'It's vindictive and it's going to hurt families and children...'
Many of the organisations in Salford that help benefit claimants are up in arms over an edict from the Government's DWP (Department of Work and Pensions) to around 3,700 people (including around seven hundred young people), telling them to transfer from 'Universal Credit Live' to the 'Universal Credit Full Service' within the next four weeks.
Normally, the transition period is 13 weeks and no-one can understand why this has been reduced to one month, arguing that it's a huge amount of people who will have to be 'processed' via totally fresh claims online, with hundreds, if not thousands, having to book appointments with Job Centre Plus staff in a ridiculously short amount of time.
There are concerns that people will 'fall out' of the system or may have their payments stopped if they can't complete the transfer in time.
"It's hard enough claiming anyway but to go through it all again, produce ID and go for interviews could leave lots of people in hardship, particularly those who have literacy and computer literacy problems" said one front line benefits worker "They're introducing it this week and the fear is that lots will be left with no money over Christmas."
Meanwhile, the phones have already been ringing at the Salford Unemployed and Community Resource Centre (SUCRC) in Eccles which helps people with benefit claims...
"People are ringing up saying 'What are we going to do?'" states SUCRC Centre manager Alec McFadden "It all has to be done digitally and people haven't got computers in their houses. There's been no consultation on this, just a letter telling us 'This is what's going to happen to our clients' but that was it. Normally it would be over 13 weeks and all of a sudden they've decided to do it over four weeks. It's complete madness and everybody is just staggered."
"The reality is that people will have no money for Christmas" he adds "While the Credit Union and others are trying to assist, what will happen is that they will be pushed into the arms of money lenders and loan sharks, and operating against the Council's anti-poverty strategy. There's been letters going to the Job Centre saying 'This is absolutely scandalous...Why are you doing this when it normally takes three months?'. It's vindictive and it's going to hurt families and children.
"Yesterday a Parliamentary committee looked at the whole system and the hostile environment created by Iain Duncan Smith and Esther McVey in 2012 when they brought benefit sanctions in, leaving people with no money for 12 or 13 weeks" he adds "It's madness and it's penalising people for being poor. The rollout of Universal Credit should have been stopped and the whole system scrapped."
A letter to organisations from the DWP 'Partnership Manager' in Salford, seen by the Salford Star, states "I can give an assurance that DWP have sufficient resource to ensure all customers who need help to make their claim will be supported."
Many have their doubts.
The Salford Star has contacted the DWP press office for a comment and this will be posted when we get a response.
Update: 7th November: A spokesperson for the DWP responded last night: “The process hasn’t changed at all – whoever has given you the below has got confused about work coaches completing transfer work (13 weeks) and claimants having to attend an interview to sort out the switch (4 weeks). In terms of the 4 weeks, that’s always been the case.
“In terms of customers impacted over the festive period – we have a process in place to ensure that customers are called to action to make their Full Service claim and we will not be suspending any customer payments over this period so there should be no impact.”