I have over the past few months been looking at the system currently meant to be in use throughout the country; after pilot schemes there should have been a national roll out for all new claimants and for those reporting a change in circumstances and so forth.

What I have seen over the past year is sad, bad, embarrassing, upsetting, degrading, humiliating, heart-breaking, scary and incomprehensible, including complete and utter incredulity at the sheer lack of common sense and vilification of our most vulnerable citizens.

I’m sure you’ve all been aware of the stories regarding ATOS, Work Capability Assessments (WCA), Employment Support Allowance (ESA), Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Jobseekers Allowance (JSA), Job Centre Plus (JCP), Universal Credit (UC), Contribution Based, Income Based, 365 day rule, and those are just off the top of my head without even looking at others!

Oops, I forgot Working Tax Credit (WTC), Child Tax Credit (CTC), Pension Credit (PC), Housing Benefit (HB), Council Tax Benefit (CTB) and The Removal Of The Spare Room Subsidy (AKA “Bedroom Tax”). I think that’s them all… oh blimey no, it’s not last one: Benefit Cap (BC)!

I feel like I’m in the No One Expects The Spanish Inquisition sketch of Monty Python Fame! Sadly though there is no comfy chair, soft cushions, cup of tea at 11am with chocolate biscuits nor a nice warm fire to sit beside.

So, all these changes have been rushed through. Yes, changes can be good but so many, so fast at a time of great upheaval? Well that’s not my place to decide but it could have been a sensible idea to stagger these changes in a more measured way. All these changes all at once leaves the staff administering them confused because there is simply too many things. Some people on the old system (which if we are honest not all JCP workers were really, hand on heart, fully knowledgeable or expert in; no disrespect but it’s the truth).

Let’s take a look at Universal Credit (UC); I had to start somewhere and this was the lucky topic.  Universal Credit is in theory a good idea. All benefits for which you are eligible are paid in one monthly payment. A bit like a salary, so far so good .

That seems logical, from this amount you pay your;

1. Own rent direct to your landlord.

2. Council Tax (a percentage depending on your council).

3. Naturally, all your other living costs too.

Pilot schemes were started in certain areas of the North West on April 15th 2013. The full national rollout was supposed to start in October 2013. It hasn’t!

The problem is that so few new people went to claim this benefit and of those who did found that while claiming via computer/online (which is mandatory), the programme crashed!

It couldn’t even cope with a limited number of users in a small area. The JCP staff then had to write down all of the claimant’s answers and then input manually after the client had left! This was supposed to be a benefit scheme to make claims easier & faster.

This has not happened, here we are almost into the festive season and there are some people claiming under Universal Credit but their neighbour is claiming under another system and may be in receipt of a differing amount when the circumstances of these neighbours are virtually identical.

Another possible problem could be the people receiving the rent money in with their benefit instead of it going directly to the landlord. In winter months when it’s cold would the person pay the rent over or would they spend it on heating their home?

This would by no means be every person but if your kids are cold and hungry would you put the kids needs first or pay your (possibly very rich) Landlord?

This is an ethical dilemma in my humble opinion; if the claimant is dealt with under the old system then the rent is paid direct but they are at risk of using loan sharks or payday loan companies in order to feed and keep their children warm in winter.

Conversely the claimant on the new system will see the cash available in their account. and rather than resort to loan sharks and payday loan companies they decide to use the rent money to feed and keep the children. In comparison to the situation of the claimant and their perception of the Landlord’s situation then it is likely the claimant would (wrongly in law but rightly in respect of their children) think the Landlord can afford to wait and arrears could mount up quite swiftly!

Being in rent arrears is a less scary option (well it would be to me) because the landlord is unlikely to come round and break your legs but a loan shark would.

So we have a few thousand on this scheme and very little in the news to tell us how people are legitimately coping with the system. Is it better? Is it a much easier and better system for the claimants? We really need to know about these facts but again the media is silent, the Government are silent.

Is this silence an indication of the fact the system is not working or is it so they can use it as the results as political ammunition as the elections approach?

Ok that was my whistle-stop (Yes it was, don’t be cranky I’m doing my best) basic explanation of Universal Credit.

What do you think?  Are you on that benefit? If so please comment below on what you think about it and is it working for you and your family? I’m hoping to hear your views and experiences.

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