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Fears over Universal Credit roll out as one in ten in Yarmouth and Waveney rely on controversial benefit

PUBLISHED: 16:59 12 December 2018 | UPDATED: 16:59 12 December 2018

Protest over universal credit in Pottergate, Norwich. Picture: Victoria Pertusa

Protest over universal credit in Pottergate, Norwich. Picture: Victoria Pertusa

Archant

Fears have been raised over the impact of Universal Credit reforms in Norwich, as new figures reveal around one in 10 people of working age in Great Yarmouth and Waveney receive the benefit.

Mark Harrison, protest organiser over universal credit in Pottergate, Norwich. Picture: Victoria PertusaMark Harrison, protest organiser over universal credit in Pottergate, Norwich. Picture: Victoria Pertusa

More than 1,000 people claimed Universal Credit in Norwich last month, and as of today the benefit will be available in every Job Centre in the country for existing claimants.

The system was rolled out in Norwich for new claimants in October, and sees a bundle of income-based benefits, including Jobseekers’ Allowance, tax credits and housing benefit, merged into one payment.

But the attempt to reform the benefits system has proved controversial, with six-week delays and reductions in payments in some cases.

Mark Harrison, chair of Norfolk Against Universal Credit, said the reform is “cruel” and will cause hunger and homelessness over the festive period.

“Anybody who moves onto Universal Credit after November 26 won’t get a payment before Christmas,” he said. “That means families going without Christmas and going hungry, relying on foodbanks.

“It is premeditated cruelty. The benefit hoovers up everybody - people who are working part-time and on low wages - and all the figures show single parents and the self employed are going to be around £200 a month worse off.

“There is a still a delay built into the system and this comes after eight years of austerity while people have been suffering.

“If people did have any resources, for most those resources are gone. If people start with nothing and have a six week delay it immediately plunges them into thousands of pounds of debt or puts them at risk of homelessness.”

The number of claimants on the east coast continues to rise each month, with a 21pc rise in claimants in Great Yarmouth and 33pc rise in Waveney since January of this year.

It has left more than a tenth of the working age population relying on the benefit.

Norwich City Council have said they have “concerns” over the impact of Universal Credit on some residents.

They recently spent £270,000 on a revamp of City Hall’s customer contact centre, where people seek help and support with benefits, while a team of advisers has been set up specifically to deal with Universal Credit work.

A protest in Norwich against the roll out of Universal Credit. Picture: Victoria PertusaA protest in Norwich against the roll out of Universal Credit. Picture: Victoria Pertusa

Councillor Karen Davis, Norwich City Council’s cabinet member, with responsibility for financial inclusion, said: “The arrival of Universal Credit brings about significant changes to the way people access essential welfare benefits, which we recognise could present challenges, especially for those already dependent on and familiar with the previous benefit system.

“Ever since the announcement from central government about the roll out of Universal Credit, we’ve been working hard to ensure our residents, particularly the most vulnerable, are prepared and we continue to offer support in collaboration with partners across the city.

“Our work with residents includes providing support to claim online through our city-wide Digital Hubs, budgeting support, and giving our housing tenants access to specialist money advice teams.”

A spokesperson for Waveney District Council said through Citizens Advice they provide support to assist with monthly budgeting and repayment of debt.

“The removal of these obstacles helps people to concentrate on looking for work,” they added.

The government says Universal Credit replaces an “out-of-date, complex benefits system with cliff edges”, which disincentivised work and could “trap” people in unemployment.

Cllr Karen DavisCllr Karen Davis

“Financial instability”

A Lowestoft man in his 40s who has suffered with chronic epilepsy for the last 25 years struggled to have benefits reinstated after he was transferred on to Universal Credit earlier this year.

After a downturn in his condition which forced him to leave his job in computer science, he began to claim Employment Support Allowance.

When he was reassessed under Universal Credit his benefits were stopped and he was deemed fit for work.

He then submitted Mandatory Reconsideration Appeal against the decision to stop his benefits, the appeal took more than six weeks.

During this time, he was living with no money and was facing eviction.

He said: “The financial instability of this is probably the biggest stress trigger, my fits increased to two a week.

“Every time I have a seizure it could potentially kill me, and they have increased my stresses,” he said.

He was found to have Limited Capability for Work (LCW) but would not get the disability element of the benefit, because of this he was £150 a month worse off.

Are you having problems with Universal Credit? Email dominic.gilbert@archant.co.uk.

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