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Universal Credit: Over 1,400 people turn to Harrogate and Craven Citizen's Advice

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Published at 7:02am 7th March 2019.

Nearly one and a half thousand people have needed help in Harrogate and Craven with their Universal Credit payments. 

  • As part of our investigation into the new benefits system, we've been speaking to Harrogate and Craven Citizen's Advice 
  • Universal Credit was introduced in Harrogate and Craven in 2016 as part of a pilot
  • In that time, Citizen's Advice has helped 1,464 clients 
  • It says there are "winners and losers" in the new the system 

Universal Credit represents a huge shake-up of the benefits system and rolls a number of benefits into one.

Read more about how Universal Credit works here.

It was introduced in Harrogate and Craven in 2016 after the region was chosen as one of 10 pilot areas in the UK. 

We've found people have had to turn to food banks for help. 

One woman even told us Universal Credit led to her becoming homeless. 

Stray FM has been speaking to Harrogate and Craven Citizen's Advice as part of our investigation. 

The charity offers free, independent advice to help people with monetary or legal problems. 

Since Universal Credit was fully rolled out in Harrogate and Craven, it's helped 1,464 people with their claims. 

599 were for help with the initial claim. 

209 were for help with Disabilities and Universal Credit, 83 were for deductions from Universal Credit and 137 were for problems with the housing element the new system. 

Sue Royston from Harrogate and Craven Citizen's Advice has been researching the impact of Universal Credit in the area. 

She said: 

"There are lots of hidden problems.

"It was designed to be a simple system but I don't think even attention was paid to the way people go through the system.

"As a result there's lots of snags and pitfalls that can catch people out."

Sue says one of the main issues is the amount of time it takes for people to receive their first payment. 

Sue added: 

"It is now five weeks but for our clients for a long time it was six weeks before they got their first payment. 

"So if you've been in work and paid a weekly wage, you're let got from your job, suddenly you've got six weeks with no money to manage." 

Sue says this leads to problems such as debt and falling into rent arrears

You can hear more from Sue below: 

Harrogate and Craven Citizen's Advice says there are winners and losers of the new system. 

It says couples where one person has a serious health condition or disability will benefit from Universal Credit, whereas single disabled people who are on their own could be worse off. 

You can hear Sue talk more about the winners and losers of Universal Credit here: 

Who are the winners and losers of Universal Credit?

 

Prime Minister Theresa May has described the introduction of the benefit changes as a "steady process", saying ministers are "learning through the process".

At the beginning of the year the government delayed a vote on the roll out of Universal Credit. 

But it says the new system will be in place nationwide by December 2023 as planned. 

A Department of Work and Penisons spokesperson said:

Universal Credit is a force for good, we continue to make improvements where needed and 96% of claimants now receive their payments in full and on time.

“There is a range of specialised support to people struggling with homelessness and housing issues, including help with opening bank accounts, finding accommodation and budgeting. We have also committed to establishing a single point of contact for homelessness issues in every jobcentre.

Food bank use is a complex issue, and can’t be tied to any one cause.”

The Department for Work and Pensions also claims Universal Credit will mean "an extra 200,000 people moving into work and increasing their incomes". It says the system is simpler and families and disabled people will receive more money per month.

It adds "a range of stakeholders, including Refuge, Crisis and StepChange responded positively to Secretary of State’s recent speech, setting out an ambitious new future for Universal Credit."

For help and advice from Citizen's Advice visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk

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