Hundreds more people approach Portsmouth Citizen Advice amid Universal Credit concern

BEWILDERING rules surrounding a new benefits system plagued by errors have caused hundreds more people to turn a key city service for help, it has been claimed.

Tuesday, 11th June 2019, 1:47 pm
Older people are contacting Portsmouth Citizen Advice with worries over Universal Credit, the service has said. Photo: Shutterstock

Confusion over Universal Credit has forced worried residents to turn to Portsmouth Citizen Advice for support, leaving the organisation struggling to meet the demand.

Bosses said the numbers now visiting have exceeding all their predictions and warned there is no sign of demand slowing down.

Robert Thompson, who specialises in Universal Credit at citizen advice, insisted the organisation was not at breaking point.

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But he said: ‘The number of people we are helping is quite high. We’re not overwhelmed but we have periods where it’s quite busy – busier than we would have expected.’

The set-up, which rolled out across the area last autumn, was meant to simplify Britain’s welfare system by combining all six benefits into one monthly claim.

However, it’s been blighted by errors, from technical faults to delays in people receiving their first payments.

In the past two months more than 300 people have visited the city’s service for advice, Mr Thompson said.

Picture: JPIMedia

He added many of those were elderly people who didn’t have access to the internet.

‘There’s still a lot of misinformation,’ he said. ‘There will be people that don’t need to claim it that come to us.

‘It’s a complex system that people don’t always understand.’

Last month The News revealed how universal credit was pushing tens of thousands into financial crisis just weeks ahead of the second half of its introduction.

Picture: JPIMedia

The system is leaving an ever-growing number of people in deep rent arrears, with the number of claimants evicted from council houses reaching an all-time high.

Figures obtained from 145 local authorities with housing stock and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive show more than 120,000 Universal Credit claimants - including almost 1,000 families in Hampshire – were in rent arrears, owing a combined £84.5m.

The news prompted calls from homeless charity Shelter for an urgent halt to the programme to avoid an impending catastrophe.

The Department for Work and Pensions said more than 99 per cent of people make their Universal Credit claim online and that free digital support, computers and wifi was available in all jobcentres.

For more details, see gov.uk/universal-credit