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Welsh councils forced to spend over £1m to help Universal Credit claimants

16 of 22 local authorities said they are losing money because so many people need help navigating the new benefits application

The Universal Credit rollout is forcing Welsh councils to spend more than £1 million, a spokesperson has claimed.

As many as 16 of the 22 councils in Wales reported that Universal Credit was a financial drain – even after they have claimed costs back from central government. This is because of the high number of people who need help navigating the application process and learning the necessary IT skills.

Anthony Hunt, Torfaen council leader and Welsh Local Government Association spokesperson, described the “massive hidden cost” faced by local authorities who must invest resources into supporting people who need help applying to the new benefits system – a system that is now only available online.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said councils can claim for extra costs linked to the benefits shake-up at any time, but Hunt said councils across Wales “haven’t had much luck getting anything even like a reasonable portion of that funded by the DWP”.

Speaking on BBC Sunday Politics Wales, Hunt also denied that councils can simply refer someone back to the job centre or to the government’s Universal Credit helpline. “That doesn’t recognise the reality of things on the ground,” he said. “You can’t send people who have had bad experiences back to the same place all the time. We’re dealing with people here, not statistics.”

Hunt said the UK government should scrap Universal Credit and “go back to the drawing board”.

Helping people apply for Universal Credit will become the responsibility of Citizens Advice in April, after signing a £39m contract with the UK government. However the charity highlighted that this covers the costs of one-off help signing up, and not ongoing support to those struggling to make the system work for them.

Julie James, Minister for Housing and Local Government in Wales, said: “The problem isn’t only that you have to get onto it in the first place.

“What happens when your life is a little more complex than the system can cope with? An insecure contract where your hours fluctuate, for example, and you’re going to have continual issues with how much Universal Credit you’ve to get. Where is the advice for that?”

Two weeks ago, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd admitted to the Commons that Universal Credit was linked to soaring demand for food banks.

And last year, a former DWP employee told Sky News that bosses pressured staff to get Universal Credit claimants off the phone – using a “deflection script”. He said they were told to redirect callers to the Universal Credit website, even when they could not use the internet. Responding to WLGA spokesman Hunt’s comments, Montgomeryshire Conservative MP Glyn Davies said: “I think making work pay was a good move.

“The Osborne budget cut Universal Credit, and that was a mistake. But I’m hopeful. It has to be properly funded or there will be ongoing failures and it will damage the government and damage my party.

“The Universal Credit scheme is a good scheme. It will transform welfare. But it has to be properly funded.”

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