Friday, 2 March 2012

UNISON urges Nick Clegg to safeguard vulnerable in Universal Credit claim arrangements

Nick Clegg and Ann Wardlaw at the UNISON stand
 UNISON today warned Deputy PM Nick Clegg and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander that the system for claiming the new Universal Credit risks failing those in most need.

The public services union used a ‘policy pitch’ session with senior MPs and MSPs at the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ conference in Inverness to warn that the planned online claims system should not axe the option for local face to face support.

Ann Wardlaw, vice chair of UNISON Scotland’s Disabled Members Committee, said: "Benefit cuts in the Welfare Reform Bill have horrified those of us who want a more equal society.

"On top of such devastating cuts though, is the worry that many people will not be assisted to claim support that they are entitled to because of the switch to a largely online system.

"We asked Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander to ensure that there is an option still under the new system for local face to face support for a range of aspects of the claim service, including verifying and scanning documents such as tenancy agreements, and help with queries."

Housing benefit is one of the range of benefits being brought together into the new Universal Credit. UNISON represents members who currently work in local authorities administering housing benefit services. The union says that the expertise of these staff should be used in retaining local access to claiming Universal Credit.

Dave Watson, UNISON’s Head of Bargaining and Campaigns, said: "The Liberal Democrats have an opportunity to realise that even if the IT for this proposed new online computerised system works, against the evidence of similar past projects, it is vital to help people claim all they are entitled to.

"Yet half the 9.5 million people in social housing have never used the internet. Attempting to deliver 80% of Universal Credit claims online and most of the rest in distant call centres simply won’t work.

"We believe it is vital to keep a local delivery mechanism , including using the experienced staff in local authority housing benefit services. The Government seems unaware of the high level of face to face interaction these staff have with claimants.

"There is a real risk that without access to proper support, people who could be getting help will lose out, leading to severe financial problems, major stress and potentially homelessness."



Notes to editors
1. UNISON is Scotland’s largest trade union representing more than 160,000 members.
2. UNISON’s briefing on housing benefit reforms is on our website at  

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