Criticism of sudden ‘top-down’ change to Universal Credit support system

Waveney MP Peter Aldous. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

Waveney MP Peter Aldous. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH - Credit: Archant

A sudden decision to change who provides vital support for benefit claimants has been criticised.

Numerous figures, including ex-prime minister Sir John Major, have said the switch to replace six major benefits by combining them into a single payment is hurting the least well off the most.

In Waveney a system led by the district council, called Universal Support, was set up to help claimants manage their budgets.

But in a parliamentary debate, Waveney MP Peter Aldous revealed that “Waveney District Council was advised that it would no longer be asked to provide Universal Support” on October 1.

The service will instead be run by the charity Citizens Advice.

Mr Aldous told the House of Commons that the decision was “very disappointing”, adding: “I have nothing but praise for Citizens Advice, but local support requirements should be decided locally and not through a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach.”

He said Universal Support had been of “vital importance” to claimants, as his office had dealt with a “torrent of complaints” about Universal Credit since it was rolled out in Lowestoft in 2016.

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He added that the support service, which includes budgeting and digital support, as well as special disability advice and liaison with landlords, “means that the area is better placed to handle the increase in demand that will emerge from the managed migration”.

A spokesman for Waveney District Council said it had “expressed disappointment regarding the lack of consultation prior to the announcement”.

The spokesman added: “We feel that we have delivered an effective service to date.

“However we will, of course, seek a smooth transition to any new arrangement which puts the needs of local people first.”

The Department for Work and Pensions says that Universal Credit, which is soon due to be rolled out nationally, “replaces an out-of-date, complex benefit system with cliff edges that disincentivised work and often trapped people in unemployment”.

But in the parliamentary debate, Mr Aldous said the introduction of Universal Credit in Lowestoft “has not been straightforward”.

He added: “Almost from the outset, my office received a very large number of complaints.

“It is clear that many people, often the most vulnerable in society, have been put under enormous pressure.”

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