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Universal Credit has arrived in Kirkcaldy

Universal Credit (UC) full service rolled out in Kirkcaldy on the 6th December 17 for everyone. This is the Government’s flagship benefit which replaces 6 legacy benefits:-

 

  • Income Support
  • Job Seekers Allowance Income-based
  • Employment Support Allowance income related
  • Working tax Credits
  • Child Tax Credits
  • Housing Benefit

 

This is a single monthly benefit paid by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and here are some of the issues we have been experiencing in the Kirkcaldy Community Job Clubs (CJC). Some of our participants on UC who come along to the CJC have also given statements at the end of this case study, their thoughts and how UC has affected their lives.

 

The roll-out of this benefit has had its problems which has resulted in a much slower roll-out than originally planned. We still have single claimants who are on the Live Service of UC which rolled out in April 2014, they will move over to full service soon. 

 

Making a claim for UC and accessing your journal is all done online, you create the account, make the claim and then ongoing use of your journal to receive and send messages to your work coach, record work activities, change of circumstances, view your payments, claimant commitment. Claimants have to access their journal through a smart phone, computer and have the internet and if they don’t have this at home they can access getting online through the community job clubs, libraries, job centre and other support networks.   This is great if you understand the term getting online and also the managing of the change: you have to log into your journal regularly and have to understand that the DWP will no longer send out letters. Everything you need is online through your UC journal.  This is a cultural change and a lot of claimants don’t fully understanding “just go online” “you can access this online”.

 

UC is paid monthly in arrears with each claimant having to wait 6 weeks from the date of claim to receive a payment. In Feb 18 through the devolved powers of the Scottish Government Scottish claimants now wait 5 weeks for their first payment. During this period the claimant will encountered hardship leaving them with little or no income.  They can apply for an advance of their UC benefit, (just like a loan) after they have had their 1st appointment at the job centre, which is made once they have submitted their UC claim.  This advance if taken by the claimant will be recovered from their UC benefit payment over the next 6/12 months, this is building a debt for the claimant straight away. 

 

Claimants who were used to receiving benefit payments fortnightly, once on UC will now have monthly payments. Again through Scottish devolved powers claimants can now receive 2 payments in the month.  First payment of UC will be paid on the same date every month and if they request 2 payments in the month it will be paid 15 to 16 days later depending on how many days are in the month. They can of course continue with monthly payments.  Claimants have to learn to budget differently and can get budgeting advice if they request this through DWP.

 

So the claimant will be assessed monthly for UC, this will take into consideration any changes of circumstances such as rent increase, change of address, change of income, household. Depending on the date of the month the claimant gets paid this could cause issues for them, for example “If the person moves properties and their rent charge varies, this can lead to “winners and losers” and the rent due at the end of the period will be used as the basis for Housing Cost element”.

 

The claimant will have a claimant commitment on UC similar to being of JSA.   This will be completed at a meeting with your work coach at Kirkcaldy job centre.   This means that they have to seek employment and do job searches for up to 35 hours per week and evidence this activity.  If they fail to do this then they are likely to face a sanction which means that UC is stopped for periods ranging from 4 weeks initially to 6 months for repeated failure.  Claimants may have to claim Hardship for that period but this had to be paid payment again putting claimants into financially hardship. 

 

Claimants are put into rent arrears the day they claim UC, because UC is paid in arrears. Unlike the old way of applying for Housing Benefit, providing the proofs as requested and once processed and all correct rent is paid from the date you submitted your form, the rent element for Fife Council and Housing associations is paid direct to the landlord.  UC rent element is paid direct to the claimant for them to take responsibility to make arrangements to pay their rent either direct debit, standing order, pay point. Although, yet again with the Scottish Government gaining devolved powers UC claimants can if required ask after the first month for their rent to be paid directly to their landlord.  If they fall into arrears with their rent and are in more than 8 weeks the landlord can ask for the rent and arrears to be paid direct to them. 

 Single Female: - “UC is a negative experience for me, I am debt since claiming UC and only have £195 per month to live on because I have am getting deductions for rent arrears due to claiming UC, I had to get an advance at the start of my claim because I didn’t have any money to live off, also being on UC tax credits an over payment is now being deducted. I have had to get regular help from Greener Kirkcaldy, St Vincent de Paul Charity, SWF and weekly vouchers for Kirkcaldy Foodbank because of lack of income since claiming UC”

 

Single Parent: - “UC was a shocked being put on this benefit and job centre just left me to get on with it with very little assistance apart for being told go online, only piece of info they gave that me was any use was the leaflet about the job clubs, once I arrived at the job clubs this is where I got good help and advice and this still continues but as for UC this has just left me and my family deflated and in debt”

 

Single Male:- “Don’t like getting paid monthly after many years of receiving benefits fortnightly, adjusting to monthly for paying bills. Quite like having access to a an online journal and being able to input my work search history or contacting my work coach”

 

Single Female: - “I have been on UC live service since end of 2016, but was moved over to full service July 18. The fact that you are left for 6 weeks in the beginning with no money, you have your landlord chasing you for rent, council for the council tax constant hassle either letters or phone calls but you can’t do anything because you don’t have any money. I was over 8 months paying back rent arrears out of no fault of my own because I claimed UC”