Fury as city residents used as benefits ‘guinea pigs’

Gordon Blair was told his benefits may be suspended
Gordon Blair was told his benefits may be suspended
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THE impact of the UK Government’s welfare reform programme is set to be scrutinised by council chiefs amid “serious concerns” that the city’s most vulnerable residents could be hard hit.

Councillor Ricky Henderson, the city’s health and social care convener, is calling for a report on the effect of the new benefits system under Universal Credit.

The moves comes as it emerged that 1800 housing association tenants in the Capital had been pushed into a pilot scheme under threat of losing their benefits.

Dunedin Canmore agreed to become the only housing association in Scotland to test out plans to pay housing benefit direct to tenants.

The association’s 1800 recipients of housing benefits will have the cash paid into their bank account to then pay on to their landlord.

But some tenants have been left angry that they are being used as “guinea pigs” to try out the Universal Credit reform before it comes into effect next October.

Cllr Henderson said: “I knew that Dunedin Canmore had volunteered but I wasn’t aware that tenants were being volunteered by default. But I think it will be a valuable exercise and I know that Dunedin Canmore will put in place every support they can.

“Hopefully both they and the council will learn from this pilot as there are some serious concerns about how this will operate in practice.”

Gordon Blair, who has lived in Murdoch Terrace for six years, said that Dunedin Canmore had elected to take part in the pilot without asking for tenants’ opinions.

The 58-year-old said he received a letter saying that his housing benefits “may be suspended” if he refused.

Mr Blair, a coach driver for 32 years before being left unable to work through depression, emphysema and athritis, said: “Dunedin Canmore volunteered to do this, but I was never consulted.

“The letter I received from the council said I have to get in touch over this scheme or they may suspend my benefits.

“This does not become law until October next year. They have no legal means to force people to do this. We’re being used as guinea pigs.”

Graeme Russell, housing services director at Dunedin Canmore, said: “It’s a major change for a lot of people. But it’s going to happen anyway and we’re anxious to ensure that our people are as well-
prepared as possible.”

Mr Russell said that discussions had been conducted with the city council and the Citizen’s Advice Bureau over the running of the pilot.

A council spokesman said: “This pilot project is being carried out across the UK on behalf of the DWP. Our revenues and benefits section are supporting Dunedin Canmore as all local authorities and housing associations prepare for the introduction of the Universal Credit scheme.”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “The demonstration projects will help us to understand the demand for budgeting support and the best ways to deliver it.”