INITIAL recipients of universal credit in the area had contacted council officers in despair, councillors were told.
Single claimants around Bognor Regis have been placed on the new benefit for several months.
Its introduction for other claimants has been delayed twice by the Government. The first postponement was announced in the Budget last November to put it back from next April 1 to July 1.
It had since been shifted to July 4, Arun District Council’s rent arrears manager, Karen Collins, told councillors.
But the early impact in the area of the benefit had already mirrored that in regions of the country where it had been fully introduced.
“We have had tenants waiting 12 weeks for their payments,” she said at last Thursday’s meeting of the housing and customer services working group of the council.
“We have had people on the phone absolutely at their wits’ end. They have been to the foodbank, Christians Against Poverty and Citizen’s Advice and they absolutely don’t know where to turn to.
“There has been real, real hardship but the proposals in the Budget go some way to helping these people.”
The Government is bringing in universal credit to replace six benefits such as housing benefit.
Ms Collins said the council was also waiting to see the effect of universal credit on its housing benefit claimants. The change was expected to have a ‘huge impact’ on its cashflow as payments were switched from the council to the claimant.
“This will happen three months after universal credit is rolled out to all new claimants – so that will be October 1 for us,” she said. “So, that’s going to be happening very quickly.”
The work of Ms Collins was praised by Cllr Trevor Bence, the council’s cabinet member for residential services.
He said she worked tirelessly with vulnerable tenants in its 3,000-plus properties.
“She is a shining example of how the work should be done. She works closely with every single vulnerable tenant to get them where they need to be, which is paying their rent on time and meeting their obligations.
“Hopefully, the same will continue with universal credit. I can’t impress on people enough how grateful I am she is working for us.”
The changes in universal credit will take effect from the start of next month.
They include a reduction in the waiting time for the first payment from six to five weeks, the abolition of an extra seven waiting days and bigger advances with longer to pay them back.
* Figures given by Ms Collins to the working group showed the impact of previous benefit changes in the district.
The spare room subsidy, dubbed the bedroom tax, affected 150 council tenants and 228 in housing association homes. The benefits cap had affected 106 tenants in all with weekly cuts from £554.16 to 50p.