‘Flawed’ Universal Credit leaving Bognor and Chichester residents’ finances ‘in tatters’

Chichester Citizens Advice has moved to Chichester District Council's East Pallant offices and officially reopened on Monday, July 31. Photo by Derek Martin. SUS-170731-190642008
Chichester Citizens Advice has moved to Chichester District Council's East Pallant offices and officially reopened on Monday, July 31. Photo by Derek Martin. SUS-170731-190642008

People’s financial security is being put at risk by Universal Credit (UC) as they wait six weeks for their first payment, Arun and Chichester Citizens Advice is warning.

The charity says many have turned to it for help with a temporary version of the benefit available to people with straightforward claims.

It is warning that the numbers struggling and plunged into debt will grow rapidly from April 2018, when full service arrives and anyone who would previously have claimed one of the old benefits – such as tax credits or housing benefit – has to apply for UC.

Carol Groves, chief executive of Arun and Chichester Citizens Advice, 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 Arun and Chichester who are having problems with Universal Credit and we are concerned this will rise significantly from April 2018. By 2022 it will affect thousands of households across the area.

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

By 2022, UC will affect 8,000 households across Chichester, 12,000 across Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, 6,000 across Arundel and South Downs, and 9,000 across West Worthing, the branch says.

Across the country one in four working age households will be claiming UC, it claims.

In a major new report called Delivering on Universal Credit, national Citizens Advice has revealed that the requirement to wait for six weeks to receive any payment means people face serious financial insecurity, many being forced into debt.

The research also identifies a wide range of administrative challenges, including problems with the online system and long waits to get help over the phone, which can make the initial six week wait even longer.

One in ten of the 800 people surveyed are waiting more than ten weeks without the benefit.

The charity is urging the Government to pause the rapid rollout of UC in October, to fix problems before thousands more are brought into the system.

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