The Government’s Work and Pensions secretary has pledged that no one in Harrogate taking part in the pilot for the latest Universal Credit rollout will lose out financially.
Talking to the Harrogate Advertiser as the ‘managed migration’ of existing benefit claimants started this week, Amber Rudd said she would be monitoring the town’s role as a pilot for the whole country very closely.
The Tory minister said: “No one taking part in the pilot will lose out financially when they move over, as people will receive top up payments known as ‘transitional protection’.
“All claimants taking part will be supported throughout by a dedicated team within Harrogate Jobcentre Plus.”
Harrogate College changes hands in new transfer
It is believed that up to 3,000 existing benefit claimants in Harrogate are being moved to the six-in-one system, in the first test of “managed migration” in the UK.
Plagued by criticism almost from the moment it was first introduced by then Prime Minister David Cameron government, often from within the government itself, national charities blame Universal Credit for the rise of food banks in the UK and the growth in claimants rent arrears.
Reacting to public concern, Amber Rudd and the DWP has now issued a list of reassurances.
Perhaps most significantly is a pledge that people on the trial will be given three months to transfer to Universal Credit, an online system in which all new claimants five weeks for their first payment.
Amber Rudd said: “We are already working closely with the council and other local organisations to ensure the process works for everyone, and all claimants taking part will be supported throughout by a dedicated team within Harrogate Jobcentre Plus.”
Designed to save £18 billion of government money and simplify the welfare system, Universal Credit was developed to replace six individual benefits as part of the Conservative’s welfare reform programme.
Official figures show that, as of February 2019, a total of 4,633 people in Harrogate were already on Universal Credit.
Figures also show approximately £156,000 was owed to Harrogate Borough Council in rent arrears at the end of the financial year of 2018/19 by tenants who are, or have been, in receipt of Universal Credit.
In 2016 Harrogate and Skipton job centres were among the first in the country to move to the comprehensive ‘full service’ Universal Credit.
A report highlighted a number of serious problems such as the complicated nature of the online system, problems with the phone helpline and the long wait for payment.
As a result, some major charities, as well as many politicians, have recommended a pause in the entire rollout programme for Universal Credit.
But Amber Rudd said: “Universal Credit is a force for good, and more than two million people in the UK are already getting support.”
What it will mean to Harrogate benefit claimants: in the words of The Department of Work and Pensions
Universal Credit in Harrogate
· The next phase of rollout has just begun, with regulations laid on July 22 for claimants on existing benefits to be moved across to Universal Credit.
· The regulations confirmed plans to start a pilot in Harrogate which will see no more than 10,000 legacy benefit claimants without a change of circumstance move to Universal Credit.
· The pilot has now begun and will last for at least a year.
· We will initially select claimants for the pilot from those that currently attend the Jobcentre for meetings with their work coach. Everyone taking part in the pilot will receive personalised support and work coaches will establish whether someone is ready to move and build on their existing relationships to prepare claimants and support them through the process.
· Once ready, claimants are given a migration notice which gives them at least 3 months to submit a claim for Universal Credit.
· Many claimants will have higher entitlements when receiving Universal Credit but, for those who do not, anyone on legacy benefits whose circumstances remain the same and move to Universal Credit as part of the process will be eligible for transitional protection, which will mean that no one will lose out financially when they change.
· Harrogate has been selected as it has been live with Universal Credit since 2016 and has a mix of the benefit claimants that will reflect caseloads across the country.
· We will be working closely with the council and other local organisations to ensure the process works for everyone.