A DEBT charity is today bracing itself for a flood of calls as new benefit changes are introduced across Wearside.
Christians Against Poverty (CAP) says claimants must learn “vital skills” if they want to adapt to the changes to the Universal Credit payment system and stay out of debt.
The shake-up began in the spring with a pilot project, which merges six working-age benefits into one.
Today, as the scheme is rolled out across England, Scotland and Wales, CAP is voicing concerns that some families could be drawn into greater hardship.
Theresa Finch, centre manager at the charity’s branch at Bethshan Church, in Sunderland, said: “We’re at the very start of the system being gradually introduced.
“When it’s fully implemented, Universal Credit will bring a lot of changes.
“It will be paid once a month, rather than fortnightly or weekly.
“Housing benefit won’t go directly to the landlord anymore, it will go into the claimant’s bank account and in trials elsewhere this has caused serious problems for some families.
“Our worry is that some people will be unused to seeing so much in their account and won’t be aware that the security of their home depends on them managing it well – a concern too for local landlords.”
CAP, which offers free debt help, runs vital support sessions to help people learn how to save, budget and spend wisely.
“Government ministers say most people will be slightly better off with Universal Credit – it’s just going to take some getting used to,” said Theresa.
“Thankfully, the Government seems cautious about bringing in all the aspects of Universal Credit so this gives everyone the perfect opportunity to overhaul their finances and get ready where they can.”
Wearside’s Citizens Advice centres also say they have seen an influx of people coming forward with concerns about benefit changes.
For more information, visit www.capuk.org or call 0800 328 0006.