The town was one of the first places in the country to test the Government’s flagship welfare reform, which replaced lots of different benefits with a single payment.
Universal Credit has been rolled out across the rest of the region, including King’s Lynn, Lowestoft and Dereham and is meant to be introduced to Norwich this October.
Despite the problems it has caused, Norwich City Council said it was ready for the change.
Councillor Karen Davis said: “We’ve been working to ensure our residents, particularly the most vulnerable, are prepared.”
But claimants are still reporting problems of being overpaid some months and underpaid on others. This as we all know, is a national issue that has been raised countless times by MPs and alike with no result. The DWP often keen to blame it on teething issues, despite being 5 years now since it was rolled out.
Rent arrears have surged as tenants have to wait for the first payment, leaving them without money. Landlords report some tenants leaving without paying rent when they got the first payment.
While under the previous housing benefit system the rent was paid directly to the landlord, it goes to the claimant under Universal Credit. Landlords can apply to get the rent directly from the DWP, but many don’t know about this or even when they do it takes time to set up.
Landlords feeling the pinch
But they are still reluctant to take on Universal Credit tenants, according to Paul Cunningham, chairman of the Eastern Landlords Association, pictured above.
He described the system as “disastrous” for tenants and “unworkable” for landlords.
“My members complain of poorly trained Jobcentre staff who give contradictory advice, difficulty in contacting the DWP and long delays before the claims are set up for payment.”he told the Eastern Daily Press.
Landlord Jacqueline Esposito rents to dozens of tenants on Universal Credit.
But she said her rent arrears had increased by £4,000 a year as housing benefit is now paid directly to her tenants rather than herself. To make sure she gets paid she applies to get the housing benefit element paid to her for some vulnerable tenants, but even then this isn’t always granted.
But she said: “Over the last two years I’ve had issues with direct payments being arranged. Often I’ve had tenants who have addictions or money management problems or may have come to me with no deposit so I’ve always applied for the rent element as quickly as possible.”
Foodbank use soars
Liz Townson, from Great Yarmouth Food Bank, said the impact was still being felt, and that foodbank use is up 90% since April 2016 in the town which in light of recent trussell trust figures is not surprise. In areas were Universal Credit’s full service has been in operation for 12 months or more, there has been an average 52% increase in foodbank referrals.
But a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesman said: it was “wrong” to link the rise to any one cause. Which is another deflection, from the mounting pressure they are under to scrap the scheme altogether.
MP defends the service
Not everyone however see’s Universal Credit as failing. Yarmouth’s Conservative MP, Brandon Lewis, pictured above, said it had brought “fundamental change to the welfare system” by making sure work paid.
“Studies have shown Universal Credit claimants are more likely to move into work than claimants on Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), and that they do so faster.”
He said it gave claimants more responsibility over managing their finances. Mr Lewis said changes had been made to address complaints about payments not being made fast enough however, knocking one week off still leaves people destitute for 5 weeks and landlords with no payment.
He advised that anyone in Yarmouth having problems with Universal Credit to contact his office on 01493 85455 and his team will look into it.
DWP still trying to defend Universal Credit.
A DWP spokesmen said; “significant improvements” had been made to Universal Credit since it was introduced.
“Universal Credit lies at the heart of our commitment to help people improve their lives and under it people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer compared to the previous system.
“We’ve made significant improvements, such as removing the seven waiting days, paying two weeks’ extra housing support for claimants moving onto Universal Credit and increasing advance payments to 100%.”
Increasing advance payments does not ease things for the claimant but rather places much more stress upon them. 70% of new claimants report getting into debt directly because of Universal Credit. They take the advance back at an extortionate rate leaving you with nothing to live on, as is the case with me.
As I’ve reported on several occasions now Universal Credit is creating a Hostile Environment. Not only are claimants victims of a broken system but third parties like landlords and foodbanks are feeling the pressure too.
It’s high time that the government wake up to the problems, JRF’s report released today found that a shocking 1.5 million people were in destitution last year, much caused by welfare reform.
We must remember that Universal Credit is only half way in its roll out, things are going to get worse unless someone makes what can only be described as a; humane decision. People not eating and a rise in mental health conditions will only be putting more pressure on an already stretched NHS.
It’s time the Conservative Government own up to their mistakes and respect the vote that Parliament took last November calling for an immediate halt to the roll of Universal Credit. 299 -0. The fact they were told to abstain shows they were scared their own MPs would side with the opposition parties.
Universal Catastrophe must be stopped.
You can follow me on face book at “Universal Credit Sufferer”.