Councillors’ fears of Universal Credit crisis – and how to get help

Budget consultation

Thanet Labour councillors say they are dealing with a rapid rise of people asking for help due to  Universal Credit claims.

People with severe disabilities, self-employed, bereaved and recently unemployed people, those with poor literacy or no access to IT, or people with mental health issues are struggling to cope with the new payments, says Thanet Labour Group.

Roll out

Universal Credits were fully rolled out in Thanet in July. It means people making claims for income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, income support, child tax credits, working tax credits and housing benefit now get one monthly payment instead of separate payments.

Universal Credit is paid monthly in arrears so claimants have to wait one calendar month from assessment date before the first UC payment is made. They then have to wait up to seven days for the payment to reach their bank account.

Claimants have to manage their Universal Credits online and are expected to report changes, find support and contact their work coach through an online account.

One of the biggest changes for those on UC will be that they need to pay their rent directly to their landlord.

And for those aged between 18-21 there will be no payment of housing costs unless they meet certain exemptions.

Exemptions

  • Is responsible for a child or a qualifying young person;
  • Was a care leaver before reaching the age of 18;
  • Receives the care component of disability living allowance at the middle or highest rate or the daily living component of personal independence payments
  • Is subject to active multi-agency management
  • Is in temporary accommodation provided by a local authority pursuant to their homelessness duties
  • Has been subject to, or threatened with, domestic violence by their partner, former partner, or a family member.

Homelessness charities, including Porchlight and Centrepoint, have warned the exemptions are not exhaustive enough and will make it difficult for under 21s to find a safe home.

Arrears

But the six week wait for payments, which will be reduced to 5 weeks in February 2018 following a Budget announcement, is driving people into debt and rent arrears.

Some 80% of UC claimants across the country are behind with their rent payments.

In Thanet, data for last month showed 2,624 people making UC claims.

Many will struggle with the wait and most will need to adapt to managing a budget monthly rather than weekly or fortnightly.

Advance payment loans can be obtained but a report by a cross party MP committee said the loans only gave limited help because claimants could borrow only the equivalent of up to two weeks’ universal credit income to see them through the 42-day wait.

The fear is that growing numbers of UC claimants will face eviction because of mounting debt.

‘Set up to fail’

Cllr Ian Venables, from Margate central Ward, said: “It’s astounding that given the clear evidence that families are being pushed into debt by Universal Credit, that the Government hasn’t used this opportunity to put this right. People are being by set up to fail and homelessness is increasing.”

There are currently 2156 households on Thanet’s housing waiting list. Between July 1 and September 30 some 227 people have presented themselves as homeless, 169 households were placed in temporary accommodation and 69 in bed and breakfast.

The bill for the 2016/17 year for this accommodation topped £1.1 million.

Ramsgate Town and District Councillor Peter Campbell said: “Universal Credit Needs halting now to stop yet more people being thrown out of homes. This is a direct impact of Universal Credit.”

The Labour group have tabled a motion raising the issue to full council on December 7.

Help with making a claim

Universal Credit claims must be made online. If you don’t have access to the internet or need help with making a claim for Universal Credit, call Thanet council’s customer services team on 01843 577000 to book an appointment.

These will be at the Margate Gateway offices in the afternoons.

Universal Credits helpline

If you need help with your claim, call the Universal Credit helpline on: 0345 600 0723

Lines are open between 8am – 6pm, Monday to Friday (closed on bank and public holidays).

Calls cost up to 9p a minute from landlines and up to 55p a minute from mobiles. It should be free if you call from your mobile and have landline calls included in your contract. You can call them and ask them to call you back.

The DWP has said it will make this helpline free, but it isn’t yet.

Advance payment

To get an advance payment you will need to say how much money you need and give a breakdown of what it’s for. For example, you could tell them how much you need for bills, food and rent. The DWP will then work out how much your advance payment can be.

Once DWP have agreed to an advance payment you should get the money in 3 working days. Tell the DWP if you need it sooner than this – they can pay you on the same day if you’d have no other money to live on.

The DWP will pay the advance into the same bank account you’re using for your Universal Credit claim.

Help with rent

Discretionary housing payments (DHPs) are extra payments to help people pay their rent. Thanet council give DHPs to people receiving Housing Benefit or the housing costs element of Universal Credit who need more help with their housing costs.

DHPs are paid in addition to Housing Benefit or Universal Credit entitlement. As discretionary housing payments are not payments of benefit, TDC is able to decide who to give this extra help to, and how much to give.

The amount TDC can spend on discretionary housing payments is limited. Once this money has been used up the council will not be able to give extra payments.

Find out more here https://www.thanet.gov.uk/your-services/benefits/discretionary-housing-payments/discretionary-housing-payments-guidance/

Advice on UC

Money Advice Service

Citizens Advice

1 Comment

  1. What a huge balls-up this roll out of Universal credit has become ! The Government need to stop this putting everything under one monthly payment. How are the vulnerable supposed to manage these sums of money once a month from different departments. It is also wrong that claimants should be forced to make appointments and use computers online when they are unwell or disabled and cannot get out very often. Many do not understand computers either or have conditions that stop them getting help, many will not ask for help either for various reasons. There is no thought for the people at all by this uncaring Government who have designed this system to make thousands of vulnerable people penniless and homeless.

Comments are closed.