Universal Credit

Universal Credit is a relatively new welfare benefit designed to replace a number of existing benefits with one single payment, with the idea of making access to social security payments less complicated.

Citizens Advice generally supports the principles behind Universal Credit. Simplifying access to benefits for those who need them is important.

But there are evidently serious design and delivery problems which risk leaving many people without the support they need, pushing them into debt and leaving them unable to make ends meet.

There is a long wait for payments, six weeks at least from initial claim until payment. And it is paid in arrears. This can leave some people without money for bills, or even for food.

Many people are finding the system very complicated. It is a digital claiming system, claimants must apply online and many people needing to make a claim for the unemployment or sickness elements of Universal Credit may well have already been out of work or ill for some time and thus have little or no money. They might have no IT access, no home broadband or computer. They may also have no PC skills, might have poor literacy or numeracy skills. Not everyone owns a smartphone. Some claimants might not have the necessary documents, a passport for example.

Citizens Advice Bureaux are uniquely placed to see how changes in welfare benefits like Universal Credit affect people. East Lothian was one of the first Scottish Local Authorities to implement full service Universal Credit. At the beginning of this year Citizens Advice bureaux in Musselburgh and Haddington conducted a survey to compare Universal Credit benefit entitlements with legacy benefits.

Their research showed that the most adversely affected were lone parents and claimants with disabilities. Nearly a fifth of claimants had to wait two months for their first payment and rent arrears for East Lothian council properties increased by almost 30% since the introduction of Universal Credit. Other bureaux in Scotland reported a huge increase in Crisis Grant applications and people seeking advice about access to food banks.

For too many people, a system that is intended to support them through difficult times, is making their situation much worse. Families are falling into debt and rent arrears and having to turn to foodbanks just to survive.”

                        -  Citizens Advice Scotland Chair, Rory Mair

 

We continue to pressure policy-makers and have called for a pause in the accelerated roll-out of Universal Credit, so that these problems can be fixed before more families find themselves in some kind of crisis.

Although Universal Credit remains reserved to the UK Government, the Scottish Government has some administrative powers to change payment arrangements and have implemented the Scottish Flexibilities – new claimants can ask for the ‘housing’ element of their Universal Credit to be paid direct to their landlord (for tenants in the private rented sector as well as those in social housing) and the rest paid fortnightly instead of monthly.

 

Citizens Advice Edinburgh can offer advice, information and a free benefits check in relation to all types of benefit. We can also assist with benefits appeals.

 

Posted on November 3, 2017 .

Citizens Advice Edinburgh Annual Report

Our annual report provides an overview of our work, how we have helped solve problems and transformed the lives of people in need here in Edinburgh.

Our most recent report shows Citizens Advice Edinburgh helped around 14,000 local residents to resolve some 52,000 issues in the past year.

In 2016 and 2017 we achieved a £2.5m financial gain for clients, including £1.3m in unclaimed welfare entitlement, £985,000 through debt resolution and improved financial capability, along with £130,000 by addressing employment disputes.

80% of clients seeking advice were people living in the poorest 20% of households in Edinburgh, with the top 4 issues being Welfare Entitlement, Debt, Employment, and Housing.

We helped with 15,965 enquiries about PIP, ESA, Housing Benefit, and Working Tax Credit. 30% of all contact was about accessing these benefits. The most common issue was with the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) for people with a disability needing advice and help with the complex application and assessment process.

We helped with 13905 enquiries about Council Tax, credit and store cards debt, unsecured personal loans, and income tax. Council tax arrears and people struggling to make payments made up 27% of the demand for debt and money advice.

We dealt with 6301 Employment issue enquiries, including advising on pay, dispute resolution, dismissal, and Terms and Conditions.

Housing enquiries totalled 4018 with issues in the private sector and advice for owner occupiers being the most common, followed by local authority housing issues and homelessness.

Edinburgh Citizens Advice Bureaux had around 260 volunteers working for us throughout the year, including 179 trained advisers and 27 pro-bono lawyers. Volunteers give around 300 hours of service each year and our volunteer advisers give the equivalent of 30 full-time staff, which would be equal to around £678,000 if these positions were paid the Scottish Living Wage.

Lawyers provide an average of 600 hours a year, which is equal to about £60,000 pro-bono advice provided by Citizens Advice Edinburgh.

The single biggest donors and financial supporters of our work are the City of Edinburgh Council, the UK and Scottish Governments, the NHS, The Big Lottery, the Scottish Legal Aid Board, Edinburgh Partners, the Bank of Scotland, Edinburgh City Mission, Scottish Power, Port of Leith Housing, Dunedin Canmore Housing Association, and Veterans 1st Point.

