Forewarned is forearmed: the rollout of Universal Credit in Westminster

Senior Casework Manager Anne Killeen describes how Z2K is helping parents in Westminster prepare for Universal Credit, and highlights the concerns of those who are about to be affected by the new system

Anne Killeen, Senior Casework Manager

After many delays Universal Credit rolled out – or I like to think stumbled out – on 20th June 2018. Some of our long-standing caseworkers at Z2K were ready to put into practice the numerous training courses we attended over the last few years. We had already assisted some clients who lived in other areas where Universal Credit had rolled out, however, the numbers were quite small.

In line with the principle of forewarned is forearmed the MP for North Westminster Karen Buck sent letters to parents of children in schools within her constituency to advise of the introduction of Universal Credit. The letter stated if they had any concerns to contact local advice agencies. As one of the named agencies we started to receive the anxious telephone calls. Whilst many of the enquires did not involve intervention casework as a migration trigger had not occurred the telephone calls continued to flow.

Such was the concern of one local primary school who were distributing the letters from Karen Buck they asked us if we would come and talk to the many worried parents.

A meeting was arranged for Z2K to attend a coffee morning at the school about how Universal Credit will affect them either due to migration trigger or when the complete migration occurs in two years’ time. About 16 parents attended and we prepared a handout with details of the fundamental changes from the current system to Universal Credit.

Initially the majority of the parents were very positive about the principle of only having to contact one official department.  Incidents of when not contacting both HMRC and housing benefit were discussed and how this resulted in large overpayments being recovered.  However, any positive attitude to Universal Credit changed quickly when other aspects of how the new system operates were explained to them.

Not a day goes by when the problems with Universal Credit are not in the media and it was very interesting to obtain the views of those who will be affected by it in the not too distant future  Did anyone ever ask the people to be affected about the everyday impact of Universal Credit on them?

To name a few of the parents’ concerns:

  • Payments are made on a per calendar month basis, which is a huge change for the majority of people affected, as research from the Resolution Foundation and others has shown
  • The housing cost element for those residing in social housing is paid direct to them on a monthly basis even though they have a weekly contractual liability
  • The delay in the first payment
  • The level of deductions for rent arrears which could be taken from the Universal Credit. Most parents would have preferred a court order of £3.70 per week rather than the higher deduction up to 20%
  • The constant fluctuating income due to working hours being increased or decreased due to live data being used
  • The changing liability for council tax support due to change in income
  • The non-dependent deduction of £70.60 per calendar month when a son/daughter is at university (previously the deduction was nil)

The coffee morning ended with my parting words of “if you remember anything about the meeting today, remember to get your two weeks’ additional housing benefit on migration, and get advice early”.

I left thinking what a lovely group of parents who are all very supportive of each other and who will no doubt impart their new knowledge to those parents who did not attend.  I have no doubt we will have contact again to give advice but believe all the parents went away forewarned of what to expect when they do migrate to Universal Credit.

Published: 30th July, 2018

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