Peterborough families’ finances ‘left in tatters’ by Universal Credit roll out

Nicky Rees at Citizens Advice Peterborough EMN-170910-224623009
Nicky Rees at Citizens Advice Peterborough EMN-170910-224623009
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People living in Peterborough have had their finances “left in tatters” by the roll out of the controversial Universal Credit benefits system, according to Citizens Advice.

The charity claims it has had more than 2,000 enquiries in Peterborough about problems with UC since November last year.

It has now joined forces with degree researchers from University Centre Peterborough to assess how the roll out of UC is affecting residents in the city. The report is due out in November this year.

Nicky Rees, advice operations supervisor at Citizens Advice Peterborough, which is based in St Mark’s Street, off Burghley Road, said; “The principles behind Universal Credit are sound, but a mix of flaws in how the benefit was designed and problems with how it is being delivered is leaving many people’s finances in tatters.

“We’ve already had over 2,000 enquiries in Peterborough from people who are having problems with Universal Credit since November 2017. This joint project will allow us to explore further the local impact of Universal Credit, to work towards influencing change both locally and nationally.

“If anyone does run into problems with Universal Credit, don’t hesitate to contact Citizens Advice Peterborough for help.”

UC brings together six different benefits into a single monthly payment and, by 2022, it is expected to affect 21,500 households across Peterborough.

The system has proved to be controversial, with some new claimants waiting many weeks before receiving their first payment, although advanced payments have been given.

Its supporters claim it provides more support than the old benefits system to help people back into work.

MP for Peterborough Fiona Onasanya has previously labelled it “Universal Crisis”.

Course leader for BA (Hons) Sociology at the University Centre, Paul Wilks, said; “We are delighted to be working with Citizens Advice on this project. In the social sciences we are looking for every opportunity to contribute to the life of the city and we see this as a hugely important project.

“Most of our students are local and will have experience of the benefit, directly or indirectly. The decision to participate in this project was therefore an easy one.”

Juliet Welch, foodbank manager in Peterborough, said there had been a concern the roll out of UC would see more people needing to use a foodbank, but that this has not proven to be the case.

She added: “We do see clients struggling with UC and change of benefits, some impacted more than others. We were more concerned about the long wait when being transferred onto UC that we would have to be supporting more people and for longer to cover the wait period, but I think the local job centre are doing a good job in helping people where they can, and there is the option for clients to have advance payment.”

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Universal Credit (UC) replaces an out-of-date, complex benefits system with cliff edges that disincentivised work and often trapped people in unemployment. Under UC people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the old system.

“Through our ‘test and learn’ approach we have listened to feedback from stakeholders and claimants and made improvements, including increasing advances to 100 per cent, removing the seven day waiting period and paying people’s Housing Benefit for two weeks while they wait for the first UC payment.

“We have also invested up to £200 million in Universal Support so budgeting advice and digital support can be delivered by local authorities.”

Anyone with experience of Universal Credit who would like to participate in the project is asked to contact the University Centre Peterborough Research Team at research@peterborough.ac.uk or fill in an online survey at https://ucentrepeterborough.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_50UwR9TkxSO0Lqd.

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