Despite widespread criticism, the government has said it will press ahead with plans to accelerate the roll-out of universal credit, which commenced last month.
Andy Brown, CEO of Citizens Advice Manchester, told Legal Action that while they ‘agree with the principle of universal credit, to simplify the benefits system’, their clients are telling staff that there is ‘still much more to fix before the pace of the roll-out of the full service increases in Manchester’. According to Brown, the main problem the bureau encounters is that clients are waiting up to 12 weeks before their first payments. He also described the forms to apply for the benefit as ‘complicated’ and was critical about the lack of support available from the government for completing the forms.
Brown said: ‘We have seen a couple of clients who have waited 13 weeks for their initial payment. Another client waited two months for her housing element to be assessed. Without support from our housing team, this client would be at risk of homelessness.’
understands that a number of backbench Conservative MPs have been critical of the government’s plans after claims that it will force people into rent arrears, risking homelessness. The former Conservative prime minister John Major was quoted in a number of newspapers as calling the system ‘operationally messy, socially unfair and unforgiving’. Tory backbencher Heidi Allen told the Express
on 9 October that while she agreed with the new benefit, ‘we must reduce the speed of roll-out until we have a system that reliably pays claimants on time and the IT is operating fully. We should also use this time to review whether the six-week waiting period works for vulnerable people’.
Brown said that, nationally, ‘40 per cent of people Citizens Advice supported were not aware that they could receive an advanced payment whilst they wait for their initial payment’. He believes that ‘people often go without any income for significant periods of time and are often reliant on charitable support, foodbanks and have to borrow money to pay for essentials’.