And of course the community and citizens of Edinburgh also generated nearly £20,000 of donations via fundraising in the past year.

The full report will be added soon to the website here.

Posted on October 18, 2017 .

Universal Credit, a Citizens Advice Bureau research report.

At the beginning of this year Citizens Advice bureaux in Musselburgh and Haddington conducted a survey to compare Universal Credit benefit entitlements with existing benefits.

East Lothian is the first Scottish Local Authority to implement full service Universal Credit and the local Citizens Advice Bureaux have witnessed the financial, emotional and social impacts on claimants.

Their research found that claimants could be £22 worse off every week by transferring to Universal Credit and that more people would lose than gain. 52% of the clients surveyed would lose with a median loss of £44 per week and only 31% of clients would gain with a median gain of just 34p per week.

The most adversely affected were lone parents and claimants with disabilities. Nearly a fifth of claimants had to wait two months for their first payment and rent arrears for East Lothian council properties increased by almost 30% since the introduction of Universal Credit.

Download and read the report here: Universal Credit in East Lothian - Impact on client entitlement

What is Universal Credit? What’s the issue with it? More information here. 

Posted on October 3, 2017 .

Our Next Adviser Training Programme

Didn’t make it to the Open Day? You can still volunteer.

We run a 10 week Adviser Training Programme. The next one starts on 10th October 2017.

No particular qualification or experience is necessary. All sorts of people volunteer as Citizens Advice Bureau advisers. You just need to enjoy helping all kinds of people.

Are you a good listener? Open-minded, non-judgemental, able to listen, learn, and work well in a team? Could you explain complex information, make it easier to understand?

The Generalist Adviser Training Programme (ATP) is a formal high quality recognised and respected programme of weekly taught sessions that takes from 7 to 10 months to complete. It covers the main topic areas dealt with by advisers, including but not limited to benefits, money advice, housing, employment, relationships and immigration. All our volunteers are fully supported and supervised throughout their time with Citizens Advice, you’ll get all the training and support you need, whatever your role.

What will you get out of it? You can make a difference to someone’s life, help some of Edinburgh’s most vulnerable. You will gain invaluable work experience, develop new skills, put your existing skills to positive use in your community, and make new friends.

Many of our volunteers eventually go on to paid employment. Local Citizens Advice volunteering provides skills and experience that is valued by many employers. A lot of paid local Citizens Advice staff, for example managers, case workers and administrators, started out as volunteers.

Many students (in policy and law, for instance) find local Citizens Advice volunteering complements their course and provides them with valuable skills and experience for the future.

Can you commit to the full training and a year advising with Citizens Advice Edinburgh?

Apply here by tomorrow to join the next programme: https://www.citizensadviceedinburgh.org.uk/volunteerapplicationform/

More information here: http://www.cas.org.uk/about-us/volunteer-cab/volunteer-adviser

Posted on September 26, 2017 .

Volunteer Open Day

Could you help us to help others?

We are having an open day at the Leith Bureau on Dalmeny Street this Saturday 23rd September between 10am and 2pm.

Come along and find out what we do, how you can volunteer and all about our award-winning Advisor Training Programme. Staff and existing volunteers will be on hand to answer your questions and show you around.

There are various volunteer roles, adviser and non-advisory, including helping with office and administration tasks, on reception, or with the information team. Could you help with computer maintenance or IT? Would you be interested in helping with our social policy work? There are also opportunities to contribute to fundraising, events and research projects.

Citizens Advice Edinburgh have bureaux in Pilton, Portobello, Gorgie/Dalry, Dundas Street, and Leith and our volunteers are the lifeblood of our charity. In a year volunteers contribute more than 80,000 hours of service and 90% of Citizens Advice Edinburgh workers are trained volunteers recruited from all age groups, backgrounds and communities.

Interested? Please register your interest by filling out an application form here.

If you are interested in adviser volunteering you can also visit the website to learn more about Volunteer Adviser Recruitment and our Generalist Adviser Training Programme.

 

See you on Saturday at the Leith bureau, 23 Dalmeny Street, EH6 8RG.

Posted on September 20, 2017 .

Vote for Citizens Advice Edinburgh!

Citizens Advice Edinburgh is proud to have our project supporting some of the most vulnerable families in Scotland shortlisted for funding by RBS Skills and Opportunities Fund.

Please support us with your vote to make this project a reality! Click below to vote for us today, and help us support some of the most vulnerable families in Scotland.

Posted on April 21, 2017 .