Citizens Advice warns Universal Credit roll-out could be ‘catastrophic’
Job Centre - Image credit: PA Images
Citizens Advice has warned that the expansion of Universal Credit is “a disaster waiting to happen” and risks claimants plummeting into debt.
The benefit, which was designed in 2013 and brings multiple welfare payments benefits into one, is to be rolled out from five to 50 areas a month from October.
The programme has been beset with problems, such as long waits for the first payment, administration problems at Job Centres and difficulties with claimants opening bank accounts, often contributing to debt problems.
A report which studied around 50,000 cases reveals 79 per cent of those already on Universal Credit have priority debts such a rent or council tax, compared to 69 per cent on the previous benefits regime such as Jobseekers' Allowance or Housing Benefit.
The body say this puts them at increased risk of eviction, visits from bailiffs, being cut off from energy supplies and even prison.
And some 41 per cent have no money available to pay creditors as their monthly spend on essential living costs outstrips their income.
Citizens Advice, which has previously called on the UK Government to pause the accelerated roll-out until outstanding issues are resolved, has urged ministers to ensure no one applying for Universal Credit waits longer than six weeks for an income.
They suggest that any claimant who needs it should receive a payment within two weeks that they do not need to repay.
Citizens Advice's chief executive, Gillian Guy, said: “The roll-out of Universal Credit is a disaster waiting to happen.
“While the principles behind Universal Credit are sound, our evidence shows that if the government continues to take this stubborn approach to the expansion of Universal Credit, it risks pushing thousands of families into a spiral of debt, and placing an even greater strain on public services.
“People face severe consequences - like visits from bailiffs and eviction - when they can't pay their bills.
“But government can help protect these households by taking the simple step of pausing Universal Credit and fixing the underlying problems, so families are less likely to fall into arrears.
“The UK Government should also ensure that everyone has access to the support they need to adapt to Universal Credit”.