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Citizens Advice Bureau in first Universal Credit pilot area warns of ‘big problems down the line’ as many struggle with online forms

10 Hydref 2013

78% of people filling in official forms online in Tameside CAB last month could not do so without assistance

Citizens Advice has warned that unless strong support is put in place, many people will struggle to meet living costs and deal with the new online IT system for Universal Credit.

Ahead of an in-depth analysis of Universal Credit to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 this evening, Citizens Advice has cautioned that the Government is storing up problems for Universal Credit. A CAB in the first Universal Credit pilot area reports that last month 78% of its clients were unable to complete online application forms without assistance.

Tameside CAB, which has been closely involved in the introduction of Universal Credit, confirms today that many people who will shortly move onto the new benefit are already struggling to make ends meet.  Nigel Morgan, Chief Executive of Tameside CAB said that 1,453 of its clients have applied for emergency financial support, many of whom will soon start receiving the new benefit.

Many people seeking emergency financial support required help getting through the online application process from staff in Tameside Citizens Advice Bureau, suggesting the all-online Universal Credit system will be unmanageable for many future claimants.

The national charity’s Chief Executive warns the support required to help people with online applications for emergency financial support is a “clear warning sign to ministers” that many future Universal Credit claimants will need help managing their money and dealing with online forms.

A recent study carried out by the national charity, surveying its clients, showed that nine out of ten people say they will need some form of support in moving onto the new system.

Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, said:

“Ministers must listen to first-hand evidence from the coal-face which shows we urgently need clarity about what support will be put in place to help people with children or ill-health deal with Universal Credit.  Ministers have been worryingly unclear about how they will help people who cannot deal with online forms and who are already struggling to meet their living costs.

“Introducing such a major reform slowly is sensible, but there are major problems coming further down the line unless ministers strengthen the help given to people as the new benefit is rolled-out more widely.  The difficulties reported from Tameside are a clear warning sign that people will need strong local support to manage the new online claims system.  Ministers must allow people to request fortnightly payments to help them deal with the transition to monthly payments otherwise even more people may need to resort to seeking emergency financial support.

“When people in extremely complicated personal circumstances move onto Universal Credit, they will need co-ordinated help to make sure the new system doesn’t end up harming rather than helping them.”

Nigel Morgan, from Tameside Citizens Advice Bureau, said:

“Being part of this pilot is an important role and has meant we’ve had to significantly change what help we give to our clients.  The adjustment for our advisers and the people we help is extremely big. I’m worried that when people who have got children, or who are sick, disabled or have mental health issues start getting the new benefit, they’ll need really targeted support which will put huge pressure on our resources.

“It’s sensible that the new benefit is brought in slowly and steadily, but I’m worried that the people we’ve helped deal with online forms shows that many people who have yet to start receiving Universal Credit will struggle with the new system.

“My team and I will always do what we can to help our clients but we need a stronger helping hand from ministers so we can give our clients the reassurance they will need that this new system will work for them.”

The Government’s flagship welfare reform has so far been introduced in four pilot areas in the North West, with further pathfinders beginning this month.  The new benefit will initially be given to only single people with no dependants who are available to work.

People in more complicated personal circumstances, for example with ill-health or children, will move onto the new benefit sometime before 2017 in line with ministers’ timetables.

Notes to editors:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. To find your local bureau in England and Wales, visit citizensadvice.org.uk. You can also get advice online at adviceguide.org.uk
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 3,000 service outlets across England and Wales.