Sunderland has more than 4,000 people claiming Universal Credit, meeting told
The number of Universal Credit claimants in Sunderland has almost doubled over a four-month period.
Universal Credit brings six existing legacy benefits into one monthly payment. It was rolled out city-wide in July as a full live service.
While the idea of it was to simplify the benefits system, problems with introduction have reportedly forced benefit claimants into hardship.
On December 7, Sunderland City Council’s Scrutiny Co-ordinating Committee heard updates on Universal Credit and its impact.
As of September 2018, around 4,149 people were recorded claiming the benefit – compared to 2,564 in June the same year.
The latest available data on sanctions – between January and March 2018 – also showed there were 379 sanctions linked to the benefit.
Head of integrated commissioning on the council, Graham King, speaking at Sunderland Civic Centre, admitted services faced increased demand as claimant numbers increase.
“We have seen probably twice as many coming forward than what we expected from the projected figures from the Department of Work and Pensions,” he told councillors at Sunderland Civic Centre.
“Anyone on current benefits can choose to convert to UC and despite some of the publicity around it, we have had a number of people come forward who have wanted to be converted to it.
“That in part accounts for an increase in the numbers.”
The meeting also heard the council faced difficulties around assessments, which could lead to sanctions in some cases.
“Everyone has an agreement that they must stick to and if they deviate from that agreement a sanction can be put in place, people can appeal and we will support them to do that,” Mr King added.
“What we’re finding are quite a few people are in the wrong category, for instance if you were suffering from ill health and were trying to get some training to get back into the workplace you could inadvertently go into a category that was ‘ready for work’.
“We’re finding a number of people who are in the wrong category and we’re helping them to move categories so that is impacting on how we deal with sanctions.
“I think it’s fair to say that it’s early doors around the impact of UC so we will be providing more information to committee in due course.”
A series of setbacks around Universal Credit meant the government pushed back full completion from 2017 to 2023.
Coun Niall Hodson, speaking at the meeting, said that he had seen a spike in complaints about Universal Credit over the past few months in the Millfield and Pallion areas.
Councillors Doris Turner and Patricia Smith also asked whether there were links between the benefit and food banks and called for more details to be brought to future meetings.
This follows charity Trussell Trust raising concerns about the five-week minimum wait for the first payment which, which can lead to families relying on food banks.
Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service