How universal credit has affected other towns

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Universal Credit, the government’s flagship welfare reform scheme, starts in St Helens this week having been trialled in nearby local authorities, (writes James Illingworth).

The system was due to start in Wigan in April 2013 but was delayed until July amid concerns about the Department for Work and Pensions computer systems.

As part of the trial scheme, the UC payouts, which incorporated several existing benefit payments, were available for single and childless who were new to the benefits system.

The payments have now been extended to couples and families from this summer. It will start for just single claimants in St Helens.

In March this year, DWP said almost 1,000 had started using UC.

Ministers argue that the reform programme will simplify the benefits system, make it easier to identify claimant fraud and help those looking for work.

But it has also been slammed for leaving many of the poorest families with less income.

Makerfield MP Yvonne Fovargue branded it “universal chaos” after the delayed start for Wigan borough claimants.

And last month shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves MP said this week that despite her party supporting the UC policy in principle, concerns have been voiced that it has been delivered “massively over-budget.”

Service manager Lesley O’Halloran said: “None of the problems we have encountered so far have been show stoppers, they are the things we expected to encounter in the transitional phases of being involved in the scheme.

“We have had examples of people claiming UC online but finding they’re not eligible as part of the pilot scheme.

“They have not then been able to claim their benefits using the former system - such as job-seekers allowance - online as well.”