By Andy Little
One of the Government’s key Welfare Reforms was rolled out in Inverness on Monday 25th of November.
Universal Credit replaces a number of Benefits for new claimants and is part of a controlled introduction across the United Kingdom. The scheme has already attracted criticism for problems with the Information Technology but a Department of Work and Pensions spokesperson refuted claims that the project was in trouble. The spokesperson said:”Universal Credit rolls six Benefits into one and is a vital reform to the Welfare State that rewards work.It started in Hammersmith last month and is up and running in the Greater Manchester and Cheshire area. It will expand to Harrogate, Bath and Shotton by the spring”
Minister for Welfare Reform, Lord Freud said:”Universal Credit is modern Welfare that rewards people who move into work supports those who’ve fallen on hard times and is fair to the taxpayers. We are introducing Universal Credit in a slow safe and controlled way. This careful approach is working well and we are in a strong position as we bring Universal Credit to Inverness and Rugby for the first time. Most people are claiming it online, the Information Technology is working and comprehensive support is in place. We will build on there successes as Universal Credit rolls out….”
In Inverness, however Alasdair Christie the General Manager of the Citizens Advice Bureau was not convinced. He remains sceptical of the Governments claims and expressed his concern about the extra numbers of clients who will need to use the service to claim on line. Christie said: “We have instigated Saturday morning opening for claimants to make claims and allow them to manage claims online ….but away from Inverness people will struggle.”
He was also concerned about the impact of Universal Credit being paid to one member of the household once a month. Christie said:”…..One payment a month is difficult for people to manage and could lead to an increase in payday loans….I am anxious not optimistic”
Highland Council have produced detailed guidance on their website for claimants and expect that initial uptake will be slow. Council staff have been trained and are in a position to help by extending online access in agreed locations especially assisting vulnerable claimants to claim online.
The Highland Council joint report on Welfare Reform, by the Director of Finance and the Interim Director of Housing also noted some concerns about the roll out. The report said:”There are a number of serious concerns about the potential impact of Universal Credit on tenants and council house rental income. These include practical arrangements on data sharing between the council and the Department of Work and Pensions and arrangements for implementing “switchback”payments, due to rent arrears”
Universal Credit replaces Income based Jobseekers Allowance, Income related Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Working Tax credit, Child Tax Credit and Housing Benefit.