Charity warns of Universal Credit crisis in Blackpool

People in Blackpool are 'struggling' with Universal Credit a charity has warned, even though the full roll-out of the benefit has not hit the resort.

Wednesday, 19th July 2017, 5:39 pm
Updated Monday, 11th September 2017, 12:59 pm
The Universal Credit offices at Faraday Way Blackpool

The Citizens’ Advice Bureau is asking the Government to look again at the benefit, designed to top up low paid workers’ income and help the unemployed after finding people waiting 10 to 12 weeks before their first payment.

It wants the roll-out paused until the problems can be ironed out.

By 2022, seven million families in the UK will get Universal Credit, which is replacing six existing means-tested benefits, and in October 50 new areas are set to be using the system.

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Tracy Hopkins, chief executive of the Blackpool CAB said for many people the benefit works, but many others are in serious trouble.

She said: “We have not had the full roll-out here in Blackpool, just for young unemployed people, but we are seeing many people struggling and are very concerned indeed.

“People are having to wait 10 weeks without money. It is too complex.

“They have to claim on line, and many of the people claiming in Blackpool do not have access to computers at home.

“People are telling us they are having to make 10 calls to the helpline. We hear about people waiting 30 minutes for help on the phone.

“Also there is a seven day waiting period before they can start a claim. We want the Government to remove this to stop these unfair delays.

“We are talking about vulnerable people too, with health problems and working people on low wages who need extra help with such things as child care.”

She said the delays were counterproductive since people were in danger of being forced out of their jobs by not being able to afford to carry on or by risking the sack by taking time off to get Universal Credit sorted out.

She added: “It’s not right and it needs fixing before the roll out in October to 50 more areas.

“If people can’t get through to the helpline now how will all those extra people manage in October?”

A national spokesman said: “We already see people who are struggling to make ends meet, falling into serious debt and on the verge of eviction because of problems with Universal Credit.

“We welcome efforts to simplify our benefits system. But Universal Credit is already failing thousands of people.

“The government’s ‘test and learn’ approach can’t end up being an experiment with people’s lives. When they see problems with the new system, they need to stop and fix them.”

A spokesman for the DWP said that 82 per cent of people on Universal Credit were satisfied with the service and that help including a “work coach” and computers at Jobcentres were offered to each claimant.

He said: “As Citizens Advice makes clear, this report is based on evidence from a self-selecting group of people and is not representative of the half a million people claiming Universal Credit.

“The best way to help people pay their rent and improve their lives is to help them into work, and under Universal Credit people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the old system.

“Universal Credit is designed to mirror the way many people in work are paid, and we have budgeting advice and benefit advances available for anyone who needs extra help.

“The vast majority of claimants have told us they are satisfied with UC.

“We are rolling out Universal Credit in a gradual, safe and secure way, and in the rare cases where issues arise, we work closely with local authorities and landlords to support people when they need it.”