UNIVERSAL Credit is being rolled out in full to Tamworth today (November 29) and help is on hand for local residents who will be affected by the changes.
Tamworth and Lichfield will become the first areas in Staffordshire to go live as ‘full’ service areas, which means that certain people making new claims for any of the six identified key benefits will be moved to Universal Credit.
Universal Credit is a new benefit for working-age people which replaces a number of existing benefits and taxes. It is designed to support those on low (or no) income with their basic living expenses and housing costs.
The six key benefits being replaced by Universal Credit are:
- Housing Benefit
- Income Support
- Jobseekers Allowance (income-based)
- Employment and Support Allowance (income-related)
- Child Tax Credit
- Working Credit
There is a wide variety of eligibility criteria around who should claim the new Universal Credit, instead of the previously existing benefits. It is mainly for people aged 18 to Pension Credit age, although there are some cases where 16 and 17 year-olds may be eligible.
Some people, such as families with more than two children and people in supported accommodation, should continue to apply for Housing Benefit. For more information on eligibility please visit www.gov.uk/universal-credit/eligibility or use the Citizens Advice eligibility checker.
Universal Credit is paid directly to recipients as one monthly amount. This means that unlike Housing Benefit, individuals will be responsible for paying their landlords directly, rather than the money being taken at source.
Existing recipients of any of the six benefits do not currently need to do anything, but new claims, or certain changes in circumstances, could prompt a Universal Credit application. For example, if you receive Housing Benefit and then have a baby, and make a claim for Child Tax Credits is likely to result in you being moved to Universal Credit.
The changes mean that qualifying new claims for Housing Benefit will no longer be processed by Tamworth Borough Council. applicants are now being encouraged to apply online (www.gov.uk/apply-universal-credit) or through Tamworth Job Centre.
However, claims outside the current eligibility criteria and for people in supported accommodation will continue to be dealt with by the authority.
Staff at Tamworth Borough Council have been planning for the rollout for several years and are working in partnership with the Job Centre to help people prepare for, and adapt to, the changes.
The council’s Benefits Team will be delivering Personal Budgeting Support and Assisted Digital Support for Universal Credit customers. Referrals will be made to the team via the Job Centre and appointments arranged to help people prepare, particularly as they wait for the first Universal Credit payment to come through. Residents can also call the Benefits Team directly on 01827 709709.
Sessions will include reviewing income and expenditure, help with setting up bank accounts and email addresses, support with applications and any other budgeting issues. Customers who do not have access to a computer can use one in Marmion House, free of charge, Monday to Friday, between 9am and 4pm.
Much of the preparation work is designed to help minimise the risk of people falling into debt as a result of the changes. Anyone who feels they may be at risk of falling behind with any payments is asked to contact Tamworth Borough Council’s Benefits Team as soon as possible on 01827 709709 to see what help is on offer.
Advances may be available from the Government to help people while they wait for their first payment to come through – although this does have to be paid back through future payments. Visit www.gov.uk/universal-credit/get-an-advance-first-payment to find out more.
Tamworth Borough Council’s Benefits Team may also be able to provide Discretionary Housing Payments to help with housing costs – visit www.tamworth.gov.uk/benefits.
In addition, people on low incomes may be eligible for a reduction on their Council Tax as part of the Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme (www.tamworth.gov.uk/council-tax-reduction-scheme).
More help is available from Tamworth Advice Centre based in Marmion House.
Anyone who is really struggling to make ends meet may also be able to get help from the Tamworth Foodbank based at Manna House in Glascote Road or St Andrew’s Church in Leyfields. The facility is open until December 22 and reopens again on January 2. Help is available through food vouchers which can be issued by Customer Services teams at Tamworth Borough Council. Please take a mini bank statement and proof of ID to Marmion House for your voucher to be issued.
More information is available via Tamworth Borough Council’s website at www.tamworth.gov.uk/universal-credit, or the Government’s Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644.
Leader of Tamworth Borough Council, Cllr Daniel Cook, said: “Universal Credit is designed in part to make work pay – instead of people seeing their income drop when they move off benefits and into low-paid work, to gradually taper away – like tax credits and Housing Benefit. This allows claimants to take part-time work without losing their entitlement altogether. In theory, it makes claimants better off taking on employment, as they keep at least a proportion of the money.
“The move is also a bid to simplify the system by merging a string of working-age benefits and tax credits into one single payment.
“This is supposed to reduce the amount of fraud and error that hits the benefits system amounting to billions of pounds a year nationally. Claimants will now be much more aligned with how people receive wages monthly, so it is preparing people for the world of work. Unlike existing benefits like Income Support, which had a 100% withdrawal rate, Universal Credit was designed to reduce benefit over time as people settle into work.
“Tamworth Borough Council is fully aware that the timing of the launch in Tamworth is unfortunate given its proximity to Christmas so we have ensured we are here to help those affected by the change. We are also fully aware the change will bring challenges and stress to some as Universal Credit unfolds and we will be here to help in every way we can.”