On Hand to Help with Universal Credit

On October 17th 2018 the Universal Credit Full Service was introduced in Cambridge for New Claims. Citizens Advice has extensive information online about Universal Credit including eligibility, how to claim, payment problems, and sanctions, which you can find here.

What is happening?

Universal Credit is a new benefit which helps people on a low income or not in work meet their living costs. It combines six benefits, including Housing Benefit and Working Tax Credit, into a single monthly payment. Universal Credit is the biggest ever change to the benefits system, so it’s important that people get support while they get used to the new system.

Universal Credit has been in place in other parts of Cambridgeshire for some time, but any new claimants in Cambridge will be able to claim from October 17th 2018. Any existing claimants of the six benefits that UC replaces will be fully migrated to the new system eventually.

Any person making a new claim for working-age income-related benefits is eligible for Universal Credit.

Universal Credit payments are made in arrears once at the end of the month, rather than being paid every week. Payments will go straight into a claimant's bank account. This means people may need to set up their own standing orders for expenses like rent if it was paid directly to their landlord under the old Housing Benefit system. New Universal Credit applications, and any change in your circumstances, need to be made online.

What do we think?

We are aware of the issues surrounding Universal Credit and the impact its roll-out will have on our clients. Our CEO Rachel Talbot says:

“Universal Credit has been on everyone’s minds and we are certainly no exception. We have been monitoring the situation and have been giving feedback whenever we can. In theory we understand the reasoning behind it and agree – there are currently too many different benefits and Tax Credits which results in a complicated system that is difficult to navigate – but the point is does Universal Credit work in practice? We have found that it does work for a small percentage of our clients, but for the vast majority it is causing serious issues with sometimes dire consequences. That said, we have seen recent amendments and changes coming from Central Government in acknowledgement that some things must change if they want this to succeed.

We have been working with the DWP and Cambridge Job Centre along with the Revenue and Benefits department of the City Council for months in the knowledge that we needed to prepare for the UC rollout in Cambridge. The view was that we know there are still problems to overcome but if we work together we stand a better chance of making the process less painful and more supportive for UC claimants in our area. That does not mean that we will stop raising concerns and issues, making suggestions for change, or using case studies to evidence where things are going wrong. Our job is to make the best of it while at the same time pushing for solutions both locally and nationally.”

How can we help?

Advisers from Cambridge Citizens Advice will be at the Cambridge Job Centre at Henry Giles House on Chesterton Road every weekday. They will be there to provide Personal Budgeting Support for new Universal Credit Claimants, helping them manage their money while adapting to the new system. Clients can self-refer to us, or be referred by their Work Coach at the Job Centre or by the local council.

At our main office on 66 Devonshire Road we are providing a computer solely for accessing the Universal Credit application system that clients can use to apply and check their account. However, under Universal Credit rules, claimants must complete the application form by themselves and their details must not be input by anyone else.

Clients with debt, housing, family or any other issues can visit our drop-in as usual at 66 Devonshire Road, or visit one of our outreaches across Cambridge and South Cambs. Full details can be found here.