Some problems are specific to the Charnwood area and when that is the case, we will bring the issue to the attention of local politicians and councillors.
Fixing Universal Credit
Since the roll out of Universal Credit (UC), Citizens Advice has campaigned nationally to address many of the early problems and has helped bring about positive changes.
However challenges remain, and last year we helped over 600 local people with their Universal Credit claims and ongoing issues. The difficulties most commonly experienced arise from the five week wait for the initial payment, which leaves a significant number unable to keep up with bills, rent, or going without essentials. (Nationally this has been estimated as 50% of all UC claimants).
The real value of all benefit payments has also decreased since the freeze on working-age benefits since 2016. Vulnerable people are particularly at risk and may struggle to manage their budget and online UC account. During 2019, 49% of clients seeking help from us on Universal Credit related issues, reported a disability or long-term health condition. Of these 35% suffered from a mental health condition. A relatively high proportion of claimants seeking help were in the 50 – 60 age group and 25% of claimants required digital support.
Although advance payments of Universal Credit are available during the waiting period, repayments have to start immediately with ongoing deductions from monthly UC payments, which can lead to people falling further into debt. We have seen a significant rise in people with priority debts and increased use of food banks.
We are, therefore, supporting the national campaign for an increase in the value of Universal Credit and changes to the five week waiting period, by providing evidence of the hardship experienced by many of our clients. Recommendations for change include greater flexibility in payment periods and repayment plans.
Improving the benefits system for disabled people
Citizens Advice is looking to improve disabled people's experiences and outcomes when claiming benefits like Personal Independence Payments (PIP), Employment Support Allowance (ESA), or Universal Credit (UC).
Last year a consistently high number of people visited our offices for help with disability benefits. This included assistance with completing applications forms and advice on challenging or appealing the outcome of the work capability assessments for ESA and UC, and assessments for PIP.
Data published by the Ministry of Justice shows that around two-thirds of the PIP and ESA decisions taken to appeal are overturned. Many of our clients are now having to wait for over a year for their appeal to be heard. During this time they are struggling to manage without the financial support to which they are entitled and frequently experience a deterioration in their health as a result.
We continue to provide evidence in support of the need for a national campaign.