South Hams residents are to be spared some of the worst side effects of the government’s botched roll out of Universal Credit following a successful campaign by Citizens Advice both nationally and locally.
After pressure from the charity and others, the government has come up with a £1.5bn package to ease implementation of the troubled new welfare system, due to come into force fully in Devon later this year. Sarah Wollaston, MP for Totnes, was one of the most high profile politicians demanding the changes, having listened to Citizens Advice South Hams who highlighted the many difficulties being encountered by those moving to the new benefit.
Rollout has been paused, the seven day wait at the beginning of a claim has been removed, the Universal Credit helpline has been made free of charge, and Jobcentres has been told to ensure all claimants know they can apply for an Advance Payment. Those in need of a payment will receive one within two weeks while those previously claiming Housing Benefit will receive an additional two week payment during the wait for their first payment under the new system.
The biggest shake-up of welfare in decades, Universal Credit combines six benefits – income support, jobseeker’s allowance, employment support allowance, housing benefit and working tax and child tax credits – into a single monthly payment.
Citizens Advice is the nation’s biggest provider of advice but is also a campaigning organisation, with its extensive network pooling information collected at the grassroots.
“The campaign has been a shining example of what we can achieve when we work together as one service,” said Gillian Guy, chief executive of national Citizens Advice. “Our clients’ evidence has been cited an unprecedented amount in national and local news coverage, and in Parliament by MPs across the political spectrum. “The public conversation on benefits is now focused on making sure there is a safety net that works for the most vulnerable people in our society. Citizens Advice has ignited a more compassionate tone to the conversation.”
Janie Moor, chief executive of Citizens Advice South Hams said “We are really proud of what we’ve managed to achieve for our clients by working together with the national Citizens Advice service. The £1.5bn package that has been made available will make a real difference to people’s lives at a time when they are likely to be facing financial hardship.”
For more information about Universal Credit, please visit citizensadvice.org.uk and for information about the charity’s local activities please visit southhamscab.org.uk.