Debt worries raised over benefit

from left, Emma Sylvester, debt case worker and Caroline Millington, advice session supervisor at the opening of the new CAB office in Fleetwood
from left, Emma Sylvester, debt case worker and Caroline Millington, advice session supervisor at the opening of the new CAB office in Fleetwood

Fears have been raised that a new benefit being introduced by the Government could add to the debt woes of some Fleetwood residents.

Universal Credit is a new single payment for low income people in or out of work, which merges together existing benefits including income-related Job Seeker’s Allowance, Working Tax Credit and Housing Benefit.

It has only now being introduced in Wyre for single people, while couples and families will start receiving it from December and January and February next year.

One of the chief concerns about the new system is that recipients will get their money monthly instead of every two weeks - which means they will have to learn to budget.

They will also have to deal directly with social housing landlords, who until now have received their payments from local authorities.

There are worries some recipients, especially those with a range of acute social needs or addiction issues, will struggle to budget and may spend the money before they pay rent.

This could lead to more extreme problems of debt and problems with landlords.

The issue has been raised by advisers at the new Wyre Citizens Advice Bureau, based at the Fleetwood Town Council offices on Poulton Road.

Caroline Millington, advice session supervisor, said: “For the first time, people with no experience of budgeting will find themselves with a big lump of money every month.

“There are real concerns that some people will spend it very quickly and get themselves into rent arrears and Council Tax arrears.

“If they are unable to budget for food they will then have to rely on food banks.

“It is likely to be a big issue when more people start claiming this benefit.”

Coun Rita Hewitt, the independent councillor for Rossall ward, says the issue is likely to affect some of her ward constituents.

She said: “There are aspects of Universal Credit which do raise concerns and it is vital anyone affected gets the help they need, be it from the CAB or their ward councillors.”

A spokesman for housing provide Regenda, said: “None of our Regenda residents is yet affected but we do expect a small number of new claimants - single people and couples without children - will be over the coming weeks and months.”

Despite these concerns, Wyre CAB is reassuring residents in Wyre that the help is in place.

In addition to Ms Millington and a team of volunteers, the office also has a dedicated debt case worker for the whole of Wyre, Emma Sylvester.

She said: “There is definitely a problem with debt in Wyre already, as in many other parts of the country.

“Locally, we have seen that people are relying on food banks in Fleetwood and Cleveleys, and the Mustard Seed soup kitchen.

“But the message is that people can come here and get the advice they need.”

The Department of Work and Pensions says Universal Credit, which will be received by up to seven million benefit claimants, will boost the economy by £7bn a year and help 300,000 households find work.

The Government also says Universal Credit will help to rectify cases of some benefit recipients receiving more money than people who work.