Call to fix Universal Credit before it is fully rolled out in our area
Citizens Advice Stroud & Cotswold Districts is calling for government to fix Universal Credit before it fully rolls out in the Stroud and Cotswold Districts.
Universal Credit is putting people’s financial security at risk as they wait six weeks or more for their first payment.
Many people have already turned to ca-scd for help with "live service" Universal Credit, a temporary version of the benefit available to people in the area with straightforward claims.
We are concerned that the numbers struggling will grow rapidly from October when “full service” arrives in the Stroud District, with Cotswold District rolling out the Full Service in November. Full Service means anyone who would previously have claimed one of the old benefits - such as tax credits or housing benefit- has to apply for Universal Credit.
By 2022 Universal Credit will affect 8,500 households across the Stroud Constituency and 6,000 households across the Cotswold Constituency.
Across the country 1 in 4 (28%) working age households will be claiming Universal Credit, more than half of which (54%) will be in employment. The benefit will also be claimed by more than half (52%) of all families with children in the UK and 6 in 10 (58%) households where an adult is disabled or has a long term health condition.
In a major new report - Delivering on Universal Credit - national Citizens Advice has revealed that the requirement to wait for six weeks to receive any payment means people face serious financial insecurity, with many being forced into debt.
The research also identifies a wide range of administrative challenges, including problems with the online system and long waits to get help over the phone, which can make the initial six week wait even longer.
As part of the new study, national Citizens Advice surveyed 800 people who sought help with Universal Credit in areas where there is full service.
Over a third (39%) of people are waiting more than the 6 weeks it should take to receive their first payment.
Just over 1 in 10 (11%) are waiting over 10 weeks without the benefit.
3 in 5 (57%) are having to borrow money while waiting for their first payment.
The report also reveals that people are having problems with the new online application process. These range from difficulties using a computer, to issues getting hold of the right evidence to support their claim.
And when things go wrong the research shows people are not able to get the help they need: nearly a third (30%) of people said they had to make more than 10 calls to the Universal Credit helpline during their application process, often having to wait over 30 minutes to get through.
The rollout of Universal Credit is set to speed up significantly in October this year. Citizens Advice Stroud & Cotswold Districts is calling on the government to pause this acceleration and use the time to fix key problems with Universal Credit, before thousands more people are brought into the system.
The charity also highlights that, unless addressed, these challenges will undermine the goals of Universal Credit: to simplify the benefits system and offer people the security and support they need to move into and progress in work.
As it stands, many people are facing uncertainty about how much money they will receive and when it will arrive. This insecurity filters through to other areas of their lives, for instance making it harder to focus on finding work while they worry about how to keep on top of bills or put food on the table.
One woman turned to Citizens Advice for help when her Universal Credit application was delayed because her childminder didn’t provide receipts on a type of letter headed paper which was required as evidence for her claim. Because of this delay she lost her childcare places and had to take time off work to care for her children. Further delays to her Universal Credit claim then meant she could still not afford childcare, and she has since lost her job for taking so much time off.
Sally Pickering, Chief Officer of Citizens Advice Stroud & Cotswold Districts, said:
“The principles behind Universal Credit are sound, but a mix of flaws in how the benefit was designed and problems with how it is being delivered is leaving many people’s finances in tatters.
“We’re already helping many people across the Stroud and Cotswold Districts who are having problems with Universal Credit, and we are concerned this will rise significantly from October. By 2022 it will affect thousands of households across the area.
“If the government doesn’t fix significant problems with Universal Credit then many families in our local communities may be put at financial risk, which can in turn put huge pressure on other local services such as health, housing and social care.
“If anyone does run into problems with Universal Credit, don’t hesitate to contact ca-scd for help.”
In its new report national Citizens Advice makes a range of recommendations to fix Universal Credit before it is rolled out more widely:
Reduce how long people have to wait for their first payment
Remove the 7 waiting days at the start of a claim, to reduce the amount of time people have to wait for their first payment.
Make sure everyone moving to Universal Credit is told they can get an Advance Payment to help them while they wait for their first payment.
Improve the support available to people so they can make ends meet
Introduce an online system for people to book their initial Jobcentre appointments, rather than having to call the Universal Credit helpline.
Make the Universal Credit helpline free of charge, at least until the roll-out is complete.
