Tyne & Wear

Universal credit risks destitution in Newcastle claim

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Image caption The new Universal Credit system was introduced in Newcastle before being rolled out across the country

People in one of the first areas where a major benefits system change has been introduced are at risk of "destitution" and "homelessness", it is claimed.

Newcastle City Council said 85% of council tenants on Universal Credit (UC) were in arrears on their rent.

The authority blamed a six-week wait for the first payment and lack of support for vulnerable users.

The Department for Work and Pensions said the "best way to help people pay their rent is to help them into work".

One Newcastle claimant, Tracey Culham, said it took months to receive a UC payment.

"I owe people money, I owe my family money and I can't give them money back because I've got no money to give them," she said.

Image caption Tracey Culham said it was degrading "when you've worked all your life and this is the way they treat you"

The government's flagship change to the benefits system is meant to simplify it and encourage people back into work.

Newcastle has been a test area for the new system.

In written evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee inquiry on UC the city council said: "We think that Universal Credit can place some vulnerable residents at risk of destitution and homelessness."

Council housing provider Your Homes Newcastle said, of 1,380 tenants on UC, 1,186 were in rent arrears by an average of £686, more than double the average for tenants not on UC.

Universal credit implementation manager Donna Gallagher said some had nothing for six weeks or longer.

"People are coming to us for food parcels or referrals to crisis support," she said.

Newcastle North Labour MP Catherine McKinnell said it had been "an absolute disaster".

The government "cannot possibly go ahead and roll it out across the rest of the country knowing that these fundamental flaws in the system exist," she said.

Image caption Catherine McKinnell said there were "fundamental flaws" in the system

A DWP spokesman said people on UC "move into work faster and stay in work longer than under the old system".

The "majority" of claimants are "comfortable managing their budgets" and the DWP was working with local authorities and landlords to get extra support for those in arrears, he said.

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