To The Right Honourable David Gauke MP
Secretary of State for Pensions
Re Universal Credit
Fair Frome is a small local charity operating in Frome Somerset. We provide support for families and individuals who are experiencing hardship and other activities designed to improve community cohesion. Amongst the schemes we run are the local Food Bank and Furniture Bank which receive referrals from local, statutory and voluntary agencies whom we meet on a regular basis to plan and improve our services to those in acute need.
Since July 2016, Frome and the surrounding area, as an early adopter, has seen the roll out of Universal Credit. There are now over 700 people in Frome working and unemployed who are in receipt of this one unified benefit. Whilst we support the ethos of the policy that work should pay, what is clear from our meetings is that the imposition of this new benefit is having an extremely negative impact on those already in crisis and is pushing them over the brink of poverty into debt and homelessness, from which they will have little opportunity to recover.
Previously those entitled to benefits received them from different sources at different times. We know that many people wait up to 6 weeks from the time of their first claim until their first payment, leaving them with no income and resulting in rent arrears and hardship. Loans are available but many people are unaware of these and they still have to be paid back from future payments which are paid monthly. Housing Benefits are now also incorporated and paid directly to claimants instead of landlords. The result is that many claimants in difficulties face tough choices between paying the rent and eating. As a result private landlords often now won’t accept anyone in receipt of Universal Credit and social housing agencies are finding rental arrears growing, and ultimately leading to homelessness. The situation is compounded even further in Frome where rental costs have risen far above the local cap on housing benefits. We also see this in food bank referrals where the majority of users are actually in work and claiming benefits. Food bank take up has gone up by over 50% in the 6 months to March 2017 and continues to rise to the point where we now have more food going out than coming in. This is directly attributable to delays in benefits payments and the introduction of Universal Credit.
It surely wasn’t the aim of this policy change to push people deeper into debt, poverty and homelessness, which is the effect it is having. We respectfully ask you therefore Minister to now stop the accelerated roll out of Universal Credit and instigate a full review of the current system as soon as possible.
Fair Frome Trustees.