by Neasa MacErlean
The introduction of Universal Credit is pushing more than one family each working day to ask for help at Citizens Advice.
Other charities are also seeing a rise in calls for help as a result of the new benefit.
At least one in 20 food parcels handed out in July by the Canterbury Food Bank went to families and individuals with Universal Credit issues — although the Food Bank organisers think that their statistics might be understating its effect.
The benefit was introduced for new cases from July 4 in the Canterbury area.
Citizens Advice in Canterbury saw 20 cases that month, rising slightly to 23 in August and 23 in September. The majority of claimants are in families but some claims relate to single people.
There were 944 claimants in the area as of August 9, according to the latest government statistics.
The benefit replaces six others — income based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, income based Employment and Support Allowance and Income Support. But Universal Credit is paid monthly in arrears, while the six previous benefits could be claimed weekly or fortnightly in most circumstances.
The government has acknowledged that delays are happening in processing some applications — affecting one in six of new claims. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, recently asked for Universal Credit to be scrapped, as it was causing “intense suffering” and leaving many people “worse off than they were”.
Highlighting research showing that some families lose £200 per month when they go onto Universal Credit, former prime minister Gordon Brown has just called for it to be abandoned. He described the benefit as “cruel and vindictive”.
Peter Taylor-Gooby, trustee at the Canterbury Food Bank, said: “We expect an increase in numbers as a result of Universal Credit, but claimants of existing benefits won’t be transferred to UC until next year, so the increase will take place over time.”
Graeme Solly, project leader at the Catching Lives homelessness charity, says that co-operation from local benefits officials and others is proving useful in dealing with the problems raised. He said: “Support from the Jobcentre and Connecting Canterbury has helped us.”