Harrogate residents continue to ‘carry the cost’ of problems that emerged following the rollout of the government’s flagship benefits system, Universal Credit.
Two and a half years on since the full roll-out of the system in the district, the Craven and Harrogate District branch of Citizens Advice, say many claimants are struggling with debt as a result of UC.
Edward Pickering, CEO of the Citizens Advice, Craven and Harrogate District, said that while ‘helpful changes’ have been made to UC, residents continue to face problems.
He said: “We believe that the basic benefit simplification idea behind Universal Credit is good. So is the principle of rolling it out slowly to learn from mistakes.
“However as a result of structural problems and admin errors, we have seen many people living in this area who have carried, and are still carrying, the cost of those mistakes both in financial terms and in damage to their health and wellbeing.”
He added: “Several helpful changes have been brought in – people wait five weeks rather than six for first payment, delays have been lessened, the helpline to sort out DWP mistakes is now free, additional help with housing costs is available to some new claimants.
“However those who are already on Universal Credit are still carrying the debt caused by the earlier problems, they haven’t been compensated for the, then, huge cost of ringing the helpline to sort DWP mistakes or the extra week with no money.”
Across Harrogate and Knaresborough more than 3,700 households currently claim UC. The local CA branch has said a ‘typical’ week currently sees 21 people seeking help with the new system.
Among the ‘most outrageous examples’ it has seen have been with disabled people who live alone.
In one case handled by the branch a disabled woman faced a seven month wait for her UC payments, after moving to the district. Due to problems that emerged moving from her previous benefits to UC she was left over £1,000 in debt, and forced to exhaust her savings.
Now receiving UC, it is a £180 a month less than what she received previously under the old system.
When approached for a comment by the Advertiser, the Department of Work and Pensions said that £4.5 billion has been put towards ‘boosting the system.’
A DWP spokesperson said:“Universal Credit is claimed by over 1.4 million people and is working for the vast majority.
“We continue to make changes where necessary.”
They added that ‘most people are comfortable claiming online’, and that digital support was available for those who need extra help.