Damming report ahead of Universal Credit roll-out in Preston

Natalie Thomas of the Preston Salvation Army foodbank
Natalie Thomas of the Preston Salvation Army foodbank
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Universal Credit has not delivered value for money, its roll out has been slower than intended and it has caused hardship for many people, according to a damning official report.

The controversial benefit is due to be fully rolled in Preston, Chorley and South Ribble in July.

However a reported published today by the National Audit Office said Universal Credit cost more to administer than the previous system of six benefits it replaced, including job seeker's allowance, tax credit and housing benefit.

The spending watchdog said it was uncertain if UC would ever deliver value for money.

Critics said the report "blows up" the Department for Work and Pension's assertion that everything was going well.

Labour MP Frank Field, who chairs the Work and Pensions Select Committee, described UC as a "shambles, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake".

The NAO said the system's running costs were £699 per claim against an ambition of £173 by 2024.

The national roll-out was due to complete in October last year, but only around 10 per cent of the final expected caseload are currently claiming the benefit.

Earlier this week, staff at Preston's Salvation Army foodbank warned of a "perfect storm" as their empty shelves coincide with the start of the summer holidays and the rollout of Universal Credit.

“We are desperate,” said Natalie Thomas at the Salvation Army centre in Harrington Street.

“It is probably the worst situation we have ever been in. But it is likely to get even worse in July with Universal Credit and the holidays causing even more hardship. I don’t know how we will get through it without some urgent help.”

DWP research says satisfaction among claimants is comparable to those claiming benefits under the previous system, but an official survey showed that two out of five were experiencing financial difficulties, the NAO said.

"The Department does not accept that Universal Credit has caused hardship among claimants but the NAO has seen evidence from local and national bodies that many people have suffered difficulties and hardship during the rollout of the full service," the report said.

"The NAO states the Department has not shown sufficient sensitivity towards some claimants and that it does not know how many claimants are having problems with the programme or have suffered hardship."

Around one in four new claims - 113,000 - were not paid in full on time last year, with late payments delayed by an average of four weeks, although some waited five months, the NAO reported.

Donations to the Preston foodbank can be dropped off at the Salvation Army Centre in Harrington Street, Preston PR1 7BN (between Moor Lane and Adelphi Street).

Or call 01772 555425, or email at info.sapreston@gmail.com