1st March 2019

Navigating universal credit

I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about universal credit in the news. Universal credit combines six benefits, including housing benefit, tax credits and jobseeker’s allowance, into one monthly payment. Universal credit has now been rolled out in Leeds and Bradford, creating many difficulties for our service users.

One of the biggest challenges is that universal credit now requires everyone applying to have access to a PC with internet to use an online journal. This means that people need to not only be able to know how to use a computer and navigate the internet, but they must also be able to access a computer that has internet connection. This acts as a huge barrier to many homeless people.

Another difficulty is the requirement for official details. To set up a universal credit application, individuals need an email address, a phone number and a bank account, all huge barriers to the homeless people we work with. To set up a bank account, an individual must have an address, but for those we support, claiming universal credit is their first step towards being able to access housing, so you can see how difficult this is for rough sleepers.

Alongside this, we feel that making a claim for universal credit is so complex that for those we work with, it would not be possible without the help of a support worker. We have found that staff are uncertain of what decisions can be made and we often need to speak to managers who can clarify issues. Call centre assistants are inadequately briefed on the process and all its intricacies. One of our outreach workers recently spent three hours on hold when trying to speak to someone about a universal credit appeal. Many individuals we work with have dependencies and poor mental or physical health and find it extremely difficult to sit around for that length of time.

One of our outreach workers recently spent five hours with a service user setting up universal credit. During those five hours, our service user was told they needed a sick note to prove that they couldn’t work. To get this they needed to be registered with a doctor. For security reasons, they also had to answer questions about their last benefit claim, which can be difficult to remember if it was several months ago. This further restricts the ability of rough sleepers to successfully migrate to the universal credit system and all the changes that come with it.

Applying for universal credit is complex and difficult and we have found that no-one we support would be able to apply without the help of a support worker. This is why our long-term support work, which includes form filling, accompanying people to meetings and advocating on their behalf, is so important.

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