Allow people to adjust to Universal Credit by offering everyone options in how they would like the benefit to be paid.
Put in place a comprehensive support package before Universal Credit roll-out accelerates, to make sure people get advice to manage their money and deal with any complications in the application process.
Universal Credit fact sheet
Universal Credit was introduced in 2013, aiming to simplify the benefits system, to make transitions into work easier, and make every hour of work pay. It’s there for people on low incomes or not in work to help them meet their living costs.
Universal Credit is for people both in work and out of work, disabled people and those with a health condition, single people and those with families, people who own their homes and people who rent.
It replaces six means-tested benefits and tax credits with one benefit. This is paid in arrears, as a single household payment, on a monthly basis.
It is designed to use Real Time Information from HMRC to respond to changes in income, gradually reducing the UC payment as earnings increase to ensure work pays. The six benefits it replaces are:
Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA)
Income-based Employment Support Allowance (ESA)
Housing benefit (HB)
Income Support (IS)
Child Tax Credits (CTC)
Working Tax Credits (WTC)
Universal Credit is being rolled out gradually across the country, by Jobcentre area. Everywhere in the country now either operates a “live service” or “full service”.
Live service areas are places where a limited version of Universal Credit is in place only for certain people (eg single adults not in work), so as to test the system on those with simpler claims. ‘Full’ service has been developed to upgrade and build on the first, ‘live’ system.
From May 2016, full service Universal Credit began to be introduced across the country, in a small number of local authorities initially, which meant all new claimants of the six different benefits being replaced are required to apply for UC.
Live service roll-out is now complete, but full service roll-out is ongoing and due to accelerate significantly from October 2017. All areas will eventually become full service by 2022.
There are currently 467,000 people on Universal Credit in England and Wales, with around 48,000 new claims each month. By the time roll-out is fully complete, around 7.2 million families will receive Universal Credit.
Notes to editors:
Survey of Citizens Advice clients asking for help with Universal Credit in full service areas running since August 2016 in 18 areas and as of May 2017 had a total sample of 792.
Projection of number of families claiming UC in each constituency when full service rollout has completed uses national patterns of benefit claims from Family Resources Survey 2014-15 and constituency level administrative data from the DWP and HMRC from August 2015.
For more information please contact
Sally Pickering, Chief Officer, on 01453 758252 Ex201 Mon, Tues, We, Fri 9am – 5pm or
Judy Dauncey, Benefits Team Leader, 01453 758252 Ex314 Tes, Wed, Fri 9.30am – 5.30pm
Advice is available on the Freephone numbers 0808 800 0510 in the Stroud District and 0808 800 0511 in the Cotswold District Monday – Friday 10am and 4pm. For more information about opening times and locations, go to our website at www.citizensadvice-stroudandcotswold.org.uk
Our response to I, Daniel Blake
To Neil Carmichael (MP) and Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (MP)
I, along with hundreds of other people in Stroud, went to see the film “I, Daniel Blake”, this week. The story the film tells is unfortunately not unfamiliar. At Citizens Advice in Stroud we come across many cases that are very similar to Daniel’s or Katie’s. Challenges with the work capability assessment, medical evidence, mandatory reconsiderations, appeals and sanctions are some of our biggest enquiry areas. The film is a powerful showcase of many aspects of the welfare system that is not working for people.
Although around 84% of people who use DWP services are satisfied with them, the people we help at Citizens Advice are more often than not part of the remaining 16%, or 3.5 million people, who are not satisfied.
Our clients are often people who don’t know where to start because they have extra support needs, who have got lost in a complex system and those for whom things have gone wrong. They are also people who have to navigate policies and processes that have been based on incorrect assumptions about how people live, are designed badly or are poorly implemented.
I urge you and your colleagues in Government to urgently address the following four key areas that would make sure a huge difference to so many people like Daniel Blake:
Improve the design of the support offered to those who are disabled or have a health condition including the work capability assessment
Improve the problems of poor administration and assessments of Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and the subsequent cost and stress of appeals, most of which are successful.
Ensure that JobCentre work coach staff have the capacity and knowledge to provide the support needed to new Universal Credit claimant groups
Tackle the problem of insecure, low-paid employment and the difficulty many people have in obtaining secure jobs.
