FROM the start of next week Bridport and District Citizens Advice will be stepping up the support it can give to local people who are having problems with Universal Credit, the new social security system replacing six means-tested benefits and tax credits with a single monthly payment.
It is being rolled out in stages across the UK and the full service was introduced in West Dorset just over a year ago.
The extra help has become possible because the Department for Work and Pensions has agreed to fund Citizens Advice to provide a support scheme to help claimants through every step of making a Universal Credit claim. As a result Bridport and District Citizens Advice has been able to employ an additional specialist adviser.
Rovarn Wickremasinghe, its manager, said: “I am delighted that this decision by the government will give us additional help in being able to provide people claiming this benefit with the support they need to ensure they get their first payment on time and are then ready to manage it when it arrives.
“Many people are experiencing difficulties with filling in the online claim forms to obtain Universal Credit and a particular problem for many of them is finding all the information that is required.
“The most common problems occur with verifying ID and obtaining all the evidence that is needed. They may have to provide, for example, details of health conditions, housing issues and childcare arrangements.
“There are various stages involved in making a Universal Credit claim and if a deadline is missed it may be necessary to start the process again. The complexities of the system mean that around 25 per cent of the people assisted by us spend more than a week completing their claim.”
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, added: “Half the people we help with a Universal Credit claim are still struggling to keep a roof over their heads while they wait for their first payment. Changes to the waiting period for first payment have improved things for many people, but our evidence shows they do not go far enough.
“Universal Credit must continue to be reformed so it works for all claimants and leaves people with enough money to live on.”
Citizens Advice holds two advice sessions in Lyme Regis each week. They are on Mondays between 10am and 12noon at the medical centre in Uplyme Road, DT7 3LS, and on Wednesdays from 10am to 3pm at St Michael’s Business Centre, DT7 3DB, in the centre of the town.
Anyone is welcome to visit Citizens Advice, even if they do not have an appointment, and the advice it provides will always be free, confidential and impartial.
In addition to the sessions in Lyme Regis anyone is welcome to seek help at its offices in South Street, Bridport, DT6 3NY, every weekday between 10am and 3pm.
For specific advice on issues relating to income maximisation and benefit issues, including getting help with Universal Credit, Citizens Advice also hold sessions at Bridport Library on Tuesday mornings between 10am and 12noon. People attending these can have the use of the computers in the library to go online and make their claim for Universal Credit.
In addition you can contact Citizens Advice by email on email@example.com or by telephone on 03442-451291, which will get you through to the Dorset AdviceLine.
For people just wanting help with their claim for Universal Credit they can now contact Citizens Advice on a national freephone number which is 0800-144-8-444. A webchat support service is also available through its website.