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TOPIC: Food bank use will soar after universal credit rollout, warns charity

Food bank use will soar after universal credit rollout, warns charity 05 Oct 2018 08:22 #10387

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Food bank use will soar after universal credit rollout, warns charity
Trussell Trust calls for urgent changes to policy of moving 3m people on to new system

Patrick Butler Social policy editor

Fri 5 Oct 2018 07.00 BST Last modified on Fri 5 Oct 2018 07.01 BST

The Trussell Trust is urging the government to automate transfer to universal credit to stop payment delays. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian
Government plans to move 3 million people currently receiving tax credits and disability benefits on to universal credit from next April will trigger an explosion in food bank use, the Trussell Trust has warned.

The trust – the UK’s biggest food bank network – said urgent changes to the “managed migration” programme are needed to protect vulnerable claimants from falling into hardship or dropping out of the benefit system altogether.

The warning came as MPs prepare to scrutinise safeguards around managed migration – regulations covering the transfer are expected to be laid before parliament this month – with some concerned that too many claimants will be put at risk.

Under existing proposals about 1 million working families receiving tax credits and 750,000 sick and disabled people claiming employment and support allowance (ESA) will be given a month’s notice to apply for universal credit or risk losing their benefits.

Trussell said vulnerable claimants will be at particular danger of failing to navigate the notoriously complex online application for universal credit in time – and, even if they successfully complete it, will have to wait five or more weeks for a first payment.

The problems endured by claimants forced to wait a minimum of 35 days without income after applying for universal credit are well documented, and include rent arrears and eviction, reliance on food banks, stress and debt.

The trust wants the process of moving existing tax credit and ESA claimants to universal credit automated, rather than leaving people to make their own claim, to minimise the risks to vulnerable claimants. It also wants more budgeting and digital skills support to help them manage their claims.

Although claimants are given “transitional protection” guarantees that their universal credit award will not be lower than what they receive under previous benefits, the trust says this protection can be too easily lost if claimants’ circumstances change, for example, if they move house or have another child.

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