Universal Credit - a Support Worker’s Perspective

A high proportion of the people I see need help with benefits. Since the introduction of Universal Credit I am seeing the same pattern of problems emerging for our clients.

For example, once released from prison it is usual that the client will need to re-claim or claim for the first time. A rapid re-claim for Employment Support Allowance (claimed by those not well enough to return to job seeking) is no longer possible, neither is claiming Housing Benefit through the Council on paper form and nor is Jobseeker's Allowance.

Now you have to to claim Universal Credit.

In order to claim Universal Credit you have to have the following:

  • A personal bank account
  • A telephone number
  • An email address and access to a computer
  • ID
  • A current fit note from doctor if you are unfit for work

These are the basic requirements that are asked of you whilst setting up your claim. You have to complete your initial claim online, not over the phone. So applying online, you can go into the Jobcentre and ask to use the computer if you have no access to one yourself, but no real assistance is offered if you are computer illiterate. Once navigating your way onto the website they ask for an email account. You don’t have one so you have to create your own email account and then wait for them to verify that account.

OK, done that!

Now you have to supply a contact telephone number, you don’t have a phone because you're skint and can’t afford one. Can’t complete the application without one. So you use your mum’s. They then contact your mum thinking it is you to tell you to check your online journal and if you don’t the online application is cancelled. You don’t speak to your mum very often and she has no way of contacting you, so your application is cancelled and you are back to square one.

Do not pass Go, do not collect £200!

OK, you have a contact number and an email address. You don’t have an address though. You need an address, they don’t like it if your awkward enough to be homeless.

Do not pass Go, do not collect £200!

(There are rumours that they are rectifying this but it hasn’t filtered down to the staff I have dealt with so far!)

OK, now you have an address, contact number and an email address. You need a bank account. Not a Post Office account, that doesn’t count. A personal bank account and the details of account number and sort code. You have no ID and no permanent home address so guess what?

Do not pass Go, do not collect £200!

But, I hear you say, my Mum has a bank account I can use! Great! Then we need to see Mum and her bank card to find out if it’s ok to use it for a one off payment before you get yourself a personal bank account and inform us of those details.

Check your journal, online, regularly, because otherwise we all know what happens. But you don’t have a computer, tablet or phone and the nearest library is 20 miles away and you have no money for the bus. But do you have a handy CASS worker that can come out to you with their phone, tablet or laptop? You’re in luck if you do!!

This CASS worker has successfully set up an number of online claims for Universal Credit, navigating my way through various hoops, picking up clients for appointments, attending the Jobcentre with them to explain in layman terms what is being asked of them, showing them how to set up an email address, making extensive notes for people to keep hold of (hopefully) for next time, ringing up the call centre to book appointments.

One person I work with is not allowed in his nearest town centre and therefore cannot attend interviews at his local Jobcentre. So after spending a few hours ringing round from inside a Jobcentre where the staff couldn’t help, I negotiated for him to attend another Jobcentre. Now to keep my client sufficiently awake throughout his interview because his medication had kicked in along with the maybe not so prescribed medication he had taken that morning, so that he can answer the ID questions required to move onto the next hurdle and book an appointment with a Jobcoach. Who would go on to explain more requirements for job searches even though he is diagnosed with a severe mental illness, is a regular user of a Class A drug and has a current ‘fit note’. This particular person is now very close to getting his first payment! That in my eyes, as far as supporting someone to get Universal Credit, is a success story in itself.

That and trying to support clients that have claimed while they have to wait 6 weeks or more before a first payment is made.

Thankfully CASS has a Service User fund which is being put to very good use (thank you very much to the member of the public who recently donated £1000 towards this fund). I have used it to make small payments towards rent arrears to stop an eviction until UC is paid and a repayment plan can be set up. I have also used it to top up a deposit that Copeland Borough Council were paying in order that an evicted client could move into his own home and avoid homelessness or having to re-home his dog.

I have also used it to buy a mobile phone for someone who has no means of buying one and needed a contact number in order to claim UC!

Cumbria is still in need of Action for Social Support!

Anna Todd