Promises of extra funding to ease the strain of the government’s Universal Credit welfare reform couldn’t come soon enough for Lincolnshire residents who say they have faced waits as long as 13 weeks for their first benefits payments.
People across the county have told Lincolnshire Reporter they have been forced into debt and sought help from food banks and welfare charities since the introduction of the scheme in their area.
But not all examples of the benefits switch have been negative.
Some 55 people from across the county took part in a Lincolnshire Reporter survey to share their views and experiences of the welfare system so far.
Of the 80% of respondents who are currently receiving benefits, 50% stated they had experienced a delay with payments. Delays ranged from six weeks to three months and more for the initial instalment.
Of those who had moved over to the welfare system, 46% of people said they had received help from a food bank. Some 29% had sought assistance from Citizens Advice.
One person described their experience as “awful”, adding: “As a trainee midwife I have been completely penalised for being a student with two children to feed. I have gone into rent arrears and other debt.”
Another said: “Universal Credit has left me in a position of being £300 to £400 worse off a month than I was on tax credits. Every month’s a different sum.”
For one resident, a recent move to Lincoln is claimed to have set any payments back to December.
Some criticised the application process, dubbing it “difficult to understand”.
Unexpectedly, two people who responded to the survey said they were having problems ‘proving they exist’.
One anonymous responder was among a number to praise the system however and the positive impact it had had on their son. “It removes the stigma associated with receiving specific financial assistance, as everyone is on the same named benefit.”
Another said: “No problems, much easier than the old system.”
Some said they found the process easy and help simple to access.
Among promises in yesterday’s Budget were intentions to invest £1.7 billion into work allowances – suggesting ministers are still committed to rolling out the much-criticised benefits overhaul programme.
Philip Hammond also announced an extra £1 billion over five years to provide support for people on tax credit and other benefits who are still to be moved onto the new system.
Universal Credit combines six working-age benefits into a single monthly payment, including jobseeker’s allowance and housing benefits.
One of the most commonly heard complaints since the introduction of the new system has been the long waiting times for the first payment. From 2020, it’s proposed there will be a two week run-on of benefits payments after the universal credit application, aimed at easing delays.
The timeline of previous and expected rollouts in Lincolnshire:
- Lincoln – March 2018
- Skegness – June 2018
- Spalding – July 2018
- Boston – September 2018
- Gainsborough – September 2018
- Louth – September 2018
- Sleaford – November 2018
You can find out when you will be affected here.