THE number of Solihull people seeking support over their Universal Credit benefit claims has seen a sixfold increase in less than six months, figures show.
The previously unpublished data comes from the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) charity in Solihull, which provides advice and help to claimants.
The controversial new national benefits scheme was first rolled out in Solihull last April.
The figures reflect the rising number of claimants, and advisers say they suggest an increasing number are experiencing problems due to payment delays and complications in making the switch.
The government’s Department for Work and Pensions states there are over 4,000 claimants in Solihull.
UC is intended as a simplified single payment which incorporates benefits such as housing benefit, child tax credit, income support, working tax credit, job seeker’s allowance and employment and support allowance.
A year on from the roll out, 533 residents have sought support from Citizens Advice Solihull Borough (CASB) – around 12 per cent of total claimants.
In November, only 88 Solihull residents had gone to the CASB with UC related issues – although only around 2,000 had made the switch at this stage.
A proportion of the borough’s claimants had fallen into severe debt and rent arrears, as we reported in November.
Others have been driven to foodbank usage and some into homelessness, advisers say.
Of the 422 people who sought help with the universal credit switch in its first year – ending March 31 – 62 per cent were women, 38 per cent had a long-term health condition, eight per cent were disabled and 18 per cent had a mental illness.
The welfare reform has been championed by some as providing an incentive for work, while critics say it is poorly managed and disproportionately impacts on society’s most vulnerable.
Kerry Turner, the CASB chief executive, revealed there have been four cases of tenants who have been evicted after falling into rent arrears due to the benefit changes.
Ms Turner said: “We have put provision in place to help people make applications for UC.
“However, people are waiting up to two weeks for an appointment to verify their identity.
“It is only when their ID is verified that the application is processed and the five week wait until the first payments starts.
“For some people this means the average wait for first payment is extended up to eight weeks.
“Although the local authority have been generous with people claiming UC and getting in to rent arrears they do eventually start proceedings to evict tenants.”
She is also concerned about those who do not have access to a computer or the internet who cannot go online to manage their accounts.
She says there has been a worrying rise in the number of people who have been sanctioned for missing appointments with the job centre.
Shirley Green councillor, Tim Hodgson, said: “I’m really sad to hear that the CASB has had such a big rise in demand from people facing major issues due to delays in UC claims.
“UC is supposed to help people – make life better for people – and to make work pay but it’s just not working and the government is so out of touch, it has no idea how much this is affecting people.
“It’s scandalous that in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, we are treating the most vulnerable, including older people and people suffering from poor health, so badly.
“The Green Party group on the council will keep an eye on council grants to support organisations and argue for proper funding when those organisations are doing such a great job.”