Fixing Universal Credit
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Citizens Advice Oxford calls on government to pause expansion of ‘deeply flawed’ Universal Credit before it hits the city next month
Citizens Advice Oxford is warning that the expansion of Universal Credit is “a disaster waiting to happen” and is calling on government to pause its plans before they affect local people.
New research from Citizens Advice reveals that the people it helps with money matters are more likely to be in the most serious types of debt - where you could lose your home or even face prison - if they are on Universal Credit than if they’re on one of the benefits it replaces.
Many people have already turned to Citizens Advice Oxford for help with "live service" Universal Credit, a temporary version of the benefit available to people in the area with straightforward claims.
Citizens Advice Oxford says the numbers struggling will grow rapidly from this October, when “full service” arrives, meaning 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 12,000 households across the Oxford East constituency, and 6,000 across Oxford West & Abingdon. Problems with Universal Credit, including the long wait for first payment, can not only leave people’s finances in tatters but also lead to more pressure on local services such as homelessness, health and social care.
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.
The charity is urging the government to pause the roll-out of Universal Credit until problems with the benefit are fixed and ensure support is in place to help people adapt as they move onto the new benefit.
It is also calling for action to ensure no one applying for Universal Credit waits longer than 6 weeks for an income, and that anyone who needs it gets a payment within 2 weeks that they do not need to repay.
In a recent case, Citizens Advice helped an unemployed man from Oxford. He was told to apply for Universal Credit by Job Centre staff when he enquired about help with housing costs. He completed the online application, but his claim was rejected. He had no savings, and by this time, had borrowed money from his family to make ends meet. He then turned to Citizens Advice, and we found that he needed to come off Job Seekers Allowance before applying for Universal Credit: but neither the Job Centre nor the online application system had informed him of this. With the support of his family and Citizens Advice, he eventually made a successful transfer to Universal Credit. However, the experience has had a profound impact on his finances, as it doesn’t appear that he’ll be able to claim the Housing Benefit he was entitled to during his transition to Universal Credit. It was also a major distraction during a time when he had planned to look for work.
Al Bell, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Oxford said:
“This example shows that Universal Credit is deeply flawed and expanding it in Oxford is a disaster waiting to happen.
“We’re already helping many people across Oxford who are having problems with Universal Credit, and we are concerned this will rise significantly from next month (October). By 2022 it will affect huge numbers of households across the area.
“While Universal Credit is a good idea in principle, the system as it stands now is not able to properly support those in Oxford who need it, and could even leave them worse off. That’s why we want the government to pause its plan for roll-out so it has time to fix the underlying problems and make sure that everyone has access to the support they need to adapt to the changes.
“Citizens Advice Oxford helped over 2,000 people with benefit problems in the last year and anyone with a question or concern about Universal Credit should get in touch with us for help at the earliest opportunity. Our advice line is 03444 111 444.”
Universal Credit is a new benefit which helps people on a low income or not in work meet their living costs. It combines six benefits, including Housing Benefit and Working Tax Credit, into a single monthly payment.
Universal Credit is currently only available to single jobseekers in Oxford. From next month, new benefit claims from parents, couples and people who can’t work because of their health will also receive it.
There are three main changes Citizens Advice Oxford says people need to be aware of:
- Universal Credit payments are made in arrears, in a single payment at the end of the month, rather than being paid weekly or fortnightly.
- Payments will go straight into a claimant's bank account. This means people may need to set up their own standing orders for expenses like rent if it was paid directly to their landlord under the old Housing Benefit system.
- New Universal Credit applications, and any change in circumstances, need to be made online (www.gov.uk/apply-universal-credit).
With people facing at least a 5 to 6 week wait for their first Universal Credit payment, Citizens Advice Oxford is encouraging new Universal Credit claimants to apply for an advance payment if they’re concerned about meeting their living costs during this time.
Citizens Advice Oxford can be contacted at its office on St Aldates between 10am-4pm, Monday to Friday, or on 03444 111 444.
Last updated about 2 years ago