Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 30 October 2014

'Vulnerable' claimants to get help

Lord Freud said the new Universal Credit would help prepare people for the world of work

Ministers have announced plans to make special arrangements for benefit claimants who could be at risk of getting into greater financial difficulties under the coalition's flagship welfare reforms.

"Vulnerable" claimants will be able to get personalised help managing their affairs and may even be exempted from certain features of the new Universal Credit, which is being introduced to replace the current complicated array of different benefits.

Housing groups have warned that many social tenants could end up in arrears because of the move to end direct payments to landlords and instead require claimants to settle bills themselves out of a new single monthly payment.

But Welfare Reform Minister Lord Freud announced details of a system of bespoke support for claimants who need help budgeting or accessing the online Universal Credit system.

This will be provided via a partnership between JobCentre Plus, local authorities and other organisations. There will also be scope for alternative arrangements, such as continued direct payments to landlords, spreading out budget payments or splitting them between different members of a household.

Decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis according to individuals' needs. Examples of those who may qualify include people with addictions, mental health problems or at risk of domestic abuse.

Lord Freud said: "Universal Credit will prepare people for the world of work, by getting them to access the benefit online and budget their money in the same way people in work budget. But we know some people will need extra support to manage this, and we're committed to ensuring that no one falls through the cracks.

"We are working with local authorities and local services to determine who will need this extra help - be it money advice services, face to face support or help to get online - and how best to deliver it."

Sir Merrick Cockell, chairman of the Local Government Association which represents town halls, said: "Universal Credit represents a big change to the benefits system with different demands on how claimants manage their affairs. It makes sense to recognise that people will need help adapting to that new system, and that some will need ongoing support.

"The pilot areas are already showing that councils will be pivotal to drawing together the public, voluntary and private sectors to help people access benefits online, manage their finances and find work."

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