Universal Credit warning after charity’s food voucher handouts spike

Arun & Chichester Citizens Advice volunteers taking part in the Legal Walk
Arun & Chichester Citizens Advice volunteers taking part in the Legal Walk

Arun and Chichester district residents have been warned to expect challenges when Universal Credit is rolled out after Hastings saw a 300 per cent increase in food vouchers handed out to those on the breadline.

Citizens Advice Arun and Chichester branch is deeply concerned that the full benefits switch over will put people’s financial security at risk.

It works closely with its Hastings branch, where volunteers have seen a 25 per cent increase in its financial advice services and a massive increase in food voucher hand-outs since Universal Credit (UC) went from ‘live’ to ‘full service’ in December 2016.

Low-income Chichester and Arun residents will transition to UC from April 2018.

Carol Groves, chief executive officer for Citizens Advice Arun and Chichester, said: “Following on from the previous (Observer) article warning that Universal Credit is putting people’s financial security at risk, as they wait six weeks or more for their first payment, we have contacted the chief executive officer, Tracy Dighton, of Citizens Advice 1066 (Hastings and Rother).

“We enquired about their experience with the implementation of the Universal Credit full service in their area as they moved from the live service to the full service in December 2016.

“Tracy Dighton informed us that there has been a 25 per cent increase in the clients supported by Citizens Advice since the introduction of Universal Credit and almost 300 per cent increase in the number of food vouchers issued.

“She has also informed us that, in order to deal with the demand they were forced to increase their hours of service and had to establish a new Financial Capability Team.

“This team delivers personal budgeting advice for Universal Credit clients moving to monthly payments and overseeing delivery of basic IT training to help them manage online claims.

“A 25 per cent increase in demand will result in longer waiting times for clients to access assistance and appointments.

“In turn, this will have serious consequences to other clients who are seeking advice on issues unrelated to Universal Credit as their waiting times will also increase.”

Volunteers and staff from the Arun and Chichester branch of the charity took part in the recent sponsored Chichester Legal Walk 2017 to raise funds to help them support local citizens.

Citizens Advice says it need people’s support to enable them to train volunteers who provide advice free of charge and to invest in PC terminals as the only way to claim Universal Credit is to apply online.

“It is estimated that 20 per cent of claimants will have difficulty applying online, so your help is vital,” Carol added.

In order to mitigate the demand Arun and Chichester Citizens Advice is doing fundraising events to highlight the issue and raise funds to strengthen its welfare benefit team, liaising with Arun and Chichester District Council and the Department of Work and Pension to share knowledge and resources and highlight the issue with all local MPs.

Its volunteers will be taking part in the Walk the Thames event on the October 28.

For more information about the charity click here or for advice call 0344 477 1171.

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