A Citizens Advice Bureau boss says ‘badly introduced’ Government benefits reforms have left many people in Boston out of pocket.
Yvonne Robinson, advice services manager at Boston CAB, said delays in sickness and disability benefits were causing hardship and affecting the local economy.
She said: “The trouble with the benefits system is that it’s so complex that people find it very difficult to grasp the facts. Basically the problem is that the government have introduced new benefits but its been badly introduced.”
She believes the issues are forcing people to turn to the food bank for help while they wait – saying a third of the vouchers issued by the town’s CAB due to benefit delays and stoppages.
She pointed in particular to the introduction of Personal Independence Payments (PIP), which replaced Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with most claimants waiting six-nine months just for a decision on claims.
She added Employment and Support Allowance, replacing Incapacity Benefit, had been ‘equally problematic, with delayed and erroneous medical reports’. Added to this, she said, is the new regime of sanctions to JSA which has been ‘leading to some harsh decisions’.
A Boston Borough Council spokesman confirmed the Government’s changeover is moving very slowly.
They said so far, in the borough, out of possibly hundreds of claimants only eight had migrated to PIP.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman confirmed that the changeover from DLA to PIP in Boston had begun in October 2013.
Not everyone on the old system may be elligible for the new benefit – but the concern is that with so few transferring over there must be a big backlog.
The DWP spokesman said: “The old DLA system was extremely outdated, with the majority of claimants getting the benefit for life without systematic checks on their condition.”
PIP included a face-to-face assessment and regular reviews, they said.
The spokesman added: “We have introduced a faster process for people with terminal illnesses, with clearance times reducing to our target of ten days.
“And a higher proportion of people are getting the highest rate of financial support for daily living under PIP than DLA.
“We accept that the delays faced by some people are unacceptable, and we are committed to putting that right.
“By the Autumn, we anticipate that no one to be waiting for an assessment for longer than 26 weeks.”
Mrs Robinson said the problems were exacerbated by private rents rising in Boston at a faster rate than the Local Housing Allowance, which governs how much housing benefit can be paid.
She said it meant housing is becoming increasingly unaffordable for anyone on benefits or on a low income.
She said 360 households in Boston, had been affected by ‘the bedroom tax’ with either a 14 per cent or 25 per cent reduction in housing benefit leaving them to find an extra £10-25 per week.
DWP defended the ‘spare room subsidy’ cuts and said they would return fairness to the system. They said it was wrong that the taxpayer was paying for social housing tenants to have spare bedrooms when more than 300,000 people were living in overcrowded homes .
The spokesman said more than £345 million had been made available to help people with the changes.