Doncaster Citizen's advice bureau concerns over Universal Credit

Volunteers at Doncaster Foodbank
Volunteers at Doncaster Foodbank

Doncaster's citizen's advice bureau is bracing itself.

Last week saw the full roll-out of the Government's new Universal Credit for all benefit claimants in the borough.

Free Press foodbank campaign

Free Press foodbank campaign

It has sparked concerns that it may bring a surge in demand for the borough's foodbanks, as in some cases people have been left waiting several weeks before they receive their money under the new system.

It has lad to the launch of the Free Press Foodbank campaign, in which we are urging people to donate food or offer premises for use as collection points.

Citizens Advice Doncaster Borough, which operates from sites across the borough, is responsible for referring people to Doncaster Foodbank, on Thorne Road. Karen Bothamley, the organisation's chief executive, said she expects to see a major rise in the number of food vouchers they issue.

They have already seen an increase, she said, as a result of Universal Credit's introduction for younger, unmarried people, in the borough earlier in the year.

Today, the Citizens Advice Doncaster Borough revealed it has already had around 70 calls over the new benefits system.

Oliver Head, operations manager, said the full impact on the community is still to be seen.

He said: "We have already had approximately 70 single claimants referred to us who are in need of budgeting advice on claiming universal credit. The majority of this number have been referred on internally to our debt specialist team.

"As Universal Credit has now been rolled out fully in Doncaster I expect the demand for UC advice to increase dramatically, not only with the initial claim of UC but advice budgeting and dealing with debt.

"Universal Credit can be easier for claimants once they are on the benefit. However, for the new claimant who isn't fortunate to have some financial security, it is going to be nothing but a struggle.

Universal Credit has been claimed by single people under 25 in Doncaster who are looking for work for some time now and this has already demonstrated some of the problems future claimants can expect to face.

Mr Head said: "The main issue is the waiting period for full payment. A five to six week wait for the first payment isn’t an anomaly but the standard waiting period and it is this that it causing the majority of the problems for new claimants. Although the Government will excuse this with the availability of an advance payment, this in fact only goes to add to financial difficulties of households.

"An advance payment is a percentage of a person’s normal UC amount which is given to provide some financial assistance until the first UC payment is made. However, this is taken out of subsequent UC payments. All this is means is that households are then living on a reduced UC claim for a period of 6 months whilst they repay the advance payment.

"Another factor which is causing residents of Doncaster problems is that they are now responsible for paying rent to their landlords instead of this being done automatically. Although this can in theory go towards providing people with responsibility for their outgoings it can be a struggle in practice for the most vulnerable members of the community.

"Doncaster's advice bureaus have already seen clients with mental health problems; poor budgeting skills or alcohol/drug addictions spend the money instead of passing it to the landlord. Consequently, this runs the risks of clients facing possession proceedings. Whilst there are procedures in place to support some of the more vulnerable people claiming UC such as having their rent paid directly to the landlord, it is not working for all claimants and people are falling through the net."

This in turn has led to concerns over homelessness.

Joyce Foster, executive director of M25 Housing and Support Group, said: “The increase in the numbers of people affected by homelessness in Doncaster and across the UK as a whole have grown at an alarming rate over the past decade. Further increases in the numbers of homeless people are expected as welfare reform changes through the introduction of Universal Credit are rolled out."

Govermment's plans

The Government believes its new Universal Credit will help people moved from benefits into work.

A Department for Works and Pensions spokesman said: “Universal Credit lies at the heart of our commitment to help people improve their lives and raise their incomes. It provides additional, tailored support to help people move into work and stop claiming benefits altogether.

“And it’s working. With Universal Credit, people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the old system.

“Universal Credit is already in every jobcentre for single claimants, and we are rolling it out to a wider range of people in a safe and controlled way. The vast majority of claimants are paid in full and on time, and are comfortable managing their money. Advance payments and budgeting support is available for anyone who needs extra help.”

The DWP says its latest research shows that around 80 per cent of all new claims were paid in full and on time. They says when new claims are not paid on time, it is estimated that two-thirds have an outstanding verification issue, such as providing bank statements, evidence of childcare costs, or proof of rent. Other times it’s because a claimant has not signed their claimant commitment.

If someone cannot wait for a first payment because they are in financial need, we want to make sure they can claim an advance payment as quickly as possible. Once we know they are entitled to an advance it is paid within three working days. If someone is in urgent need a payment can be made on the same day.

They said Universal Credit gives people control over their finances, and paying their own rent is an important part of this – just like someone in work would do.

They added: "The majority of claimants are comfortable managing their money but advances are available for anyone who needs extra help, and arrangements can be made to pay rent direct to landlords if needed."

Case study

Doncaster resident Ashley Ingram said he was hit by delays when he received his benefits earlier this year.

Ashley, of Hall Flatt Lane, Balby, said he lives on £640 a month universal credit, with his girlfriend.

But when he first applied for benefits, he found himself having to wait around four weeks for payments to come through.

It left him without money for food or electricity payment cards, until his family stepped in.

He said he was lucky in that he was able to borrow from his parents to tide him over until his money came through.

He said: "I had to borrow money from my parents - I was lucky in that they were able to help. I was also lucky in that I had a very understanding landlord."

How to donate

Donated food can be delivered to Christ Church any Tuesday or Thursday between 9am and 12noon at Thorne Road, Doncaster, DN1 2HG. You can contact the foodbank to become a collection point at info@doncaster.foodbank.org.uk or by visiting www.doncaster.foodbank.org.uk

Doncaster Foodbank has a permanent collection point at Tesco Extra at Woodfield Plantation, Woodfield Way, Balby, Doncaster, DN4 8SN

The organisation's most urgently needed food items include tinned fruit, long life fruit juice, tinned rice pudding, tinned meat, pasta sauce and rice. It also takes non-food items such as toiletries, cleaning and sanitary products,. All items should be unopened, in date and in good condition.

Doncaster also has food banks operating in Bentley, Rossington, Balby, Askern, Thorne, Stainforth, Edlington and Mexborough.