UC rapid rollout ‘a disaster waiting to happen’, says Citizens Advice

14 Sep 17

The expansion of universal credit is “a disaster waiting to happen” as it pushes people into debt, Citizens Advice has claimed.

The charity gave a stark warning that plans to accelerate the benefit’s implementation from five to 50 areas a month from October could have “catastrophic consequences”, as there are still many problems with the system, including a long wait for the first payment.

Citizens Advice said pressures on public services could mount and it would undermine the good intentions behind the policy.

Its report analysed more than 50,000 cases and found:

  • 79% of those on universal credit have priority debts such as rent or council tax, putting them at greater risk of eviction, visits from bailiffs, being cut off from energy supplies and even prison; this compares to 69% of those receiving legacy benefits such as jobseeker’s allowance or housing benefit
  • 41% have no money to pay creditors as their monthly expenditure on essential living costs is greater than their income
  • typically, people on universal credit have around only £3 a month left to pay creditors.

Citizens Advice 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.”

She warned that people face severe consequences unless the government paused the planned expansion and fixed underlying issues that increased the likelihood of families being pushed into arrears.

The charity also urged the government to ensure no one applying for universal credit waited for longer than six weeks to receive it. It also said that anyone who needed it should receive a payment within two weeks, which they do not need to repay.

A spokesman for the Department for Work & Pensions said: “We are committed to helping people improve their lives and raise their incomes.

“Universal credit does that by providing additional, tailored support not available under the old benefit system, including more help for those in work so they can eventually stop claiming benefits altogether. Under universal credit, people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the previous system.”

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