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Community / Universal credit claims double in less than six months

People are advised to speak to Citizens Advice Bureau before making a benefit claim

MORE THAN 1,000 people in Shetland are now claiming Universal Credit – a figure that is expected to further rise significantly once Covid-19 government support such as the job retention scheme comes to an end.

Latest figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that in May 1,037 islanders claimed Universal Credit benefits, an increase of almost 50 per cent since the start of the year.

The growth in the number of Universal Credit claimants suggests a further steep increase in the local unemployment rate when these figures are published next week.

Local Citizens Advice Bureau manager Karen Eunson said she had no doubt that the number of people claiming Universal Credit would grow further.

“Once business support schemes such as furlough comes to an end the concern is that this will result in more people losing jobs,” she said.

Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael added: “These numbers are concerning but hardly surprising as the effects of lockdown on the economy become more apparent.

“In the future, being able to get help to people as quickly as possible should be the focus of any government support. That has not been the case in the past with Universal Credit and now that must change for good.”

Universal Credit has replaced a number of previous benefits such as jobseeker’s allowance, income support and housing benefit to name but a few.

The full amount is £409.89 per month for an adult aged 25 or over, and there are top-up payments available for children, disabilities and housing costs.

Eunson advised people to speak to the bureau before applying online for Universal Credit.

Citizens Advice Bureau manager Karen Eunson. Photo: Shetland News

“If people aren’t on any benefits at all and they lose their job then in all likelihood Universal Credit will be the only option for them,” she said.

“But if people have any element of legacy benefit such as their own housing benefit or some of the disability benefits, then people would be best served by getting in touch with the bureau here and get a benefit check because sometimes, but not always, they are better off remaining on their legacy benefit.

“We would be encouraging folk not to make an automatic sign up for Universal Credit but to come in and check out what the best option for them is.

“The move is to get people on Universal Credit as the new benefit but if people get in touch with us we do a ‘better off’ calculation.

“So, if people have been working and paying national insurance they may well have an entitlement to receive ‘new style jobseeker’s allowance’ and it should be claimed before Universal Credit.”

The local CAB office can be contacted by calling 01595 694696. More information can be found here.