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Publicity campaign alerts customers to impact of Universal Credit

Fay Shanahan BBC A door-to-door publicity campaign taking place in Gloucestershire this week will alert 200 households to expect long delays in payment when housing benefit switches to the government’s new system of Universal Credit later this year.

Housing officers, including staff from Tewkesbury Borough Council’s housing and homelessness team, will be doing a sweep of properties in the borough, talking to tenants they have identified as most vulnerable.

The unusual step is being taken amid fears that delays in payments of Universal Credit – of at least six weeks but expected to be longer – could see tenants falling into serious financial debt and unable to meet their rent payments and other household bills.

Severn Vale’s customer and community director Fay Shanahan said: “Evidence from other areas where Universal Credit is in force shows that the delays in first payments – for a new claimant or someone with a change of circumstances – can be far longer than the expected six weeks. In fact, many people have had to wait for up to 10 weeks with no income at all. It goes without saying that many people get into desperate difficulty with paying their rent and covering other bills, including food.”

Warnings about the severe impact that long delays in Universal Credit payments will have on social housing tenants have been voiced by the Citizens Advice Bureau, which has urged the government to pause in the large-scale roll-out of Universal Credit.

As Fay Shanahan explained, the new system will bring many changes to the way benefits are paid, including a move to online payments: “Anyone applying for Universal Credit, or declaring a change in their circumstances, will have to apply online, and provide details of a bank account and formal identity documents. For many people, who do not have access to the internet or know how to use online technology, this alone represents a huge barrier. Another difference is that, with Universal Credit, all benefits payments are made online directly to the individual, who is responsible for paying their bills, including paying rent to the landlord.  This is a dramatic change for social landlords like Severn Vale who, until now, have received housing benefit payments directly.”

Severn Vale Housing, together with Tewkesbury Borough Council, has been working with Tewkesbury Food Bank, Citizens Advice, other local housing providers and a number of community groups to promote a co-ordinated approach to advice and support.

 “Our campaign this week is about raising awareness and, more than that, letting people know where help is available and the steps they need to take now to protect themselves when Universal Credit is introduced to Tewkesbury borough in December this year. In particular, we are encouraging customers to pay a little extra on their rent now – whatever amount they can afford – to help cover their rent while they wait to receive Universal Credit payments.”

Fay Shanahan added: “The accelerated roll-out of Universal Credit is just weeks away and here in Gloucestershire the timing could not be worse, as it falls right into the run up to Christmas, which is an expensive time of year for everyone. We are reminding everyone of the importance of paying your rent first and keeping the roof over your head.”

More information about Universal Credit

The Government is making major changes to the way benefits are paid.  

1. What is Universal Credit?

Universal Credit is a new single payment benefit, which replaces six different benefits:

  • Housing benefit
  • Child tax credit
  • Income support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Working Tax Credit

From December 2017, residents living in Tewkesbury borough and claiming benefits, including housing benefit, will receive their benefits directly into their   bank account and it is then up to individual to manage their money and pay their rent and other bills.

Currently, registered housing providers, such as Severn Vale Housing, receive housing benefit payments directly from the government, via the local authority homelessness teams. Under the new system, registered housing providers will be paid by their tenants.

2. When is Universal Credit being introduced?

This depends on the Job Centre Plus catchment area for your property, the dates are as follows:

  • Stroud – October 2017
  • Forest of Dean – November 2017
  • Cotswold – November 2017
  • Tewkesbury – December 2017
  • Cheltenham - December 2017
  • Gloucester – February 2018
  • Evesham – July 2018

3. How do I apply for universal Credit?

Universal Credit is a totally online benefit. To apply, you will need to go to https://www.gov.uk/apply-universal-credit, and complete the online application process. If you don’t have access to the internet at home, it’s important that you think about how you will do this – do you have a smartphone? Where is your nearest public internet facility?

4. Who can help me if I’m struggling with Universal Credit?

There are a number of support agencies who would be able to help you with claiming Universal Credit, and dealing with any issues or concerns you have going forward.

The Citizens Advice Bureau has a number of drop-in centres in the area:

Gloucester

75-81 Eastgate Street, Gloucester, GL1 1PN

Monday & Thursday: 9:30am - 3:30pm

Tuesday: 12:30pm - 3:30pm

Friday: 9:30am - 12:30pm

Money Advice Appointments are available at this location and also at Quedgeley Library.

Cheltenham

3 St George’s Place, Cheltenham, GL50 3LA - Monday to Thursday 10am to 4pm

Brockworth

The CAB offer appointments on a Tuesday afternoon for Brockworth residents only. Please ring 01452 863123

Winchcombe

Abbeyfields Community Centre, Winchcombe, GL54 5QH - 1st Monday of each month 10am to 12pm. Or, by appointment only - please telephone 01452 527202 to arrange one.

Bishops Cleeve

Bishops Cleeve Parish Council Offices, Bishops Cleeve, GL52 8LR - Mondays 10am to 2pm

Tewkesbury

Tewkesbury Council Offices, Gloucester Road, Tewkesbury, GL20 5TT - Monday 12pm to 2pm

Tuesday and Thursday 10am – 12pm - Appointments are also available on Wednesday afternoons from 12pm to 5pm.

Priors Park Neighbourhood Project, Jubilee II Centre, York Road, Priors Park, Tewkesbury GL20 5HU - Wednesday 9.30am to 11.30am

Greensquare offer free and confidential housing related support in Gloucester, Tewkesbury and the Forest of Dean. Contact them:

W:       www.gloshousingsupport.com

E:        Glos.support@greensquaregroup.com

T:         01452 726951

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