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Citizens Advice calls for universal credit rollout to be put on hold

Citizens Advice has called for the rollout of the controversial universal credit scheme to be put on hold, amid claims it is ‘pushing’ people into debt.

In a new report – Delivering on Universal Credit – the charity claims more than a third of people are waiting more than the six weeks it should take to receive their first payment.

And one in 10 are waiting more than 10 weeks to receive the benefit.

The universal credit all-in-one payments system has been plagued with controversy since it was first introduced in October 2016.

It merges six existing benefits into one – including tax credits, housing benefit and employment and support allowance (ESA).

And by 2022 over 7 million households will receive universal credit and new Citizens Advice analysis reveals over half (54 per cent) of these will be working households.

The chief executive of Citizens Advice, Gillian Guy, said it is ‘already failing too many people’, and ‘pushing them into debt and leaving them without the means to make ends meet’.

‘Citizens Advice supports the principles of universal credit, but pushing ahead with roll out while the system remains beset with problems will put thousands more families at financial risk,’ said Ms Guy.

‘The current flaws with the system also undermine the very reasons universal credit was introduced: to simplify the benefits system and make sure every hour of work pays. As things stand, too many people are finding Universal Credit very complicated, and problems such as long wait for payments or difficulties getting help with an application mean they are less able to focus on getting into work or increasing their hours.

‘The government needs to pause plans to accelerate the rollout of full service universal credit this autumn and devote the time and resource needed to tackle the key problems which mean the system is not working.’

In March, MPs on the work and pensions committee wrote to the-then pensions secretary, Damian Green, highlighting a number of serious concerns about how universal credit was operating in practice.

The committee had been investigating the rollout of the new system and found, while many people who took part in their inquiry supported in principle the objectives of universal credit, there were was a ‘near unanimous set of concerns’ regarding its implementation.

These concerns included instances of claimants waiting 12 weeks or more for their first payment and vulnerable claimants struggling to adapt to the system.

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) has also called for a pause in the rollout until the Department of Work and Pensions can report on improvements to the service.

A spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions said: ‘As Citizens Advice makes clear, this report is based on evidence from a self-selecting group of people and is not representative of the half a million people claiming universal credit.

‘The best way to help people pay their rent and improve their lives is to help them into work, and under universal credit people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the old system,’ the spokesperson added.

‘Universal credit is designed to mirror the way many people in work are paid, and we have budgeting advice and benefit advances available for anyone who needs extra help.

‘We are rolling out universal credit in a gradual, safe and secure way, and in the rare cases where issues arise, we work closely with local authorities and landlords to support people when they need it.

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