We’re as ready as we can be for Universal Credit roll-out in Fife

Universal Credit - new leaflet launched by Fife Council ahead of roll-out, December 2017
Universal Credit - new leaflet launched by Fife Council ahead of roll-out, December 2017

Fife is as prepared as it can be for the roll-out of Universal Credit.

The fundamental changes to the benefits system began yesterday (Wednesday) for any new claimants.

And while there are serious concerns over the hardship it will cause, there is also a determination to give people moving on to it as much help as they need.

Fife Council, local MP Lesley Laird, and a host of frontline agencies have combined to produced a wealth of information to make sure Fifers are registered properly, and that any concerns are picked up as quickly as possible.

Universal Credit pays out in arrears and, with a five-week delay, it means anyone moving on to it could face a penniless Christmas ... or end up getting loans which then have to be repaid, pushing them deeper into debt.

That delay in making payments also raised fears more people could face the very real threat of eviction as they cannot pay their rent on time.

Councillor David Alexander, co-leader of Fife Council, was blunt in his assessment.

The SNP politician said: ‘‘It is likely to cause a lot of misery for many people.

‘‘It really couldn’t have come at a worse time of year.’’

Kirkcaldy Foodbank is braced for a rise in people seeking help, while agencies fear the worst in the run-up to Christmas – and a potential rise in calls for help in the New Year.

The local authority has allocated some £3m to help minimise the impact of the Universal Credit roll-out in Fife, and it now has a team of 16 welfare support assistants to step in.

Families who are most likely to be affected by the changes have been contacted and given information on where help and support is available and key services will be open over Christmas and New Year to cope with the expected increase in enquiries.

Online guides have been produced to help as some departments and agencies prepare to close during the festive period - but how badly the roll-out hits Fife remains an unknown quantity.

From today it affects any new claimants, but an anticipated 2500 Fifers will be moved across every month in 2018 until the process is completed next December.

The message from politicians and advice groups to any Fifers moving on to Universal Credit is is get in touch BEFORE any problems begin to mount up.

They also want to make sure everyone is properly registered to avoid any further delays in getting vital payments from the DWP.

Councillor David Ross council co-leader, added: “We’ve expressed our concerns about these changes, and the timing of them, over and over again. I’d urge anyone claiming Universal Credit to make sure they know who and where they can get help.

“We have support available and have agreed that we will give tenants who qualify a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP).

‘“They can use this to help cover their rent over the seven day waiting period as this isn’t covered by Universal Credit. We’ve arranged for help to be made available through the Scottish Welfare Fund.

‘‘This will provide Crisis Grants tailored specifically to those who meet the criteria and are applying for Universal Credit, helping them without increasing their debt burden.

“We recognise not everyone facing hardship, as a result of the Universal Credit roll out, will qualify for DHP or a Crisis Grant. If anyone finds themselves in this situation Conduit Scotland is a not-for-profit alternative to high-cost, lenders such as payday loan providers or loan sharks.”

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