ALMOST 500 people in Shetland are now receiving Universal Credit (UC), figures released by the department for work and pensions (DWP) show.
Universal Credit is said to simplify the benefit system as it replaces six previous benefits with one single monthly payment.
Described as a “force for good” by welfare delivery minister Will Quince, Universal Credit comprises of housing benefit, child tax credit, income support, working tax credit, income based jobseeker allowance as well as income related employment and support allowance.
Delays in Universal Credit payments, however, has been linked with causing a rise in the usage of foodbanks – including in Shetland.
The local Citizens Advice Bureau is geared up to assist people with the application process and warns of a number of potential pitfalls along the way.
Office manager Karen Eunson advises people get a “benefit check” done whenever their circumstances change.
The organisation also helps clients maximising their benefit entitlement for Universal Credit as well as other social benefits.
Eunson said the number of Universal Credit recipients in the isles and across the country will grow once the migration process of older cases to the new benefit will get under way.
She said that relatively speaking Shetland had not that many income support recipients than other places but comparatively many families receive working tax credit, which now falls under the auspices of the DWP.
Eunson advised local people to contact the bureau to check their entitlement: “Under-claiming of benefits is a huge problem nationwide including in Shetland.
“That’s why we encourage people to come and see us to check they are getting all the social security benefits they are entitled to.”
She advised people not to be put off by the application process. “We can help you to complete the application forms,” she said. “In 2018/19, we helped people in Shetland to get over £1.5 million in benefits.
“That’s a lot of extra money in people’s pockets and in the local economy.”
Citizen Advice Scotland (CAS) meanwhile have reacted to the Scottish Government’s publication of its benefit take up strategy which was published on Monday.
The strategy builds on the premise of maximising take-up as well as a range of new Scottish benefits such as the best start grant and the funeral support payment. Work is ongoing on introducing young carer grants, Scottish child payment and disability assistance.
CAS social justice spokesperson Rob Gowans said: “The Citizens Advice network in Scotland sees hundreds of thousands of people every year, and many of these cases include people who are not claiming all the benefits they are entitled to.
“This is a real problem which is leaving people without money that could help them make ends meet.
“There are various reasons why people don’t claim what they should, but in our experience the main ones are that they don’t know what they are eligible for, the application process is complicated, and they feel less entitled to benefits than other public services.”
Shetland Citizens Advice Bureau is located at the back of Market House, in Lerwick. It can also be contacted on 01595 694696 or at one of the outreach sessions in local health centres.
More details are available on www.shetlandcab.org.uk