Fears have been rejected that benefit claimants in Harrogate will receive less support than elsewhere when the town becomes a test case for the next phase of the controversial Universal Credit system.
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Amber Rudd’s announcement that Harrogate would be first town where people who still receive old style benefits would be moved to the new arrangements this summer came with pledges that significant additional support would be provided.
Last week Knaresborough Town Councillor Andy Wright, echoing concerns of the Harrogate and Knaresborough Labour Party, expressed concern that vulnerable people and those with mental health issue would struggle with the complexities of having to record 30 hours of job hunting every week in an online journal.
Harrogate has in recent years been one of the first places to trial each stage of the troubled, stop-start rollout of Universal Credit.
Now the Craven & Harrogate District branch of Citizens Advice, which in 2015 co-ordinated a research project to explore people’s experience of claiming Universal Credit which has been criticised for pushing people into debt, claims Harrogate claimants may be disadvantaged compared to the rest of the country when the new rollout takes place this July.
A spokesperson for Citizens Advice, said: “The Government announced that anyone moving from out of work benefits onto Universal Credit from July next year would receive two weeks benefit to help them get through the five weeks wait for the first payment of U.C.
“But we believe when the process is being trialed here this summer people will not get this money. Discretionary hardship payments will be available but no payment as of right.
“There is no sensible reason why people here should once again be disadvantaged compared to the rest of the country.”
But a spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions said no one in Harrogate would lose out when they were switched over to the new system.
The spokesperson said: ““Absolutely everyone in the Harrogate pilot can apply for discretionary payments in place of the two week run on if they need it.
“No one moved onto Universal Credit during this pilot will see a reduction in their benefits at the point of moving over.
“We are ensuring the move to Universal Credit is a hassle free process for claimants and that everyone receives the personalised service they deserve.”
Universal credit works by merging six different benefits for working age people into one monthly payment.
Supporters of the welfare reform, which is being introduced in stages across the UK, say it helps simplify the old complicated benefits system.
By 2022, a total of seven million families in the UK will be receiving Universal Credit, with over half of those being working families.
Claimants typically wait for five weeks or more for their first payment.
A recent report by the Department of Work and Pension itself says chronically ill people are more likely than other claimants to struggle with applying and managing their universal credit claims online.