The Introduction of Universal Credit

Universal Credit is intended to simplify the benefits system by replacing six working age benefits with a single benefit payment.

It will affect 8 million households across England and Wales.

Citizens Advice has this year undertaken research to investigate the effect of its implementation on those who will be claiming it.

The principles behind Universal Credit are admirable – making work pay and having a more streamlined benefit rather than more complex multiple benefits.

In their reports Pop Goes the Payslip: Making Universal Credit work for families and Rebalancing Universal Credit – Making it Work for disabled people, Citizens Advice found that many disabled people and parents on low income will not see any financial gain if they increase their working hours and in some cases they will suffer financial loss.

Approximately 50% of those who come to Citizens Advice for advice will be affected by the implementation of Universal Credit and will need support to apply for the benefit and manage the change in the administration that the benefit involves. 90% of these clients are not ready for this change.

Universal Credit will be implemented fully in Poole in October 2017. Bournemouth’s implementation will be staggered with half the Borough seeing implementation in November 2017 and the remainder in January 2018.

With our support many of these clients can be guided successfully through this process. It is vital however that alongside the support we give to clients we continue to monitor the implementation of Universal Credit and highlight areas of inequity and difficulty.

As Advisors and Volunteers, we can do this through bureau evidence forms.

Areas that Universal Credit impacts are:

  • Application process
  • Problems with the administration of the benefit
  • Difficulty and or expense in accessing helplines
  • Delays in payment leading to financial hardship including debt
  • Rent/mortgage arrears and potential homelessness
  • The need to access Food Banks
  • Increase in use of payday loans and loan sharks
  • Difficulty for applicants securing rented accommodation due to landlords losing the “security” of direct payments from benefits agency and being paid directly by tenants.
  • The increased inappropriate use of section 21 in the eviction of tenants due to landlords losing “security” of payments
  • Tenants remaining in unsafe/unsuitable accommodation as they are fearful if they complain they will be evicted and they may not be able to find anywhere else to live
  • The complexity of budgeting skills needed by claimants, especially those on zero hour contracts
  • The affects of digital exclusion on a predominantly online accessed benefit

The implementation of Universal Credit has the potential to cause genuine hardship and suffering to some of the most vulnerable households in our area. By highlighting these issues through investigation of the reasons behind the difficulties our clients are facing, we do, however, have the opportunity to bring about positive change.