The numbers of Canterbury people seeking help with Universal Credit issues at Citizens Advice has jumped by 48 per cent in October.
In that month, 34 people went to the charity in Canterbury’s Westgate Hall Road for assistance with the new benefit. This is up from the 23 who went there in September.
The benefit — which replaces six others — was introduced on 4 July in Canterbury for new claimants. In July, 20 people went to Citizens Advice (CA) about it.
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In August, 23 people went along. There has been so much concern about the roll out of the benefit nationwide that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and many others have asked for it to be paused and rethought.
In September the Archbishop said: “We know that it has left too many people worse off than they were, putting people at the heightened risk of hunger. Can you believe we say this in England in the twenty-first century? Heightened risk of hunger, debt, rent arrears, food banks. When Universal Credit comes into a local area, the need for food banks goes up very significantly.”
The volunteers behind the Canterbury Food Bank are expecting a rise in numbers of people coming to them. In July, some 5% of visits to the Food Bank were attributed to Universal Credit — but the organisers think that the true percentage might have been higher since the reasons for needing a food parcel are not always recorded in detail.
More than half (19 people) of the 34 asking for help in October were seeking advice about their eligibility to claim the benefit — including three claimants with disabilities.
A wide range of issues are cropping up, including the calculations, evidence, backdating, debt advice, assessment for work capability, the repayment of advance payments, over-payments and help with budgeting.
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.
Several charities, including Macmillan Cancer Support and Catching Lives, are helping people with their claims. Catching Lives, the homelessness charity, is typically helping two or three people a week.
Project Manager Graeme Solly says that co-operation with the local wing of the Department of Work and Pensions has been a significant factor: “The Jobcentre have been listening to the issues, and have been working with us to resolve them.”
The national arm of the Department of Work and Pensions is introducing some reforms to soften the effect of the benefit on certain groups of claimants. The Child Poverty Action Group welcomed this announcement, made on 5 November, but said it did not go far enough.