Universal Credit causing concern

Mayor Terry Clements with the trustees of the West Suffolk Citizens Advice Bureau before the Annual General Meeting 2017
Mayor Terry Clements with the trustees of the West Suffolk Citizens Advice Bureau before the Annual General Meeting 2017

An MP has written to the Secretary of State to raise her concerns about the impact that Universal Credit will have on vulnerable people in the Bury St Edmunds area.

Jo Churchill MP requested a meeting with David Gauke MP in a letter written last month, in which she also voiced her concerns about the controversial new scheme which sees six different means-tested benefits replaced by one.

She said the new system not only put pressure on the referral and assessment processes but also on front line staff who were finding it difficult to work with the vulnerable individuals with issues of mental health or substance abuse ‘who find it hardest to engage with the benefits system’.

She expressed fears that if these concerns were not addressed, they would ‘squander the opportunities that universal credit can deliver’.

The West Suffolk Citizens Advice Bureau also identified several problem areas with the scheme at its Annual General Meeting on Monday.

Jane Ballard, district manager, said the online application process was making people disengage with the process from the offset.

“The fact that it’s digital by default is a big issue because some people have problems with technology anyway but also because we live in a rural area, some people would have to travel a distance to get online,” she said.

“People are then waiting an average of six weeks and sometimes longer to get paid so are starting off with the potential to have rent arrears and debt to keep themselves going during the application and assessment periods.”

In response, the Citizens Advice Bureau will have two people stationed at the Jobcentres in Bury and Haverhill to provide extra help to those who are struggling.

“Having them there means that when the work coaches see someone who needs extra help either with online work or household budgetting or debt, they can then be introduced to our workers who can help them to resolve those issues,” Jane said.

It is thought that at the end of the rolling out process, around 10,000 people in Bury will be on Universal Credit.

“I should imagine that we will have more clients as a result of it,” Jane said.

At the end of the CAB’s meeting in Bury, Mayor Terry Clements presented long-service certificates to volunteers Mary Grenville, Nic Wright and Jane Kemp.