York & North Yorkshire

Food bank warning about universal credit pilot

Harrogate food bank
Image caption Volunteers at the Harrogate food bank say they've seen a 20% increase in the number of requests for food in the past year

A food bank in Harrogate is expecting a rise in demand as a new pilot of Universal Credit will leave claimants without money for three weeks.

Harrogate has been chosen to trial the latest roll-out of the new benefits system which will see 5,000 long term claimants moved onto the new system.

Universal Credit claimants have previously had to wait five weeks for their first payment.

The government said special measures had been put in place for the pilot.

The reform combines six benefits into one monthly payment, and is designed to make the welfare system simpler.

It added that Universal Credit, the government's flagship welfare policy, was working and helping more people to find employment.

The pilot being run in the North Yorkshire spa town of Harrogate will for the first time see long-term, existing benefit claimants transferred across to the new system.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Harrogate in North Yorkshire is one of the most prosperous parts of northern England

Last year the Harrogate food bank fed more than 2,000 people, and Lucy Stewart said they were expecting demand to increase as the latest Universal Credit pilot begins.

"We hope the process goes smoothly but the reality is that there will always be people who slip through the net of this pilot.

"We're likely to see an increase in demand for food, because people moving across to the new system are going to spend three weeks without any income" said Mrs Stewart.

How does universal credit work?

  • Universal Credit combines six "legacy benefits" into one monthly means tested payment. The legacy benefits are working tax credits, child tax credit, job seekers allowance, income support, employment support allowance and housing benefit
  • A single universal credit payment is paid directly into the claimant's bank account each month
  • Over 1.5m people across Great Britain currently receive benefits through Universal Credit

Source: House of Commons Library

One of the central criticisms of Universal Credit has been that new claimants have to wait up to five weeks for their first benefit payment.

Though claimants have the option of being able to request an advance of their first payment, which they then have to repay.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said for those claimants involved in the pilot in Harrogate, they had put measures in place that would reduce the waiting time to two and a half weeks.

"The aim of the pilot is to learn how we can best move customers safely across from one benefit to another" said Hazel Renwick from the DWP.

"We're giving customers who move across additional financial support.

"I think Universal Credit is the best benefits system we've ever had, especially for those who are returning to work because it acts a safety net" said Ms Renwick.

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