The minister in charge of the Governments’ Universal Credit policy came to Harrogate today, Wednesday to reassure claimants taking part in a new pilot scheme with a vow to try to improve the controversial system even further.
Talking to the Harrogate Advertiser during a visit to the town’s Job Centre, Amber Rudd said the “ground breaking” rollout to existing claimants in Harrogate was already providing valuable lessons after only two weeks.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions said: “It’s very early stages but it’s going well so far. It’s been very interesting speaking to the work coaches who’ve been talking individual claimants through it.
“Our aim is that every single person in the pilot in Harrogate has a positive experience during the pilot.”
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But the minister, who has previously questioned aspects of Universal Credit, also said she was looking at improving the payback system for advance payments to tide claimants over before the first cash arrives.
The loans have been blamed for pushing some people further into debt and fuelling the growth of food banks.
The minister said: “We are looking at extending the amount of time people can pay it back over.
“We’ve already extended it from 12 to 16 months.”
When asked whether the 100 existing benefits claimants set to be ‘migrated’ to UC by Christmas was sufficient as a pilot when a total of more than 5,000 people in the Harrogate district will ultimately be affected, the minister said she was “completely comfortable” that the rollout should go at a “really slow pace” to start with.
She said: “There’s already good learning coming out of Harrogate, specifically remembering that one size doesn’t fit all and that everyone needs careful handling.”
Having been vocal in her support for Jeremy Hunt in the recent Tory leadership battle, during which she said that waiting five weeks for the first Universal Credit payment was too long, the minister would only say: “I want to get money into people’s hands as early as possible.”
State of Harrogate - is it time we all worked together?
The minister also said she was delighted that changes she had introduced to ensure Universal Credit was fairer to women who were victims of domestic abuse was now being implemented.
She said: “I’ve asked for there to be a single point of contact, who is an expert in helping people who need help in this way, in every Job Centre across the country and I’m pleased it’s happening here in Harrogate. We’ve also made a nudge on the forms to make sure Universal Credit now goes to the main carer.”
Universal Credit - Harrogate’s role
First introduced in 2013 to new benefit claimants, Harrogate last month became the first place in the country where existing claimants are being moved onto a single payment via an online system.
According to official figures, Harrogate Borough Council was owed approximately £156,000 at the end of the financial year of 2018/19 from tenants who are, or have been, in receipt of UC.