The full roll out of Universal Credit has started in Bath, North East Somerset and Sedgemoor

25 May 2016

Universal Credit officially came into force in Bath, North East Somerset and Sedgemoor on Wednesday 25 May. It's been rolled out across the region, affecting thousands of people who currently claim benefits or tax credits. Hundreds of our residents in the areas could be affected by the change. Our Income Manager, James Reseigh, gives his take on Universal Credit, its impact and how people can prepare for it.

Universal Credit is not a new subject for most of us. We’ve seen it discussed in the news, on social media and in newspaper columns, often with uncertainty around what it will really mean for people and when it’ll become a reality.

For people living in Bath, North East Somerset and Sedgemoor, that reality is here now. Although some people were already claiming Universal Credit in the area, the full service roll-out has now gone live across the area this week, affecting thousands of people.

But what does it all really mean for people?

Universal Credit combines six existing benefits into one monthly payment (housing benefit, child tax credit, employment and support allowance, working tax credit, job seekers allowance and income support). On the plus side, this should make benefit claims and payments simpler to understand. It also means that claimants can stay on one benefit whether they’re employed or not – they won’t need to switch from job seekers allowance to working tax credit for example, if their circumstances change. Universal Credit is also designed to prepare people for work – giving claimants one payment every month, paid into a bank account, just like a salary.

These are all things that we welcome – things that’ll help people to manage their money more effectively and move into work more easily. However, the realities of implementing Universal Credit also pose some significant challenges. 

For claimants, this reality includes moving from fortnightly or weekly benefit payments to monthly Universal Credit payments, paid in arrears. They’ll have all payments paid directly to them, into a bank account, and will need internet access to manage their claim every month. Almost 3,000 of our residents have their rent paid directly to us at the moment, and there will be many other people with similar arrangements. This will not be possible with Universal Credit.

For many people, managing a monthly salary and using the internet and a bank account come as second nature, but for some of the more vulnerable and financially-stretched individuals and families in our communities, these are substantial challenges. We carried out a recent survey of 385 of our residents who were identified as being at greatest risk of struggling with Universal Credit. It revealed that 20% had no access at all to the internet. We also know that some of our residents don’t have active bank accounts.

As a housing provider, we have a responsibility to help our residents prepare for the changes and make sure that our business and our staff are equipped to manage this.  

We’ve been speaking to our residents and getting ready for the impact of Universal Credit, ever since the Government first announced it four years ago. It hasn’t been an easy process. The timescales for the full roll-out of Universal Credit are still not known and we’ve found that many people don’t feel they need to take action until it directly affects them. 

But we have had success, and it’s been the practical advice and support we’ve offered that’s made the real difference. As a result, 83% of our residents have told us that they’ll talk to us if they’re struggling with money.

The key things we’d advise people to think about are:

  • Priority payments. Make sure you know what these are (usually things like rent and bills) and when you need to pay them
  • Setting up a bank account. As well as the mainstream banks, Credit Unions offer bank accounts too, or you could try something called credEcardplus, which is an alternative to a bank account
  • Getting access to the internet. Universal Credit claims will need to be managed online, so where can you get access if you don’t have it at home?

What’s really crucial is that people living in Bath, North East Somerset or Sedgemoor start to think and talk about Universal Credit now. If you’re a tenant with a housing association and you’re worried about your own circumstances, speak to your landlord. We’re here to help you. Or you can speak to your local Citizens Advice Bureau. There’s also more information on our website here.