Charity pleads for Universal Credit postponement

Norfolk Citizens Advice fears rolling out Universal Credit in autumn could put families at risk of p

Norfolk Citizens Advice fears rolling out Universal Credit in autumn could put families at risk of poverty at Chrsitmas Picture : ANTONY KELLY - Credit: copyright ARCHANT 2017

A charity is pleading with the government to delay the roll-out of Universal Credit across Norfolk.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Esther McVey is being asked by Norfolk Citizens Advice

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Esther McVey is being asked by Norfolk Citizens Advice to delay the roll-out of Universal Credit Photo: PA - Credit: PA

Norfolk Citizens Advice fear that introducing the controversial new benefit as planned in late autumn could leave families vulnerable to poverty and potential homelessness in the run-up to Christmas.

The benefit is due to come into full operation in Norwich and Cromer in October, in King's Lynn in November, and in Fakenham and North Walsham in December.

However, a report published earlier this week by the National Audit Office found that a quarter of new claimants under Universal Credit were not paid in full on time, with a fifth of those affected by delays waiting five months or more to receive payment.

The chairman of Norfolk Citizens Advice, David Browne, said: 'In principle, Universal Credit is a good idea, but the system is still flawed. Many claimants are having to wait many weeks – even months - to receive any money.

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'We have already seen the impact of the change in Great Yarmouth, where Universal Credit was piloted, and where people faced rent arrears and evictions from their homes.

'To bring it into full operation just before Christmas and as winter is about to set in seems unnecessarily harsh.

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'I will be writing to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Esther McVey asking that she consider pausing the roll-out in these affected areas until next year by which time we hope some more of the benefit's problems may have been sorted out. '

The charity's latest research found that low income families lose an average of £1,600 per year when they move to Universal Credit from the old benefit system.

Kayley Hignell, the head of welfare policy with Citizens Advice, said: 'One in five people are really struggling on this benefit – people who are carers, people who have a disability, working parents who are paying for childcare costs. When things go wrong for these people there is a real impact.'

The call comes as the charity launches a county-wide fundraising drive to support its services, starting with a garden party at Bishop's House in Norwich this Sunday from 1pm to 5pm.

The event marks the 50th anniversary of the charity's operations in the county. Entrance is £4, with children and wheelchair users admitted free.

Problems persist in Great Yarmouth

Universal Credit was first introduced in Great Yarmouth two years ago, but some claimants are still experiencing problems.

Jade Warren, 23, moved over to Universal Credit from Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) 18 months ago.

But two months ago, she and her partner were forced into debt after being overpaid by £300.

'They said they would have to put us into debt and then contact a debt agency to get the money back but this could take months,' she said.

'They have forced debt upon us through a mistake of their own.

'We asked if we could contact the debt agency and offer to pay back the money but HMRC told us we could not even do that as it would take months for the DWP to tell the company about our debt. We would have to spend months in debt watching our credit score go down.

'I went to Brandon Lewis' office. They said it was happening quite a lot.'

Department for Work and Pensions defend Universal Credit

In response to the National Audit Office's (NAO) report, a spokesman for the DWP said: 'Universal Credit is about helping people improve their lives – and it's working. People on Universal Credit are finding work faster than those on the old system, staying in it for longer, and keeping more of what they earn.

'The NAO report fails to take into account the impact of the improvements we have made recently as part of our 'listen and learn' approach to the rollout of Universal Credit. These changes include the abolition of waiting days, making 100% advance payments available from day one, and introducing two weeks additional housing cost support for people joining Universal Credit from Housing Benefit.

'Previous administrations poured billions into an outdated system with a complex myriad of benefits, which locked some people into cycles of welfare dependency. Whereas we are building a benefit system fit for the 21st century, providing flexible, person-centred support.'

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