Queries to Citizens Advice Scotland almost triple due to Universal Credit roll-out

The number of people seeking advice regarding welfare reforms has increased by almost 200 per cent, a new report reveals

CITIZENS ADVICE SCOTLAND (CAS), Scotland’s largest independent advice network, has been swamped with requests for advice and assistance regarding the rollout of Universal Credit.

A recent CAS report, ‘Advice in Scotland 2016/17’, reveals that the number of Scots seeking information about the controversial new system has increased by almost 200 per cent over the past year.

More than 250,000 issues concerning benefits and associated welfare reforms were raised at CAS’s 61 centres across Scotland, which the report attributes largely to the introduction of Universal Credit.

READ MORE: Universal Credit condemned in cross-party symbolic vote

The report notes that, during the analysed period, over 65,000 queries regarding the daily living component of the Personal Independence Payment were recorded, while almost 40,000 were to do with the Employment and Support Allowance.

“The introduction and gradual roll-out of Universal Credit is evident in regard to benefits queries being brought to bureaux.” Citizens Advice Scotland report ‘Advice in Scotland 2016/17’

The report states: “The introduction and gradual roll-out of Universal Credit is evident in regard to benefits queries being brought to bureaux.”

“Not only are bureaux seeing an ongoing increase in the number of queries in relation to Universal Credit directly, with all but one exception, the benefits that are being replaced by Universal Credit are seeing comparable decreases.

“Most notable in relation to Universal Credit-related queries is that, while the category itself is not one of the largest in terms of numbers (although with almost 7,900 queries recorded, nor is it insignificant), the number of queries has increased by 189 per cent since 2015/16.”

“While it is impossible to accurately state why this increase has occurred, it is easy to speculate that the result of the EU referendum in June 2016 may have some influence here.” Citizens Advice Scotland report ‘Advice in Scotland 2016/17’

The report also suggests that the advent of Brexit may account for the 22 per cent increase in concerns regarding immigration raised in 2016/17 compared to the previous year, with 6,100 such queries recorded.

The report notes: “While it is impossible to accurately state why this increase has occurred, it is easy to speculate that the result of the EU referendum in June 2016 may have some influence here.”

In July of 2017, an earlier report from Citizens Advice, ‘Delivering on Universal Credit’, called on the roll-out of Universal Credit to be paused until problems already identified by the new system could be fixed.

“Universal Credit is already failing too many people, pushing them into debt and leaving them without the means to make ends meet.” Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy

Speaking at the time, Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said: “Universal Credit is already failing too many people, pushing them into debt and leaving them without the means to make ends meet.

READ MORE: Calls in Scotland for a halt to roll out of Universal Credit grow

“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.

“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 roll out 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.”

“Put this system on hold so it can be fixed and keep one million of our children out of poverty.” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

At part of his autumn budget, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond responded to widespread criticism of Universal Credit by announcing that the current six-week waiting time for new Universal Credit claimants will be reduced to five weeks.

Hammond also said that advance loans will be available to claimants sooner, and will be repaid over 12 months, rather than the current six. Additionally, new claimants already in receipt of Housing Benefit will continue to receive that benefit for two weeks following their transition to Universal Credit.

However, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn criticised the U-turn from Hammond, arguing that it did not go far enough and reiterating calls for Universal Credit to be paused entirely.

“I say to the Chancellor again,” Corbyn told the House of Commons, “put this system on hold so it can be fixed and keep one million of our children out of poverty.”

Picture courtesy of HelenCobain

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