Concerns over delivery and financial impact of Universal Credit in West and Mid Suffolk
Concerns have been raised about the delivery and financial impact of Universal Credit after the Government revealed more than 4,700 people in West Suffolk are claiming the benefit.
Latest statistics released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that 3,488 residents in the St Edmundsbury area are receiving Universal Credit (UC) support with 1,274 in Forest Heath. This compares to 2,053 in Mid Suffolk, 2,324 in Babergh and 3,562 in Breckland.
The Government says UC, which is now available in every jobcentre, simplifies the benefits system by replacing six previous benefits with a single monthly payment.
Citizens Advice bosses though have highlighted issues with the system.
Jane Ballard, district manager at Citizens Advice West Suffolk, said they have minimised ‘some of the problems encountered elsewhere in the country’ through ‘effective joint working’ between Jobcentre Plus, the local authority and others but ‘it is a concern that Jobcentre Plus staffing levels are now being reduced’.
She said: “There are many claimants of legacy benefits to be transferred to Universal Credit over the next few years and there needs to be support for those claimants in place.”
She added that ‘too many elements’ of the UC payment process need to be manually implemented and monitored monthly but as the numbers of claimants increase, ‘it is hard to see how this can be reliably sustainable without more automation’.
Carol Eagles, manager at Citizens Advice Mid Suffolk, said the amount received for rent is ‘often much lower than it actually costs’.
She noted the Local Housing Allowance ‘hasn’t been increased in line with local rents since April 2013’. The branch cited one client who is sometimes paid early by her employer, which led to ‘miscalculations in her income and big drops in her UC’ - fluctuations that left her in debt and ‘at risk of losing her home’.
A DWP spokeswoman said Local Housing Allowance rates ‘are not intended to meet rents in all areas’ and they provide the ‘best possible support for all claimants’.
Will Quince, minister for welfare delivery, said the employment rate has reached a ‘joint-record high’ due in part to ‘fantastic jobcentre staff, who work tirelessly to help build skills and find jobs’.