In 2013 the Government launched Universal Credit (UC) to simplify the benefit system by bringing together several benefits that previously had to be claimed separately. As this is a complex change in the benefit system it has been rolled out gradually in different areas to test and improve the operation of UC in the light of experience; but in 2017 the Government halted the roll out temporarily to address serious problems highlighted in a report by Citizens Advice nationally. Although the Government made some changes in 2018, particularly to reduce the time that claimants have to wait before receiving any payment, Citizens Advice produced a further report showing that some claimants still need much more help to claim UC successfully. Meanwhile UC was rolled out fully in the borough of Richmond upon Thames on 20 June 2018.
What we did to help
We monitored the experience of our clients in claiming UC from then until the end of January 2019 and circulated a report identifying key issues that require improvement in in the operation of UC to local Jobcentre Plus management, local MPs, the Council and other local organisations involved with UC claimants.
The Government accepted Citizens Advice’s evidence that some claimants need additional help to claim UC and funded Citizens Advice services to provide a free Help to Claim service. At Citizens Advice Richmond we launched a Help to Claim service in April 2019. This service supports claimants until they receive all the elements of the first UC payment to which they are entitled. We decided to follow up a sample of the first claimants who had used this new service later in 2019 to monitor their experience of UC over a longer period and to assemble evidence of issues that our clients raised about the operation of UC with a view to providing recommendations for further improvement of UC . (See “What’s still Wrong with Universal Credit ?” in Current Campaigns).