Fears for vulnerable as Universal Credit is rolled out in Boston today

Food collected at the Asda drop off point for Boston Food Bank
Food collected at the Asda drop off point for Boston Food Bank

The controversial new Universal Credit system of paying benefits is due to be rolled out in Boston from today.

And organisations and agencies which deal with those most likely to be affected by the change have spoken of their concerns about the impact it might have.

The new system is designed to see all benefits for those of working age replaced by one payment.

But it has caused issues in other parts of the country, with reports of some facing long delays in claims being processed and money being paid.

It will initially affect only those making new claims or changes to existing claims, but eventually all working age benefits will be replaced by a single Universal Credit payment for everyone who claims them.

The Citizens Advice Bureau, Boston Food Bank, and social landlord Lincolnshire Housing Partnership have all spoken of concerns about the arrival of the new system.

Sue Rose, temporary manager of Boston Food Bank, said: “We are quite a busy food bank. In the last month we’ve given out a ton of food in Boston. We helped 97 adults and 60 children in that one month.

“I know in other areas there has been that four to five week lag in benefits being paid out with the new system, so we are obviously expecting an impact on Boston on individuals and families when that gets rolled out.

“We are liaising with lots of different agencies where people might get referred to us. We are working with health centres, various other churches in the town, health services, probation, social services. Almost every agency across the town holds food bank vouchers.

“We want to make people realise there is no stigma. We are trying to help people as best we can by giving them emergency food supplies.

“We are expecting increased demand based in what has happened elsewhere”

LHP says it is important anyone affected – and its estimates show 1,350 of its tenants will be directly affected, with potentially another 1,650 likely to be affected, talk to them as soon as possible if they have problems.

Rather than the money going direct to landlords like LHP as it does now, the new system will see Universal Credit paid direct to the claimant, who then pays the rent.

LHP say the launch of the system in other parts of Lincolnshire has already increased rent arrears.

Figures in June showed that with only 672 out of a possible 4500 claimants so far in the north of the county, the total debt currently stands at £227,366.85 representing 40% of the overall current rent debt.

LHP head of income - south Wendy Walker said: “As a charitable organisation whose income comes from rent, we’re reminding our tenants that as always, paying your rent should be the top priority. Remember – rent first.”

“If rent arrears rise as a result of Universal Credit this obviously affects our income and consequently it affects the homes and services we provide. It’s as simple as that.

“What we want to advise tenants is that Universal Credit doesn’t have to be scary, we are here to provide support and advice and they should follow the steps we recommend to prepare themselves and GET READY.”

The Citizens Advice Bureau is also gearing up for issues when the system is brought into Boston.

Kingsley Taylor, CEO for Citizens Advice Mid Lincolnshire which includes Boston, says a new national CAB report has flagged up problems with the application process for Universal Credit, following the release of new report from national Citizens Advice.

The report says that although the benefit is working well for many, a significant number have problems with the application process. A third of people who’ve been helped by the charity say they struggle to provide the evidence needed to finish off their Universal Credit application.

National Citizens Advice asked people the Citizens Advice service helped with Universal Credit how hard they found it to provide proof for extra costs, like housing and childcare.

Of those who were surveyed 48% found it difficult to provide evidence for health conditions, 40% found it difficult to provide evidence for housing, and 35% found it difficult to provide evidence for childcare

The charity also found that people receiving their first full payment late stood a higher chance of getting into greater debt, or falling into it. When people didn’t receive their first Universal Credit payment on time, their chances of being in debt increased by a quarter.

The report recommends the government simplifies the claims process, makes it easier to provide evidence for extras costs, and makes sure adequate support is on offer to people making a claim.

Kingsley said: “Universal Credit is working for most people, but a significant number are having problems completing their claim.

“This new research shows that providing evidence for extra costs is a common stumbling block when making an application, and can put the brakes on people being paid on time.

“The government should make it easier to provide evidence online and ensure people are made aware of what’s required of them so they receive their payment on time.”

“We are preparing for the roll out by carrying out extensive training for all our teams, and we are moving into new premises in the Municipal Building in West Street, Boston, in October allowing us to work closer with Council, Job Centre, DWP and other agencies to allow us to help our clients in a more coordinated way.

“We are also looking for new volunteers to join us to be trained in helping Boston people with Universal Credit and the many other issues that we deal with.”

Boston Council says as the changes come into force it is working closely with the DWP, Citizens Advice Bureau and Lincolnshire Housing Partnership (LHP), among others, to help residents to prepare.

Councillor Aaron Spencer, Portfolio holder for Finance, said: "Universal Credit marks a significant change for our local residents. I am pleased that all organisations involved are working together to help those affected in the borough prepare for the changes.

"Whether you need information on eligibility or require any support completing your claim, there is help available through Boston Borough Council and our partners."

Help available

The Universal Credit system will eventually see all existing benefits for those of working age replaced by one payment.

These ‘legacy’ benefits include housing benefit, income support, income-based job seekers allowance, employment support, child tax credits and working tax credits.

Boston Borough Council says the new system, introduced by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), will roll out in the district on September 12.

Initially, the change will relate to new claims only, with anyone currently receiving one of the legacy benefits continuing to claim them directly for the time being, unless their circumstances change.

But even those who currently receive the benefits and have no change of circumstances will be moved to the single Universal Credit scheme in the future, with the Government plan to move all benefit claimants to the new system due to start in 2019.

A Boston Borough Council statement said: “This change to the benefits system sees legacy benefit for the working age, such as housing benefit, income support, income-based job seekers allowance, income-based employment support allowance, child tax credits and working tax credits be replaced by one Universal Credit payment.

“On September 12, the change will only affect new claims only. If you wish to make a claim in relation to paying your rent or financial support you need to make a claim for Universal Credit, you can do this by contacting Boston Borough Council, who can provide assistance or alternatively you can apply online at https://-universal-credit

“Up until September 12, 2018, when Boston Borough Council changes from a Live Service area to a Full Service area, you will continue to be directed to claim one of the legacy benefits listed above.”

For further information and any updates on Universal Credit please visit www.boston.gov.uk/universal

Lincolnshire Housing Partnership is urging it’s tenants to prepare for the changes and advices them to Get their rent account into credit, set up a bank account if they don’t already have one plan their budget, and get online.

It says customers should let them know as soon as they are in receipt of Universal Credit.

LHP says it is contacting customers, supplying useful information and preparing a wealth of useful information and handy hints and tips.

Boston Food Bank is open Tuesday and Thursday at St Christopher's Church Centre, Fenside Road, between noon and 2pm.

It is also open at Sutterton St Mary’s Church on Friday’s between noon and 2pm.

The Food Bank can be contacted on Boston 310929.

The Citizens Advice Bureau in Chantry House, Lincoln Lane, Boston is open five days a week between 9am and 5pm for anyone with any questions or issues about the changes, or they can be contacted on 03444 111 444 between 10am and 4pm.