How will Universal Credit affect St Albans?

St Albans council staff are working alongside Job Centre staff to help smoothen the transition to Un

St Albans council staff are working alongside Job Centre staff to help smoothen the transition to Universal Credit. - Credit: Archant

Housing providers in St Albans have expressed their concerns about the rolling-out of Universal Credit.

David Gauke. Photo: Chris McAndrew/Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) licence.

David Gauke. Photo: Chris McAndrew/Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) licence. - Credit: Archant

The new benefits system, which pours six separate payments into a single one, will begin to be paid to many more St Albans claimants next month.

Hightown Housing Association, who run housing and homeless shelters in St Albans, said: “Given the experience of claimants in other parts of the country, we do have some concerns about how our tenants will be affected.

“Dedicated staff have been working closely with single people of working age who have already been affected by Universal Credit.

“We have introduced a new financial inclusion officer to support tenants impacted by welfare reforms who need extra help in managing their money.

“Hightown staff also meet with new tenants during their first year to discuss future affordability and, where appropriate, signpost them to training and employment opportunities.

“Where tenants have difficulty paying rent, Hightown makes prompt applications for rent to be paid directly to us to avoid tenants building up a debt that becomes impossible for them to clear.

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“We will continue to work closely with our tenants to help them to prepare for changes to the welfare benefit system.”

The difference between Universal Credit (UC) and the current system is UC is paid in arrears, meaning claimants will have to wait longer for money.

UC replaces housing benefit, income support, jobseekers allowance, employment and support allowance (ESA), child tax credit, and working tax credit.

Head of housing for St Albans council Karen Dragovic said: “Our benefits team has administered Housing Benefit payments for many years.

“Since May 2015, Universal Credit has been available in the district for some people who would have previously claimed Housing Benefit.

“From November 2017, the people who can claim UC will be expanded to include most new claimants of working age who would previously have claimed Housing Benefit.

“Also included are those who would have previously claimed other benefits such as Income Support and Tax Credits which we do not administer.

“To help prepare for the changes, the council has been co-operating closely with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and our Housing Benefit officers have been working alongside staff at the local job centre.

“When the changes come into force, we will assist Universal Credit claimants in getting the correct help towards their housing costs, including their rent, and advise them on payment options.

“We will also support people who are unable to make a claim online, and offer budgeting and debt advice with Citizens Advice.

“We will continue to have a role in administering Housing Benefit for existing claimants and those groups who will not be able to claim Universal Credit, like pensioners.

“Our benefits team will also continue to award Council Tax Support and Discretionary Housing payments.”

Work and Pensions Secretary, Herts MP David Gauke, has been urged by Conservative MPs to pause its introduction.

However he defended UC in the House of Commons on Monday, October 9, saying: “The roll-out of universal credit is proceeding to plan, gradually and sensibly.

“People are moving into work faster and staying in work for longer.

“The most recent phase of expansion will only take the proportion of the forecast claimant population receiving universal credit from 8 per cent to 10 per cent by the end of January.”