Minister blames benefit claimants for delays in paying universal credit in Great Yarmouth

Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire - Credit: PA

A government minister has defended the 'disaster' of introducing universal credit to Great Yarmouth – and blamed benefit claimants for some of the problems.

Jackie Esposito and Sue Dawson. Great Yarmouth landlords who are owed thousands of pounds in rent ar

Jackie Esposito and Sue Dawson. Great Yarmouth landlords who are owed thousands of pounds in rent arrears brought about by the introduction of universal credit. PHOTO: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

Universal Credit replaced six other welfare allowances, including housing benefit, with one monthly payment in Yarmouth and Lowestoft this spring.

But delays in claimants getting the money has led to some of the poorest tenants falling into rent arrears and being evicted.

Landlords and councils are owed tens of thousands of pounds in rent, while charities say it has led to more demand on soup kitchens and their services.

Paul Cunningham, chairman of the Eastern Landlords' Association, described the new system as a 'disaster'.

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Great Yarmouth Borough Council wrote to work and pensions secretary Damian Green in November about the problems caused by the delays in paying universal credit.

In a letter responding to the council, Mr Green wrote the roll-out of the new benefit system had been 'carefully planned', but admitted there had been problems.

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'We recognise that there are areas for improvement in the service,' he said.

But he said some delays were being caused by claimants 'not providing the required evidence' for their claim despite 'repeated requests' which meant job centre staff were having to chase them.

He said the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was dealing with this by making it clearer which information claimants needed to provide.

Mr Green also said the DWP had put extra staff into clearing the backlog of applications.

And he said councils had been given £500m in what is called Discretionary Housing Payments to support people in financial difficulty.

Councillors also quizzed Mr Green in the letter about why Yarmouth was chosen as one of the first places in the country to test the new system.

Norfolk County councillor Jonathon Childs, called for a meeting between the DWP, local politicians and charities to help those affected.

'The effects of universal credit are really shocking and the length of time that claimants have to wait is far too long,' he said. 'What are people meant to live on while the claims are dealt with?'

An investigation by this newspaper found some tenants ran off owing landlords thousands of pounds when they were finally paid, while others were £1500 in rent arrears.

The Yarmouth soup kitchen said it had seen a 300pc rise in demand over the autumn, which it put down to people not receiving universal credit on time.

A DWP spokesman said: 'Reasons for rent arrears are complex so it's misleading to link them to any one issue. The reality is that under Universal Credit, claimants are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the old system.

'Universal credit is designed to mirror the world of work and give people control over their own finances, paying rent directly to claimants is an important part of this process.

'The majority of universal claimants are confident in managing their money and we provide budgeting support as well as benefit advances, and can arrange for rent payments to be made direct to landlords if needed.'

•What is universal credit?

Universal credit replaces six other benefits for people out of work or on low incomes.

They are housing benefit, working tax credit, child tax credit, income support, jobseeker's allowance and employment and support allowance.

It was introduced to Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth in spring 2016, but both councils said they had seen an increase in rent arrears.

It will be introduced to the rest of Waveney in October 2017, South Norfolk Council area in February 2018, Breckland in March 2018, Fenland in May 2018, Broadland District Council, North Norfolk District Council, Norwich City Council, Suffolk Coastal in June 2018.

In July 2018 it will come to King's Lynn and West Norfolk.

Those living in Forest Heath District Council area will get it from September 2018.

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