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, Former 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
Judy Dauncey, Benefits Team Leader, 01453 758252 Ex314 Tues, 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.