22% don’t have basic banking services needed to deal with Universal Credit
49% are not ready to complete online application forms for the new benefit
Ahead of a report into Universal Credit from the Public Accounts Committee expected on Thursday, a survey carried out by Citizens Advice Bureaux in the new benefit’s pilot areas shows that many people will struggle to deal with the changes without support.
Despite only 5.6% of adults in the UK not having a basic bank account, 22% of those Citizens Advice clients in the areas set to receive the new benefit say they do not have the banking services required under the new system, such as direct debits and bill payments. Under the new system, claimants will need to have access to basic banking services to handle support payments and any income which they receive.
Ministers will be concerned that 49% of respondents to the survey will struggle with the online application forms which are set to be a basic requirement under the new system. The entirely-online process will be especially hard for the 47% of survey respondents who do not have internet access at home.
Of the charity’s clients who responded to the survey:
- 83% say they are not ready to budget with single monthly payments;
- 83% would find an adjustment period of fortnightly, rather than monthly, payments helpful to cope with changes to payments;
- 86% claim they simply do not have the information they need about changes;
- 75% would find it helpful to have rent continued to be paid directly to their landlord to help them manage their finances.
Ministers will also need to address concerns raised that inconsistent support for childcare costs within the new benefit will mean that for many families, working extra hours will not lead to people being better off in work.
Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, said:
“For Universal Credit to be the revolutionary reform ministers promised, we desperately need to know how people moving onto the new benefit are going to be supported. The idea of a single universal benefit is a good one but the poor, unclear delivery is a big risk to our clients’ wellbeing.
“This is an issue for now, not four years’ time. Ministers cannot kick these problems into the long-grass. Citizens Advice Bureaux will work tirelessly to help people manage the upheaval, but we need much clearer, stronger support from Government.
“Our research shows how risky it is to plough ahead with this huge new reform without taking the time to get the details right. Almost half of survey respondents say they will struggle to complete forms online and almost one quarter are not equipped with the basic banking services they need. Unless ministers address these glaring problems, there is a real danger that some people will be left without the support they need and unable to pay bills.
“At the moment around 6,000 people each month are going to our website for advice about Universal Credit. Slowing down the pace of introduction is the right thing to do but will be for nothing if ministers don’t act on the clear evidence that much more needs to be done to help people cope with these huge changes.
“Many challenges remain in delivering this project safely, but with some small changes to how support is actually paid to recipients, ministers can help set people’s minds at rest.”
The Department for Work and Pensions is expected to be criticised later this week by the Public Accounts Committee for poor leadership in delivering the Government’s flagship benefit reform. The new single benefit was introduced to a small number of people in four areas of Greater Manchester and will next be rolled-out in Hammersmith, Bath, Shotton, Harrogate and Rugby before March 2014.
The Government maintains that the new benefit will be fully in place by 2017, despite the slower-than-expected roll-out of the new system which continued last week with claimants in Hammersmith and Fulham in West London starting to move onto the new benefit.
Notes to editors:
- The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local bureaux, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.
- The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
- To find your local bureau in England and Wales, visit citizensadvice.org.uk. You can also get advice online at adviceguide.org.uk
- You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers
- Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales advised 2.3 million clients on 5.4 million problems from October 2013 to September 2014. For full 2013/2014 service statistics see our quarterly publication Advice trends
- Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 3,000 service outlets across England and Wales.