Councillor says all is being done to help claimants with new benefit

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Cllr Cameron Geddes
Cllr Cameron Geddes

Universal Credit has been widely criticised

Barking and Dagenham Council are ‘bracing’ themselves for the introduction of the universal credit roll-out, fearing it could inflict more ‘mental torture’ on local residents.

Councillor Cameron Geddes, Cabinet Member for Economic and Social Development told The Enquirer: “We are resigned that it is going to be a problem and that it could bring more homelessness and debt. We have put things into plan to get ready for this.

“We have a substantial regeneration policy that is bringing 20,000 new jobs and we are working with adult education colleges to get as many people into work as we can.”

The new and simplified benefit system has been widely criticised for causing issues such as debt arrears and food poverty. Some claimants report waiting up to six weeks before receiving the benefit.

Cllr Geddes continued: “We are also visiting job centres to make sure there is a data sharing scheme, and we are taking a hands on approach; trying to contact people in our borough who might need help.

“Some might not be able to understand the language written as they have poor literacy skills or might not be able to access a computer to get help, so, we are trying to support them as much as we can.”

The council are also aware that many locals will feel the pinch when receiving monthly payments instead of weekly.

“There are a lot of ways that people could slip through the net and face problems with this new system.

“We are trying to encourage them to seek help and not be scared to come forward,” the councillor added.

“We have invested also in the voluntary sectors where we know many people will turn to, to ask for help and support. We know there are going to be many fearful local people,” he said.

Universal credit roll out has caused panic across many areas where it has been introduced but Barking and Dagenham say they are pulling out all the stops to make sure they are ready.

“With 25,000 being affected in the borough, half could get into rent arrears.

“We are alarmed as we know there is potential for some very horrible situations, but, we are trying to do what we can to work with our residents,” Cllr Geddes concluded.

by FRANCESCA LILLEYSTONE

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