Universal Credit branded 'catastrophe' as Wakefield families wait too long to be paid

Universal Credit was rolled out, replacing six benefits, at the end of last year.
Universal Credit was rolled out, replacing six benefits, at the end of last year.

Senior Labour councillors have piled into Universal Credit, which they say has left some desperate families facing "catastrophe".

It follows the publication of a report which said that thousands of people claiming the benefit in Wakefield were waiting longer than five weeks for their first payments.

Cabinet member Les Shaw said that even claimants who'd been paid on time were struggling with debt.

Cabinet member Les Shaw said that even claimants who'd been paid on time were struggling with debt.

Universal Credit was rolled out by the government last year in a move they said would simplify the welfare system, with six different benefits being merged.

But administrative problems have led to reports of serious financial troubles for claimants all over the country.

In Wakefield, one woman is understood to have waited nine weeks for her first Universal Credit payments, after the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) mistakenly claimed she'd missed an appointment with them.

The DWP says that claimants can get an advance on their cash if they need it.

Councillor Maureen Cummings called for the system to be "abolished".

Councillor Maureen Cummings called for the system to be "abolished".

But speaking at a Cabinet meeting about the report on Tuesday, Councillor Les Shaw offered a withering assessment of the current system.

He said: "Universal Credit is paid five weeks in arrears. Anybody with any common sense will realise that that puts a massive amount of stress on our residents.

"The report says that 81 per cent (have been paid within five weeks).

"Well whoopee doo! That's 81 per cent, but they've got debts built up from all that time.

"Yet 18 per cent are waiting even longer than that, which is a catastrophe for some families.

"18,659 people in Wakefield are now on Universal Credit. I see that as 18,659 people potentially in a lot of debt.

"That is a legacy that we're going to have to look at."

Coun Shaw said that the council was offering assistance to claimants, who have also been told by the government to approach the Citizen's Advice Bureau if they have any queries.

He added: "We are hearing so many stories of people not being able to fill the forms out.

"Our benefits team have been going out into libraries and foodbanks, because we are here to help.

"Some of the people will put forms in and then their circumstances will change, and they have to fill out their forms again."

Councillor Maureen Cummings said some families were unable to afford food because they'd spent all their Universal Credit money on paying bills.

She said: "We've seen a massive increase in those families who you wouldn't expect to see for short-term help.

"I pay tribute to all those volunteers out there helping people struggling with this Universal Credit. It's a crisis and it should be abolished."

Responding to councillors' comments, a spokesman for a DWP spokesman said: "Claimants struggling financially should speak to their local jobcentre to find out what extra support they may be entitled to.

"With Universal Credit people can get paid urgently if they need it, and we’ve changed the system so people can receive even more money in the first two weeks than under the old system."

Local Democracy Reporting Service