Universal Credit roll out warning in East Cambs where some might find ‘burden of managing a fund’ too difficult for them

Citizens Advice Bureau

Citizens Advice Bureau - Credit: Archant

Debt advisers say the roll out of Universal Credits across East Cambs will be a major challenge for the Citizens Advice Bureau.

East Cambs Council has been warned that for long term benefits claimants the “burden of managing a fund which was previously managed for them” by the Department of Works and Pensions and the local authority will take time to adjust.

Staff at the Ely Citizens Advice Bureau warns they expect to see more clients who are “digitally excluded” who do not have the resource to access benefits online, pay their bills online or have poor IT literacy skills.

One way to help may be for residents to be loaned a tablet to help them, says a report to councillors by Lewis Page, project and engagement officer for the council.

He says debt, benefits and employment advice topped the list of problems tackled by the Ely office of Citizens Advice in a six month period.

“There have been a total of 2,926 issues presented by 1,296 East Cambs resident in the first six months of 2015/16,” says Mr Page.

“The top issues were debt, benefit advice and employment advice. There were also 209 housing issues including 64 Council Tax arrears and 48 rent arrears.”

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He said the figures do not reflect the thousands of clients that didn’t seek advices as their problems had been resolved previously by the service.

Mr Page also pointed out that £417,000 worth of debt had been negotiated for East Cambs residents “which can involve writing off debt or agreeing more manageable payments”.

His report to councillors comes as the bureau enters the final year of a three year contact with the Money Advice Service to provide specialist debt. The bureau, for example, runs a weekly debt advice clinic where people can drop in to and get instant help and support. He said a survey showed that two in every three people using the bureau had their problem solved within six months and that three quarters of clients said they would not have been able to resolve their problem otherwise.

The council is expected to agree to maintain funding the bureau at the same level as last year with a grant of £47,346,80.

The CAB in Newmarket will also get financial help of £23,166.03 and Voluntary and Community Action East Cambs will receive £19,928. This latter group helps train volunteers on safeguarding issues, organises funding fairs, helps with a social care scheme and supports elderly residents in their homes.

Mr Page said: “The demand on Citizens Advice services has increased in recent years and is continuing to rise as the impact of welfare reform becomes evident.”