CITIZEN’S Advice Bureau (CAB) is being swamped with benefit payment problems.
The charity’s south Warwickshire branch say more than half the 32,000 people through its doors in the past year needed help with benefits, mostly related to Universal Credit which has seen allowances such as tax credits and income support replaced with a single monthly payment.
Many claimants have had problems when their payment changed over to the new system as they had to wait for a month before they received the credit – which was introduced in a bid to make working more profitable than claiming benefits.
While Stratford district saw the controversial welfare reforms introduced back in 2016, the change only came into effect in Warwick district last month.
The charity’s recent annual report shows many people also needed help with claiming Personal Independence Payments (PIP), which the charity believes the government has clamped down on, causing ‘severe distress’ to some of south Warwickshire’s most vulnerable.
And CAB bosses fear the introduction of Universal Credit in Warwick district will only increase benefit problems in the area.
A spokeswoman for the charity – which offers free advice on legal, consumer and other problems – said: “Benefit problems in south Warwickshire are stacking up. Universal Credit has been introduced to the Stratford district area, but Warwick district has only just had the welfare reform measure introduced and more problems are expected.
“PIP assessments seem more and more strict, particularly people with mental health or other fluctuating conditions seem to lose out, which is causing severe distress. On appeals often this is overturned, showing that the process is ineffective, but in the meantime causing lots of stress. This is something we are raising with MPs.
“Many of our clients are struggling with increasingly complex issues and often we are the only source of help when they need someone to speak up for them.
“We are able to get people back on their feet and ensure they are getting all the support they need.”
The charity also believes delays to Universal Credit payments could be leading to a rise in the number of residents turning to foodbanks.
It is now looking into foodbank usage to see if there is a higher need among benefits claimants and those with mental illnesses.
The spokeswoman added: “We are looking deeper into the current reporting to see if the rise in use can be directly linked to Universal Credit and mental health issues. This research is also being fed back into the national Citizens Advice campaign, highlighting these important issues of universal credit.”
But it Is not all bad news – the charity, which has 100 volunteers, has also helped those in Warwick district struggling to repay ‘insurmountable’ debts to have nearly £500,000 written off in the past year.
Visit www.casouthwarwickshire.org.uk for further details.