Charity calls for rethink of ‘flawed’ Universal Credit

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A leading social rights charity is calling on the government to rethink part of its welfare reforms before they are fully rolled out in Derbyshire Dales.

Citizens Advice Derbyshire Districts is warning that Universal Credit is putting people’s financial security at risk as they wait six weeks or more for their first payment.

Universal Credit was first introduced in 2013 to replace six means-tested benefits and tax credits with one payment.

The charity’s chief officer Chloe Doxey said: “The principles of Universal Credit are sound, but flaws in how it was designed and how it is being delivered are leaving many people’s finances in tatters.”

The new system is being rolled out gradually across the country according to Jobcentre area.

But many of those affected have already turned to Citizens Advice for help with a temporary version of the benefit available to people with straightforward claims.

The charity expects that number to grow rapidly from May 2018, when ‘full service’ arrives in Derbyshire Dales and anyone previously claiming one of the old benefits has to apply for Universal Credit.

Citizens Advice surveyed 800 people who sought help with Universal Credit in areas where there is a full service.

It found that 39 per cent of people are waiting more than the six weeks it should take to receive their first payment, while 11 per cent are waiting more than ten weeks.

Many experienced problems with online and telephone claimant services, and in obtaining the necessary evidence to support their claim.

As a consequence, 57 per cent found themselves having to borrow money while waiting for their first payment.

Chloe said: “By 2022 it will affect 5,500 households across Derbyshire Dales.

“If the government doesn’t fix significant problems then many families may be at financial risk, which can then put pressure on health, housing and social care services.”

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “As Citizens Advice makes clear, this report is based on a self-selecting group of people and is not representative of the half a million claiming Universal Credit. 82 per cent of claimants have told us they are satisfied with it.

“We have budgeting advice and benefit advances available for anyone who needs extra help and in the rare cases where issues arise we work closely with authorities and landlords to support people.”