Alex M Adamson Partners With Local Authorities To Support Universal Credit Transition
June 2017

As part of the UK Government’s ongoing reform of the welfare system, working aged benefits are changing for some new claimants within our local authority partners’ districts. The move aims to simplify the system by gradually merging a number of means-tested benefits and tax credits into one single payment, called Universal Credit. This new Universal Credit system which is being rolled out area by area has been created with the goal of reducing the amount of fraud and error that hits the benefits system which amounts to billions of pounds per year.

Despite the clear goals of the new scheme there has been various concerns raised about different aspects of Universal Credit.

The timelines of the claim process have come under scrutiny from parties already involved in the new Universal Credit scheme, with a recorded average duration of 7 weeks for a claim to be processed from receipt by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). In addition, the amount of any award given is based on a claimants current circumstances at the time of the claim rather than taking in to account what the overall short term circumstances may be.

The process for claiming itself has also been scrutinised as Universal Credit claims rely on individuals making the online claim application directly to the DWP & thereafter continuing to provide updates to reflect changing circumstances. This is a stark contrast to the existing process and could pose an issue for those without access to the internet.

Once the claimants are in receipt of Universal Credit their full benefit sum will be transferred straight to their personal bank account in a bid to encourage benefit claimants to manage their finances responsibly and to make the payment process mirror that of receiving a monthly wage. As Universal Credit will also include any housing benefits that an individual is entitled to the new procedures ensure that the individual is now responsible for paying their landlord themselves rather than the current arrangements whereby any payments to cover rent are paid directly by the local authorities to the landlord. In areas where Universal Credit has already been implemented the number of rent arrears have significantly increased, resulting in concerns from landlords. Many landlords are calling for an adjustment to the new benefits reform by asking the government to re-introduce the previous housing benefit payment arrangements to ensure residents are able to retain their tenancies and to keep arrears at a minimum.

With the above concerns in mind our local authority clients anticipate an increased number of referrals to their internal Money Advice team, which are currently already working at near to full capacity. In order to ease the transition and help to avoid delays in handling requests for assistance Alex M Adamson will be providing support to our local authority partners where possible.

Where an individual indicates to our staff they are going to be making a Universal Credit claim our team will be able to provide practical guidance from local authorities and have the appropriate documentation to hand to ensure claims can be made as soon as possible to minimise the impact to the individual and their income. This assistance will take the form of our local offices & sheriff officers holding stock of Council Tax reduction claims forms and Universal Credit guidance leaflets.

In addition we will also be coordinating with our local authority clients to ensure AMA are highlighting cases where an individual is awaiting a Universal Credit claim to be processed or are currently claiming Universal Credit. This additional layer of case information will allow the local authorities to keep their records fully up to date during the Universal Credit transition.