Hartlepool advice boss backs calls for new benefit reform

Citizen Advice Hartlepool is backing the national campaign. Picture: PA Photo.
Citizen Advice Hartlepool is backing the national campaign. Picture: PA Photo.

A Hartlepool advice service is backing a national campaign calling for reform of a new benefit amid claims it is pushing people into debt.

Citizens Advice says a six-week wait faced by new claimants of Universal Credit means they face financial insecurity.

And it warns the problems will only get worse as the benefit is more widely rolled out from October.

Citizen Advice Hartlepool say they are helping many people with Universal Credit issues.

But the Department of Work and Pensions says people are getting work quicker and staying employed for longer.

Citizens Advice Hartlepool manager Joe Michna 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’re already helping many people across Hartlepool who are having problems with Universal Credit, and by 2022 if will affect thousands of households in the area.

“People are being pushed into debt and hardship because of the way in which the initial claim process works.

“Some local people claiming Universal Credit are experiencing financial hardship due to the delay in the benefit being paid and the difficulties in getting an advance payment.

“If the government doesn’t fix significant problems with Universal Credit then many families across Hartlepool may be put at financial risk, which can in turn put huge pressure on other local services such as health, housing and social care.”

The national Citizens Advice service report, Delivering on Universal Credit, is based on a survey of 800 claimants.

As well as the six-week wait, it says there are problems with its phone online system.

It found ●over a third (39%) of people are waiting more than the six weeks and 11% are waiting over 10 weeks.

The DWP said the study did not reflect the half a million people claiming Universal Credit.

A spokesman said: “The best way to help people pay their rent and improve their lives is to help them into work, and under Universal Credit people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the old system. Universal Credit is designed to mirror the way many people in work are paid, and we have budgeting advice and benefit advances available for anyone who needs extra help.

“We are rolling out Universal Credit in a gradual, safe and secure way, and in the rare cases where issues arise, we work closely with local authorities and landlords to support people when they need it.”