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Charities and community associations warn of Universal Credit crisis

Councils warn that 5,000 low income families will be worse off after roll-out of benefit changes

20 September, 2018 — By William McLennan

Eleanor Botwright

CHARITIES and community associations are preparing to help some of the borough’s most vulnerable families when sweeping changes to benefits are introduced.

Some 5,000 low-income households will be made worse off by Universal Credit, Camden Council has said.

Eleanor Botwright, who chairs the Castlehaven Community Centre in Camden Town, said that the new system, which will begin to take effect in December, should be delayed.

“December feels like a harder month to deal with and the rug will be pulled out from under some of the most vulnerable members of our community,” she said.
“They should pause until the other side of winter, so they can keep warm and dry and healthy.”

The roll out of Universal Credit has been staggered across the country. Benefit claimants face a five-week wait for payment, which has led to destitution and debt in other regions.

There are also fears that some will struggle to budget under the new system – which sees six benefits rolled into one payment made directly into people’s bank accounts.
New claimants will be signed up to Universal Credit in Camden from December, while the “merged migration” of existing claimants will begin in June 2019.

Nash Ali, a Labour councillor for Regent’s Park and chief executive of the King’s Cross Brunswick Neighbourhood Association (KCBNA), said they had been “forced” to start preparing for impacts.

“The reality is it’s going to be less money and it’s coming in arrears and it’s going to cause people lots of problems, especially to start with,” he said. “We are going to have to face that as voluntary sector organisations.”

He said KCBNA will be supporting residents make applications: “It’s all online now, so that’s tough for people especially if their first language isn’t English.”

Dorothea Hackman, of Euston Foodbank, told the New Journal last month that they were preparing for an “impending catastrophe” with many more households expected to turn to them for help.

Ms Hackman said the foodbank, which is already supporting around 500 people a month, needs extra donations. She hopes to begin stockpiling non-perishables in preparation.

Robert Taylor, of the Camden Federation of Private Tenants, said it was “extremely worrying”, adding: “If landlords and letting agents get an idea that people will not be getting paid on time that is going to make a bad situation a lot worse. We are already getting a clear sense that Camden is becoming a no-go area for people in receipt of housing benefit.”

He said he feared that reports of delays in receiving housing benefit, and concerns over budgeting skills would make the private rented sector even more hostile to claimants. “A lot of landlords are very risk averse about losing income and not getting rent.”

The Department for Work and Pensions insists that Universal Credit is “working for the vast majority”.

It said “significant improvements” have been made, including offering loans to support people before the first payment is received. Housing benefit will now be received for two weeks after applications for Universal Credit are made. It added: “Work is the best means of providing people with financial security, and with our welfare reforms people are moving into employment faster and staying there longer than under the old system.”

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