The national charity is reiterating its call for the government to pause the roll-out of the benefit. In August the equivalent of 12% of people applying for Universal Credit turned to Citizens Advice for support.
Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Gillian Guy said “While Universal Credit works well for many people, thousands are struggling because of flaws in the system. In the last year 16% of people turning to Citizens Advice for Universal Credit advice also had a housing issue, with 5% needing help for threatened homelessness. Not only did some face the distressing prospect of eviction but this also places further pressure on local housing and homelessness services.”
“We support the principles behind Universal Credit, but the government must act to pause the benefit’s expansion from next month and take the time to fix the underlying problems, so families aren’t left without the means to make ends meet.”
Citizens Advice wants government to pause the expansion of Universal Credit while it fixes problems with the benefit. It is also calling for action to ensure no one waits longer than 6 weeks for an income and anyone who needs it receives a payment within 2 weeks that they do not need to repay and that everyone has access to the support they need to adapt to Universal Credit.
Universal Credit was introduced in 2013, aiming to simplify the benefits system, to make transitions into work easier, and make every hour of work pay. It’s there for people on low incomes or not in work to help them meet their living costs.
Universal Credit is for people both in work and out of work, disabled people and those with a health condition, single people and those with families, people who own their homes and people who rent. It replaces six means-tested benefits and tax credits with one benefit. This is paid in arrears, as a single household payment, on a monthly basis.
It is designed to use Real Time Information from HMRC to respond to changes in income, gradually reducing the UC payment as earnings increase to ensure work pays. The six benefits it replaces are:
Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
Income-based Employment Support Allowance (ESA)
Housing benefit (HB)
Income Support (IS)
Child Tax Credits (CTC)
Working Tax Credits (WTC)
Universal Credit is being rolled out gradually across the country, one job centre at a time. Everywhere in the country either operates a “live service” or “full service”.
Live service areas are places where a limited version of Universal Credit is in place only for certain people (eg single adults not in work), so as to test the system on those with simpler claims. ‘Full’ service has been developed to upgrade and build on the first, ‘live’ system.
From May 2016, full service Universal Credit began to be introduced across the country, in a small number of local authorities initially, which meant all new claimants of the six different benefits being replaced are required to apply for UC.
Live service roll-out is now complete, but full service roll-out is ongoing and due to accelerate significantly from October 2017. All areas will eventually become full service by 2022.There are currently 533,000 people on Universal Credit in England and Wales, with around 50,000 new claims each month (ONS).