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Benefit switch

NEARLY 100 Bognor Regis residents have been switched to a controversial new benefit.


They are claiming universal credit through the town’s Jobcentreplus instead of up to six previous benefits.


The newcomers to the system in the past month have joined some 219 existing claimants on universal credit.


Jobcentreplus joint manager Karen Brooks said the process had gone smoothly to date.


“Universal credit is a massive transition. It has taken six benefits and rolled them into one payment. But it is an agile system. It can change every day to take account of a person’s circumstances.


“It has been rolled out really slowly so as not to cause a massive number of people to slip under the net. It is being done in stages rather than the big bang approach which we have been used to.”


She has contacted Stonepillow and the town’s food bank to ensure they have not experienced an influx of individuals affected by the change-over.


Universal credit dates back about three years. Since then, it has applied to single people who live in private rented accommodation or live with their families and friends. After July 4, all new recipients are being placed on universal credit instead of claiming child tax credit, housing benefit, income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income-related employment and support allowance and working tax credit.


Existing claimants will stay on their current benefits until there is a significant change in their circumstances.


Kelly Pritchard, the Jobcentreplus’s service innovation lead, said: “Instead of clients claiming six separate payments, there is a single payment which is paid on the same day every month as if they were in work rather than the previous fortnightly payments.”


Different elements in that overall payment will change as people’ lives change such as different medical assessments and jobs.


“The first payment takes five weeks to come through. People can ask for an advance of up to 100 per cent of what their universal credit is going to be. But they have to do that within three weeks of their assessment,” she said.


A link on the universal credit website also instantly calculates how extra work, and other changes, will affect payments to individuals.


She has held information sessions with a host of groups and individuals to explain how the change will affect them.


“The flexibility is the main thing about universal credit,” she said. “In the past, each benefit would have to be changed individually. There is also no longer the rigid 16 hours a week cut-off for working which used to affect people on benefits.”


Each client also keeps the same caseworker to ensure continuity.


Mrs Brooks said the changes had become increasingly necessary.


“The heritage benefits, as we now call them, are outdated. They are too rigid. They were fine when they started but life has moved on and the world has moved on and, therefore, the welfare state has to move on,” added Mrs Brooks.


Previously, some 25-30 new claimants a week would be seen for jobseeker’s allowance. There are 350-380 existing claimants for the allowance, 500 for income support and a few thousand for employment and support allowance.

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