Around 70 households a week in Nottingham are finding that they will be at risk of debt and hardship over Christmas because they are waiting for a Universal Credit (UC) payment. Many of these are working families in low income jobs.
Any UC claimants who signed up after 20 November will not receive any benefit until after the festive period because of the built-in wait of at least 35 days for a first monthly payment. This delay means new claimants, many of them households with children, will be forced to borrow to survive until the New Year.
Nottingham City Homes (NCH) is lobbying the Government to reduce the five-week wait down to two weeks – which would bring it in line with the waiting time for a first housing benefit payment under the old system.
The five-week delay is designed to mimic monthly salary patterns in which wages are paid a month in arrears.
The Government has made loans available to those who can show they will be unable to pay rent or buy food without an advance, but any loans taken out must be repaid within a year. Nearly two-thirds of new claimants for UC take loans, according to the National Audit Office.
Nick Murphy, Chief Executive at Nottingham City Homes, said: “Most families would struggle to manage a five-week period without income at any time of year, let alone at Christmas. Our main challenge at NCH is to ensure that people can budget and manage their money effectively. We also have details of where people can get meals, clothes and so on if they are really struggling – which is why we’re asking them to get in touch to see how we can help.
”We shall continue to lobby the Government to look at UC waiting times again, and will continue to fight for the best outcome for our residents.”
Cllr Graham Chapman, Deputy Leader of Nottingham City Council, said: ”The Government needs to make changes to Universal Credit, including reducing waiting times. We have warned them time and again that problems like this will arise and they have not listened. It is unacceptable that families in Nottingham risk being destitute at this time of year and something needs to be done. Until there are changes, the council and NCH will help and support residents to prioritise and budget and most importantly, keep a roof over their head.”