres on the minimum 42-day wait for a first payment by new claimants.

When they move to universal credit in practice this has often taken up to 60 day.

For low-income claimants, many of whom who lack savings, this in effect leaves them without cash for six weeks.

Consequences for claimants of this include rent arrears which can lead to eviction.

Other problems include hunger - food banks in universal credit areas report increases in referrals, use of expensive credit, and mental distress.

CEO of Ashfield Citizens Advice Kathryn Stacey said: “We are gearing our service up for the expected wave of people facing financial crisis due to delays in payments of their benefits.

“We are working with partners and seeking additional funding to support the extra staff we will need to deal with the demand.”

Gillian Guy, the chief executive of Citizens Advice, said the the roll-out of universal credit is a disaster waiting to happen.

She said: “While the principles behind Universal Credit are sound, our evidence shows that if the government continues to take this stubborn approach to the expansion of Universal Credit, it risks pushing thousands of families into a spiral of debt, and placing an even greater strain on public services.”

A DWP spokesman said:

“Universal Credit lies at the heart of our commitment to help people improve their lives and raise their incomes.

“It provides additional, tailored support to help people move into work and stop claiming benefits altogether.

“And it’s working. With Universal Credit, people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the old system.

“Universal Credit is already in every jobcentre for single claimants, and we are rolling it out to a wider range of people in a safe and controlled way. The vast majority of claimants are paid in full and on time, and are comfortable managing their money. Advance payments and budgeting support is available for anyone who needs extra help.”