Some new benefit claims will now take five weeks as Universal Credit goes live in Northampton today

A campaign aimed at arming possible Northampton claimants of Universal Credit with knowledge of how to apply was launched on Monday. The new form of benefit is being rolled out in the town today.
A campaign aimed at arming possible Northampton claimants of Universal Credit with knowledge of how to apply was launched on Monday. The new form of benefit is being rolled out in the town today.

More than 30 people gathered at a Northampton church cafe to air concerns about the rollout of Universal Credit in the town.

From today, anyone applying for any combination of housing benefit, income support, jobseekers’ allowance, employment and support allowance, child tax credit or working tax credit will instead have to apply for Universal Credit.

John Healey MP.

John Healey MP.

But there are real concerns about the rollout of the all-in-one benefit, which was intended to simplify the welfare system and get jobseekers back into work when it was first announced in 2011.

On Monday, Northampton North parliamentary candidate for Labour Sally Keeble, launched a campaign aimed at helping people in the town making the switchover.

"This is very much an information campaign about awareness," she told those at the Emmanuel Church in Weston Favell.

"Because of the cuts to county council funding, there is not the range of advice services and support that there was previously."

Those currently on any of the six benefits listed will only have to move onto Universal Credit if their circumstances change.

But the main fear faced by many in the town is that applicants face a minimum five-week wait for money to arrive in their account after making a claim, more if extra information is required.

New claims must also be made online - though statistics released in May show that one-in-five are unsuccessful.

One woman at the launch who said she was about to make a new Universal Credit claim, but did not want to be named, said: "I have to apply online but I haven't got a clue how to do that.

"Not everyone in this world is tech-minded, it's ridiculous."

Other speakers at the launch said that Northampton could be harder hit than other areas - because of the recent financial collapse of the county council.

The shared £240,000 fund given out to the Citizen's Advice Bureau and Community Law Services in the town by the council was scrapped as part of recent cutbacks -at a time both organisations are likely to see a rise in the number of people accessing their services to make appeals on their benefits claims.

Special guest for the day, shadow housing minister John Healey MP, explained how Labour was trying to get the rollout of Universal Credit scrapped.

“Universal Credit was supposed to raise 350,000 children out of poverty,” he told the audience.

“Instead all the analysis suggests it will have pushed more than a million more children towards poverty by the end of this Parliament.

“This was something that was supposed to make the benefits system easier. Instead, it is far more complex.”

Mrs Keeble will be holding Universal Credit advice surgeries over the coming weeks.

They will take place at Cafe Emm, Weston Favell Shopping Centre, from 11am to 1.30pm on Wednesdays December 5, January 2 and February 6.

At Weston Favell Library on Saturday, January 5 from 11am to 1pm.

At Broadmead Baptist Church, Broadmead Avenue on Saturday, January 12, between 10.30am and 12.30pm.

At Milton Street Methodist Church, Saturday, January 19, from 11am to 1pm.

At the Community Cafe, St Davids Church, Eastern Avenue North, Thursday, January 17, between 10.30am and 12.30pm.

Mrs Keeble's website has also been updated with practical information about claiming Universal Credit.