Practical support for clients at launch of Universal Credit
Universal Credit (UC) was launched in a number of wards in Westminster on 20 June and Citizens Advice Westminster has been monitoring the impact of the roll-out and supporting residents who need to register under the new system to receive their benefits. November will see the completion of the roll-out in Harlesden, NW6, W9, and December for North Kensington, W10 and W11.
One of our advisers attends at the Marylebone Job Centre (JCP) twice a week to speak to clients about their options on any issues relating to UC. This can cover eligibility, the application process, challenging decisions, checking calculations, sanctions, advance payments, housing costs, Discretionary Housing Payments, transitional arrangements, changing from legacy benefits to UC, and change of circumstances. She also sees clients who need advice on other issues such as employment, homelessness, debt and applying for disability benefit. She explains more here:
“Many clients are having difficulties making the initial claim because of a lack of support available for vulnerable people due to time constraints on the JCP staff. UC applications can take between 60-90 minutes, depending on the capability of the client or their lack of IT skills or language barriers. Others need to consider whether or not to claim UC pending mandatory reconsideration or appeal against an unsatisfactory decision against an existing benefit.
“Another problem is rent arrears caused by the 5 week delay in the processing of UC and the benefits cap for working age claimants who are not exempt from the cap. When making online UC applications, some clients are not entering rent details correctly due to lack of awareness about housing costs under UC. As a result, payment of housing costs is often delayed.
“The presence of Citizens Advice Westminster at the job centre at the inception of the UC full service has made a substantial difference to the way the implementation of UC is being managed in Westminster. It’s a sigh of relief for clients to have access to excellent advice at any stage of their UC claim. Clients often present complex issues and are anxious and worried about how to deal with their situation. With our expertise in UC and other related areas of social welfare law, the client leaves the JCP better informed of their rights and responsibilities and empowered to make decisions on their options.
“Additionally, by building an excellent relationship with the JCP staff we are able to communicate with them to resolve any issues for clients relating to their UC payments, getting their assistance for clients to make the initial claim, or referring clients to the council Housing Benefit officer for any issues relating to missing payments of housing benefit or council tax.
“We have witnessed issues with some clients who decline to apply for UC online even when JCP staff have offered to help them to access the online process and understand the questions. Some of these clients may speak English, but they are not confident with filling in forms or understanding written English, while vulnerable clients can find it difficult to fill in information on health issues.
The job centre also offers help with IT and Citizens Advice Westminster has produced a useful guide on where clients can go for free IT training locally.”
The presence of a Citizens Advice Westminster adviser at the job centre has achieved a number of valuable outcomes:
- helping a vulnerable client to make the initial application for UC and empowering her to use IT and encouraging her to take up the IT course offered by the job centre
- empowering clients to make decisions on whether or not to claim UC pending a Mandatory Reconsideration by looking at the advantages and disadvantages
- informing clients about UC and how to make claims online and manage their accounts
- ensuring clients are better informed about how to claim for their housing costs with UC
- explaining what is involved in the benefit cap exemption and eligibility for Discretionary Housing Payment
- improving the JCP services to clients as a result of building an effective working relationship with JCP staff and liaising with them on issues faced by clients regarding their UC claim/payments.
If you are experiencing difficulties in registering for UC call Citizens Advice Westminster on 0300 330 1191, Monday – Friday between 10.00 – 16.00.