The introduction of Universal Credit has created a lot of worry in my community.
I see these worries on a daily basis in my role as a volunteer at a ‘Community Bungalow’ on the Greenfield estate in Winsford.
I am part of a team of volunteers who run a number of activities such as a knit and natter group, bingo and a tuck shop. Dozens of families visit us every week.
When the Universal Credit Full Service was rolled out in November 2017 I started to notice an increasing amount of chatter and concern.
Some people didn’t know what Universal Credit was and so didn’t start preparing until it was far too late. Others were asking over and over again ‘what do I do?’
From many conversations I discovered people felt uncomfortable approaching DWP for help and those that did often felt they didn’t get their questions answered.
Even through people were worried about losing the roof over their heads, they were still reluctant to ask for help.
They were, however, more than happy to talk about these issues with others from the same community who were facing the same problems.
Fortunately, Weaver Vale Housing Trust has excellent Income Management Officers as well as a Money Matters team who are always on hand to help people when they are struggling with their finances.
The other volunteers and I decided we could help people with the process if we knew more about it ourselves. We approached Weaver Vale Housing Trust for help.
They provided us with simple and straightforward training. I gained in confidence from this and now feel able to help others by passing on what I learned.
The other volunteers and I now run drop in sessions at the ‘Community Bungalow’ for people to come in and specifically ask about Universal Credit.
Many people worry about going online and filling in the form. A number don’t have access to the internet so I tell them where they can go to access free internet facilities.
As I have been through the online form with staff from Weaver Vale Housing Trust I can also help people with queries about the form.
Some people do not have a bank account and are worried they may not be able to obtain one. As they need one to receive their Universal Credit payment I direct them to the local Credit Union for help.
I have had ex-serviceman and many others raise concerns about the six week wait for their first payment. I talk to them about budgeting in advance and how to apply for an advance payment.
Budgeting help is really important as Universal Credit payments are paid monthly which is a big change for many in my community.
My experience in helping people through the Universal Credit maze has made me realise how important community level support is for people.
I think it is crucial local people who are themselves impacted by Universal Credit help spread the message to others.
We understand the impact of Universal Credit on people’s lives and can explain in simple and straight forward ways what needs to be done.
Landlords would be well advised to empower their communities to help themselves rather than trying to take on the entire role themselves.