Claimants who seek help from Citizens Advice to make a claim for universal credit (UC) risk losing out because their date of claim will not be protected, an MSP has warned. Glasgow City Council has warned of further ways in which claimants are ‘genuinely being put at risk’ because of the terms of the contract between Citizens Advice and the DWP.
MSP Bob Doris raised the alarm after Glasgow City Council warned that up to 200 vulnerable claimants every month could miss out in that city alone. The figure across the UK would be very much higher.
Many people who claim UC struggle with the process and need support.
Until 31 March this support was provided by local authorities, often through libraries. People who went to their local library for help would have their UC claim dated from the day they first went for support, even if all the necessary information was not provided until a later date.
However, under the contract negotiated between Citizens Advice and the DWP, the claim is only dated from the day it is received by the DWP.
Claimants who are unable to provide all the necessary information on the day can still have their date of claim protected, but only if they make a separate trip to a Jobcentre to do so. In Glasgow six of the local jobcentres have been closed by the DWP in order to cut costs.
Around 20% of claimants in Glasgow need a second visit to complete their claim.
Mr Doris told the Glasgow Evening times:
“The removal of this financial safeguard for some of my most vulnerable constituents is alarming and unacceptable.
“Glasgow City Council has said 200 Glaswegians will miss out every month because of this. Flaws in the Universal Credit system require to be fixed not made worse for the poorest in society.”
“The UK Government needs to quickly reverse this cash grab and I am sure our Social Security Committee will want to examine this matter further.”
At a subsequent meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Social Security Committee the problem with protecting the date of claim was confirmed.
In addition, Sandra McDermott pointed out other ways in which the support now offered to claimants under the Citizens Advice contract does not match that previously provided by local authorities.
This includes a lack of budgeting support and no support after the first six weeks of the claim.
McDermott told the committee:
“I will mention some other key points. Previously, when funding was given to local authorities, it included moneys for providing personal budgeting services. It was recognised that if people were to be given universal credit as full payment for all the six former benefits that it covers, they would need budgeting skills. However, personal budgeting support is not covered by the funding that Citizens Advice Scotland now receives . . .
“In the new funding that Citizens Advice Scotland receives, there is also no provision for maintenance of claims. Funding is given to help people for the first six weeks, while they make their first claim to universal credit. Under the universal credit system, a person who wants to maintain their claim and keep receiving payment without risking sanctions must maintain a claimant commitment and a claimant journal online. They must regularly log in and update their journal to show DWP colleagues that they have adhered to their claimant commitment, which might be to look for employment or to increase their skills. They must also upload details of their annual rent increase, which must be set out in their claimant journal. If they do not have the ability to do all that, they can lose out on much-needed funding. Those elements are no longer included in the funding that has been given to Citizens Advice Scotland, whereas they were included in the funding that was previously given to local authorities.
“Therefore, claimants are genuinely being put at risk, both now and in the future.”
You can read more in the Glasgow Evening Times