CHANGES to the rollout of Universal Credit, which could save claimants from hardship, have been welcomed in West Berkshire.
The major shake-up to the benefit system is set to be introduced across the district from December 6, with the chancellor Philip Hammond announcing a number of amendments to the reforms in the autumn budget.
Universal Credit, already introduced in many parts of the country, is a monthly payment that replaces six current benefits, namely Housing Benefit, Job Seeker’s Allowance, Working Tax Credit, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Child Tax Credit and Income Support.
Following pressure from charities and campaign groups, Mr Hammond announced in the budget that the reported six-week waiting period before the first payment would be reduced to five weeks, while £1.5bn has been set aside to help ease the transition for those switching to the new system.
The additional funding will allow those being moved on to Universal Credit to access a month’s payment in advance from January, while those on housing benefits will also receive a two-week transition payment from April, to help prevent rent arrears.
The leader of the Liberal Democrat group on West Berkshire Council, Lee Dillon, said that while the changes could have been made sooner, they were still welcome.
“We want residents who are in receipt of benefits that are now being replaced by Universal Credit to be affected as little as possible,” he said.
“These are people who are not receiving these benefits out of choice, but out of need, and we need to do it with the least amount of hardship.
“The loan still has to be paid back but anything that makes the transfer across easier is welcome.”
He added: “I think the Government could have thought about it sooner and I think West Berkshire Council should have called on the Government to bring in transfer arrangements like this sooner, and then residents wouldn’t have been so concerned in the run-up to Christmas.”
West Berkshire Council has said claimants switching to Universal Credit in December are currently able to receive an advance of up to two weeks of their overall entitlement, and may receive a second advance to take it up to the full month in the new year.
Advance payments will be paid back over 12 months.
West Berkshire executive member for finance Anthony Chadley said: “We’re gearing up to offer support to all of our claimants, and welcome the positive changes the Government has made.
“Combining these six benefits into one Universal Credit payment ensures people are better off in work, by gradually reducing the benefit payments as earnings increase, unlike the old system where benefits would stop all at once.”
West Berkshire Council administers Housing Benefit claims (the DWP administers the other five benefits), but existing claimants do not need to do anything unless they are contacted by the DWP or have a relevant change in their circumstances.
Further information about Universal Credit can be found at www.gov.uk/universal-credit