A DAMNING report on the chaotic implementation of Universal Credit in Sedgemoor says claimants are being forced to use food banks to survive and are running up rent arrears as they wait for claims to be handled.
Universal Credit replaced other benefits for all claimants in Sedgemoor this summer. The district is a pilot area, before Universal Credit is implemented nationally.
But the impact on people in Bridgwater and the rest of Sedgemoor is already making worrying reading.
Members of Sedgemoor District Council’s community scrutiny committee are meeting on Monday (November 28, 2016) to discuss a report put together by council staff, Citizens Advice Sedgemoor and Digilink – an organisation that helps people with online access – about the impact of Universal Credit in Sedgemoor.
The report does not make pleasant reading.
The CAB has said:
Long delays in payment are forcing people to rely on food banks to survive.
Many claimants face “digital exclusion” – with no internet access they struggle to make claims and are not being told they can claim in other ways.
Clients without bank accounts are frozen out.
During the waiting time for claims to be paid, claimants are running up rent arrears. When the first payment comes it is often used to pay the rent, leaving nothing for living costs.
Processes are unclear and clients are receiving conflicting information from Job Centre Plus.
The report highlights the problems faced by people struggling to deal with the online system and says there is inadequate support for the most vulnerable.
Labour says Universal Credit is not working and people are being forced into destitution.
Cllr Mick Lerry, leader of the Labour Group on Sedgemoor Council, said: “I welcome the work undertaken by Sedgemoor District Council, to highlight the impact of the roll out of Universal Credit in the district.
“The evidence shows that Universal Credit is not supporting the most vulnerable people and the inadequate administration of the programme is forcing many into debt and reliance on loan sharks and food banks.
“Case studies show that the roll out of UC is not working and the Department of Work and Pensions must understand how the people in need are being forced into destitution.
“I have sent the report to Debbie Abrahams, Labour Shadow Secretary of State for DWP, so that she is aware of what is happening to people locally and can challenge the Government, with the evidence in the report.”
Sedgemoor District Council’s experiences of Universal Credit mirror those of both Citizens Advice and Digilink particularly in terms of the level of support required.
Digilink said the most vulnerable 15 to 20 per cent in society was really struggling with a lack of confidence in using computers and the internet, while lots of clients did not have a bank account, an address or access to a telephone – a major problem as Universal Credit is “digital by default” and there is no other route into accessing it.
“The biggest problem was reported as clients being pushed from pillar to post,” said a Digilink spokesman. “There is a lack of understanding – clients don’t understand why they’re filling things out, what they’re applying for or what the end result will be.
“By not understanding the process we’ve found that some clients have difficulty explaining themselves and their individual circumstances.
“As a result we have seen an increase in frustrated clients and are concerned about the impact on their emotional wellbeing. In some cases they vent their frustrations and sometimes anger at the volunteers.”