We are pleased that, following a meeting with Neil Carmichael, he has visited the Stroud Job Centre to better understand the points we raised and has committed to ensuring that our experiences are fed into the review the Government is currently undertaking of how disability benefits are administered and assessed.
Talk about Abuse
Last year 1 in 15 women, and 1 in 33 men experienced domestic abuse at the hands of their partner or former partner. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men have experienced this kind of abuse at some point in their adult lives.
As well as domestic abuse by an intimate partner or ex partner, there are other kinds of domestic abuse such as forced marriage, elder abuse and so called ‘honour’ based violence.
Domestic abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. That said, some groups are at greater risk of experiencing abuse, or may face additional barriers to seeking help.
In our society, because of gender inequality, women are much more likely to be victims of domestic abuse. Women are more than twice as likely as men to be victims of abuse, and are much more likely to experience repeated abuse.
Domestic abuse affects same sex couples and follows the same pattern of power and control as those in heterosexual relationships. Individuals that identify as transgender are at even higher risk of physical violence from their current or former partner.
Domestic abuse affects people from all ethnic groups. However, the form the abuse takes may vary between communities, and some people from black and minority ethnic groups, those with insecure immigration status, or without English as a first language, may face additional barriers in getting help.
Individuals with a physical disability, long-term illness, and/or with mental health problems are at greater risk of experiencing domestic abuse and face additional barriers to getting support.
What can you do to help?
You may be able to help a friend, family member or colleague who is experiencing abuse if you:
pay attention to changes in behaviour
start a conversation
listen, support and believe
suggest further help. For details of local support available contact he Gloucestershire Domestic Support Service.
Make sure you are Scam Aware
Cold calls, high-pressure sales tactics and automated voicemails asking for people’s details are just some of the tricks scammers are using to rob people of their hard earned money, says Citizens Advice Stroud and Cotswold Districts.
That's why, alongside Trading Standards, we recently promoted Scams Awareness Month to help stop people falling prey to scams by following a three-step rule: get advice; report it; and tell others about it.
Fraud victims pay a heavy price, losing billions of pounds every year. Scams targeting people by phone or post alone cost people in the UK an estimated UK £5 billion each year.
Informing the authorities and warning others is the only sure fire way of stopping scams, but people can be hesitant to even tell their friends and family.
Throughout July we highlighted how speaking up about scams is key to getting them closed down, and how to go about reporting suspected fraud to the authorities.
Scams come in a variety of guises and we see new ones emerging all the time. However, there are common hallmarks to every scam and we’re keen to show people what to look out for so they don’t fall prey to a fraudster.Scams are more common than most people realise and every day we hear from people who have lost money to a con-artist. Some scams are one-offs that persuade you to part with a lump sum, while others go after your personal details so they can access your money or copy your identity.
This is precisely what happened to Peter who came for advice recently about dealing with investments after the death of his daughter. Peter said “I was looking to make the most of my money to ensure a secure future for my grandchildren. A company with very persistent online advertising seemed to be offering a better return than standard investments at stock market rates. But, having invested a few hundred pounds to test it out, I felt very pressured to increase this to £3,000 which I couldn’t really afford.”
More sinister was a second incident which Peter believes is related. Peter explained “Soon after this, I received a phone call, supposedly from Microsoft Technical Department, saying I had a fraudulent license. I gave them permission to access my pc to check, where they were able to gain access to all my banking details which were still on the pc from my previous dealings with the investment company. I later discovered multiple payments for a new Microsoft Licenses had been taken from my bank account. I believe there was some connection between these two scams so that my bank details could be acquired.”
With the help of his bank, Peter was able to put a stop to the scam and, having reported the incident to the Scam Fraud Service, it is now being investigated.
Peter added “I am mathematically competent and have a science background so I understand risk, but I feel their advertising was designed to deceive and their sales approach was very hard to resist. If I can be caught like this, it can happen to anyone and so it’s vital that such scams are reported and investigated as this is the only way they will be closed down.”
You can help us tackle scams in our communities by getting to know the common signs, warning others, and reporting incidents to us so we can investigate. If you think you’ve been contacted by a con artist or have been the victim of scam, such as Peter was, you should seek advice and report it to the authorities by contacting the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 03454 04 05 06