Citizens Advice Northumberland is making a plea for more volunteers to join the charity in preparation for the full roll-out of Universal Credit in the county.
Universal Credit combines six benefits into one, including Jobseeker’s Allowance and Working Tax Credits. It is being rolled out across the UK and will be introduced in Northumberland in November and December.
Once it has been fully implemented in Northumberland by 2023, 37,000 people are expected to receive it.
A report from national Citizens Advice has found that although the benefit is working well for many, a significant number have problems with the application process.
There are 10 stages to making a Universal Credit claim, many of which are time sensitive. If a deadline is missed, a claim may have to be started again. Some people are finding the process so complex that one in four of those helped by Citizens Advice spent more than a week completing their claim.
The charity also found that people receiving their first full payment late stood a higher chance of getting into greater debt, or falling into it. When people didn’t receive their first payment on time, their chances of being in debt increased by 23 per cent. They were 60 per cent more likely to borrow money from a lender to tide them over.
One mum-of-two had to wait an extra three weeks for her first payment, which covered her rent. She had not been told to take her tenancy agreement to her Jobcentre appointment and struggled to get another appointment quickly.
In the meantime, she went to a food bank and borrowed money from friends and family.
Citizens Advice Northumberland is in need of more volunteers to provide telephone and face-to-face support to people going through the Universal Credit process.
Michelle Turnbull, volunteer development and training officer, said: “In order for us to provide vital support to people who have difficulty making and managing their Universal Credit claim, we need to continue to grow our team of volunteers.
“By giving your time to volunteer with us you can make a real difference to people’s lives by providing them with information about their rights and responsibilities, and supporting them to identify what steps they need to take to resolve their problem.
“If you are looking for a challenge, want to learn new skills, and enjoy helping people, we’d love to hear from you.”
To find out more email michelleturnbull@citizens advicenorthumberland.org.uk