Open Meeting 2018


17th October 2018

(Dorford Centre, 50 people attended)

Speakers : Daniel Cadisch and Helen from CA – Dorchester Citizens Advice

Subject : ‘Universal Credit – The Story So Far’

Chair: Dr Margaret Barker

After a short period of silent reflection Margaret gave a brief summary of the DPA annual report, picking out the fact that, since its financial records began in 1997, £100,000 had been given out in grants to local people in need. All of this money had been raised locally either from the churches, local trust funds, generous work by local Mayors and from fund raising events. The individual grant had been increased from £150 to £200 and in the last financial year the total amount of money given out had risen significantly. In the same period of over 20 years, £60,000 had also been given out in supermarket vouchers distributed to local helping organisations. The Trustee body had been extended from 3 to 5 members, 3 of whom now take turns on a rota to manage the 4 – 5 applications for grants per week that come in.

In the past year Second Chance furniture had closed down and their reserve fund of about £18,000 had, with Charity Commission approval, been donated to DPA for assisting those clients in need of furniture.

Daniel Cadisch thanked Margaret and the (Dorchester Poverty Action) DPA – team for all their support and help. He described a superb partnership that made a difference to people’s lives. DPA enabled his team to get help for a person in dire need – when there was no other available.

Universal Credit was launched in 2013. The aim was to simplify the benefits system and to encourage more people to work instead of claiming benefits. This turned out to be much more complicated than before.

The first basic problem was that the system was to be digital – which meant that all claims had to be done via a computer tax network (RTI). As many people did not have access to a computer or a Smartphone they would have to go to a library or to CAB for help and all personal information had to be collected and put in before a claim could be made. As well as this, personal ID (Identity) for the on line system was critical – a photo or documents – which many people did not have. After the initial application there is then a ‘journal’ which each individual claimant has to complete regularly on line.

Disabled and disadvantaged and lone parents would be worse off. Added to this there was a seven day waiting time before money or help came through. This meant that people were penniless and with no food for the family. However, with lobbying the national CAB managed to get the 7 day period abolished. Another difficulty for people was that benefit payments, which were previously weekly, had now changed to monthly under Universal Credit. Many people found this a more serious adjustment.

Housing benefits were another huge problem. These benefits, which could previously be paid direct to the landlord, now had to be paid out by the claimant. The result of this meant that, in some months, the money was insufficient for the rent, causing rent arrears which could not be corrected for another full month, thus raising the threat of eviction, all of this creating terrible stress and anxiety for families and people.

Job Centre staff also had a very difficult job and many more problems dealing with benefit claims. They had no extra help or training to deal with Universal Credit problems and a lot of mistakes were made. Helen explained that sometimes there was a 5 week gap before issues were resolved and money came through. Over a period CAB were able to establish a good working relationship with the Weymouth office and problems could now sometimes be resolved by a ‘phone call.

Some benefit claimants have paid into contributory benefits but they are denied access to these if they have gone into the Universal Credit system – called the Lobsterpot effect, because once you are into UC there is no way back to former benefits or even those to which you are entitled.

Mental health and patient benefit claims, especially for those at Forston hospital, were also seriously affected by Universal Credit because, in some circumstances, the claimant has to appear in person at the Weymouth benefit office. The situation was so serious that a psychiatrist had written a letter to show the adverse effects upon patient’s health. Now a fund for a special team had been created with Christine at CAB and a social worker to deal with mental health claims.

In spite of the good work done, appeals against the system and lack of benefit could take up to one year to be heard or resolved.

CAB had launched a further campaign, sending a lot of evidence to the National body supported by the local MP Oliver Letwin. This was also backed by Shelter and other organisations to show the impact and that Universal Credit was NOT working.

However Daniel explained that the next stage of Universal Credit to be introduced was called ‘Managed Migration’ (migration on to Universal Credit not into the country) which would affect over one million people. It would continue unrelenting –as indeed would the opposition to it.

Daniel remained optimistic in spite of the problems. Due to the chaos created by Universal Credit, the core funding for all CAB’s had been increased to £40 million, ensuring their viability for the foreseeable future. He said that Dorchester was fortunate to have Dorchester Poverty Action, a well run Credit Union and a Food Bank as well as the support of the churches and a good community spirit.

Margaret thanked Daniel and Helen for their most helpful and enlightening talk and for all the work that they do at Citizen’s Advice.

Questions were taken from the floor and the meeting closed at 8.15pm.

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