Boston’s Jobcentre is one of 150 across the UK that will start taking Universal Credit (UC) claims for the first time from February.
The borough has been chosen for the next phase of the Government’s welfare reforms, which merges six forms of benefit or tax credit into one.
Almost 100 Jobcentre areas are currently offering UC. This next stage will see it available in one in three of the nation’s Jobcentres.
However, while UC encompasses Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Employment and Support Allowance and Income Support, initially it will only be open to single jobseekers who do not have a mortgage or dependents.
Applications for the other benefits will continue, for now, as normal, while other types of job hunters are advised to visit the Jobcentre for guidance.
Under UC, payments will be made monthly rather than fortnightly and gradually reduce once claimants have earned a certain amount.
Unlike JSA, payments will not stop when claimants work more than 16 hours a week, only when the maximum amount of benefit has been claimed.
Minister for welfare reform Lord Freud said: “We’ve already seen remarkable successes, with UC claimants moving into work faster and staying in work longer. As part of our long-term economic plan, people in Boston will have the financial security of knowing that working more pays more money.”
Claims must be made online, prompting concern among some over how accessible it will be.
Chief officer at Boston Citizen Advice Bureau (CAB) Stuart Hellon said feedback from elsewhere in the country had suggested that mobile phones and tablets did not lend themselves to the system.
As such, while he saw a number of positives to the new approach, he said he felt claimants would have a number of obstacles to overcome in order to access the benefit.
He said: “Number one, you have got to have a broadband connection; number two, you have got to have a PC or a laptop; number three, you have got to be confident on using the web; and number four, you have got to be confident in completing forms.”
He said Boston CAB was working with its partners to prepare support for people, a point echoed by Karen Dawn, Universal Credit lead for Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Rutland at the Department of Work and Pensions.
She said: “There will be some support packages in place for people who don’t have access to the internet.”