Universal credit concerns of claimant who advertised the system

One pilot scheme member speaks out about how hard Universal Credit made his life

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Daniel Pacey on DWP film

Daniel Pacey, a 24-year-old from Wigan, appeared in a film promoting Universal Credit for the Department for Work and Pensions. The nation can see him championing the scheme - after he was involved in a pilot project - and explaining how it helped him find work in a call centre. Now he says the system is a 'nightmare'.

The roll out of the system has begun, and will be in place in all Job Centres by 2016. However, Pacey is concerned that the new system is too hard for claimants to cope with.

Budgeting

In an interview with the BBC he said one of the biggest problems was having to wait six weeks before the first payment, and then having to adjust to being paid once a month rather then once a fortnight. Claimants also have to get used to the fact that instead of rent being paid direct to their landlord, they receive it as part of their benefits and have to make payments themselves.

The system is designed to mirror the monthly salary, to get people used to making their money last a month, but Pacey said it was a nightmare trying to make £250 last four weeks.

Potential disaster

He lives with his father, so could rely on him for support. He added: "I hate to think about how I would have coped had I lived on my own. I know I couldn't have." He points out that the requirements on claimants to look for work come with their own expenses - which make stretching the payments particularly difficult.

Rent arrears are also a concern: the first pilot area of Ashton Under Lyne saw rent arrears rise among those receiving the benefit, as people struggled to keep enough of their benefit payment aside to cover their rent.

A DWP spokesman told the BBC: "People can apply for advanced benefit payments if they need extra support and we are working with local authorities to make sure people get budgeting and debt advice."
It added that it could make alternative arrangements to pay landlords direct if people were struggling.

However, we know from experience that people struggle to balance far more generous budgets than this, so by giving people on very low incomes even more scope to go awry, they are risking real financial harm. It only takes for people to turn to payday loans to get to the end of the first month, and the downwards spiral is all-but guaranteed.

Sanctions

It's worth noting that Pacey's criticisms come after claiming for a relatively short period of time. When you sign up for the credit, you need to agree to a 'Claimant Commitment'. If you don't comply with this - so for example if you refuse a job - you could lose all or some of your allowance. If you refuse three jobs within a year of each other you could lose the allowance for three years.

We already know that benefit sanctions are one of the most common reasons for people falling into poverty, and needing emergency help from food banks. The escalation of sanctions will do nothing to protect the most vulnerable from falling even further through the cracks.

But what do you think? Is this new system flawed by design? Or do people just need to work harder to balance their budgets? Let us know in the comments?

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