A government minister has defended the “disaster” of introducing universal credit to Great Yarmouth – and blamed benefit claimants for some of the problems.
Universal Credit replaced six other welfare allowances, including housing benefit, with one monthly payment in Yarmouth and Lowestoft this spring. But delays in claimants getting the money has led to some of the poorest tenants falling into rent arrears and being evicted.
Landlords and councils are owed tens of thousands of pounds in rent, while charities say it has led to more demand on soup kitchens and their services. Paul Cunningham, chairman of the Eastern Landlords’ Association, described the new system as a “disaster”.
Great Yarmouth Borough Council wrote to work and pensions secretary Damian Green in November about the problems caused by the delays in paying universal credit.
In a letter responding to the council, Mr Green wrote the roll-out of the new benefit system had been “carefully planned”, but admitted there had been problems. “We recognise that there are areas for improvement in the service,” he said.
But he said some delays were being caused by claimants “not providing the required evidence” for their claim despite “repeated requests” which meant job centre staff were having to chase them. He said the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was dealing with this by making it clearer which information claimants needed to provide.
Mr Green also said the DWP had put extra staff into clearing the backlog of applications.And he said councils had been given £500m in what is called Discretionary Housing Payments to support people in financial difficulty.
Councillors also quizzed Mr Green in the letter about why Yarmouth was chosen as one of the first places in the country to test the new system. Norfolk County councillor Jonathon Childs, called for a meeting between the DWP, local politicians and charities to help those affected.
“The effects of universal credit are really shocking and the length of time that claimants have to wait is far too long,” he said. “What are people meant to live on while the claims are dealt with?”
An investigation by this newspaper found some tenants ran off owing landlords thousands of pounds when they were finally paid, while others were £1500 in rent arrears.
The Yarmouth soup kitchen said it had seen a 300pc rise in demand over the autumn, which it put down to people not receiving universal credit on time.