Edinburgh families forced to wait five weeks to receive Universal Credit

FAMILIES face being left without cash over Christmas when Universal Credit starts being rolled out in Edinburgh on Wednesday.

Claimants will be forced to wait five weeks before they receive the new benefit, meaning first payments will not be made until January.

The shake-up is expected to mean more people relying on foodbanks and also lead to a rise in rent arrears.

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Green councillor Susan Rae said: “The immediate impact is debt because the gap people have to wait for payment will throw people in to rent arrears.

“Universal Credit is going to be appalling for people this winter – Merry Christmas, have some misery.”

Universal Credit replaces six existing benefits – Child Tax Credit, Housing Benefit, Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Working Tax Credit.

But at first only those making a new claim or experiencing a change in circumstances will be switched to Universal Credit, with others being moved over gradually thereafter.

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An estimated 10,500 council tenants in the Capital will be on Universal Credit by 2023. And the council has put aside a contingency fund of £9 million because of expected rent arrears.

Benjamin Napier, Edinburgh manager of Citizens Advice Bureaux, said an increase in foodbank use was “inevitable” as a result of the change. And foodbank charity the Trussell Trust has called for the roll-out to be halted over Christmas – to prevent more people being forced to resort to foodbanks.

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Laura Ferguson, the trust’s operations manager in Scotland, said: “If the five-week wait for Universal Credit isn’t reduced, the only way to stop even more people being forced to foodbanks this winter will be to pause new claims until the system has the funding to properly support people.

“It’s completely unacceptable that anyone is forced to turn to a foodbank in Edinburgh, and we’ll continue to campaign for systemic change until everyone has enough money to keep pace with the rising cost of essentials like food and housing.”

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Housing and economy convener Kate Campbell said Universal Credit was a “failed policy”. “Where full service has already been rolled out we’ve seen increased use of food banks, crisis grants, rent arrears and evictions. It’s not saving money, it’s pushing the cost of emergency interventions to protect our poorest citizens onto local authorities and others.”

On a visit to the UK, Professor Philip Alston, United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, labelled the policy “Universal Discredit”. He added: “As I spoke with local authorities and the voluntary sector about their preparations for the future roll-out of Universal Credit, I was struck by how much their mobilisation resembled the sort of activity one might expect for an impending natural disaster or health epidemic.”

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A Department of Work and Pensions spokesman said: “There’s no reason for people to be without money over Christmas because advance payments are widely available.”