Advice campaign to be launched for Northampton families moving to universal credit
'Decimated' free advice services across Northampton will leave families at risk of rent arrears and dangerous debts when universal credit comes to the town next week.
That is according to Labour's parliamentary candidate for Northampton North Sally Keeble, who is set to launch an advice campaign for those making the switch over to the new form of benefits on November 14.
Universal credit will replace housing benefit, income support, jobseekers allowance, employment and support allowance, child tax credit and working tax credit.
But those making new claims for it in the town will face a minimum five-week delay for their first payment because of rules surrounding the way monies are paid out.
Here in Northamptonshire, the roll-out of universal credit, coupled with the financial collapse of the county council and subsequent drop in funding for free advice services could have a devastating effect, Mrs Keeble fears.
She said: “After November 14th, some people in Northampton will have to switch to Universal Credit. Yet there’s little advice available on the move which can leave some people out of pocket.
"This campaign aims to reach out to people so they are better equipped to avoid some of the problems that have arisen elsewhere."
Mrs Keeble says free advice organisations have been "decimated" by county council funding cuts - at a time when the free benefits guidance they offer is most in need.
The parliamentrary hopeful's campaign will see her send out leaflets in her constituency, hold drop-in advice surgeries between December and January and hold a number of street stalls in the town centre.
Shadow social security minister John Healey MP will join Mrs Keeble for the campaign launch at Cafe Emm, Weston Favell Shopping Centre, at 2pm on Monday, November 12.
Leader of Northampton Borough Council's Labour group, Councillor Danielle Stone said that, despite Government assurances to make Universal Credit more efficient, "this is going to come too late for the people of Northampton."
She said: "Under Universal Credit, there is a formal waiting period of one week with no money, with the benefit then being paid monthly in arrears.
"The effect of this practice has led to an in-built wait of six weeks before people get their cash - three times as long as the old system – and the Department for Work and Pensions admit that in around a fifth of cases it is failing to meet even that target, partly because of the information demands it places on the claimants.
"Waits of up to twelve weeks are not unusual.
"The overall effect has been to plunge people already on low incomes into rent arrears and debt and in some cases homelessness."