Town hall chiefs have demanded a ‘one-stop shop’ to help struggling families in South Tyneside cope with Universal Credit.
Figures released by South Tyneside Council have shown the problems faced by some on the controversial benefit - including rising rent arrears and a 200 per cent increase in applications for crisis loans from the local authority.
A report to the council’s People Select Committee showed low numbers of claimants taking up support services on offer to help manage the change from the old benefits system.
The council has seen rent arrears jump to over £800,000 amoung Universal Credit recipients.
The new payment amalgamates the previous range of benefits and the cash is paid to the recipient.
In the past, housing benefit was paid direct to the landlord,
The council provides an digital support service to help claimants manage their access to funds, as well as a personal budgeting support service.
About a tenth of claimants in the borough have been given digital support.
Only two per cent have taken up the offer of help with budgeting after moving to the monthly payments system.
The report adds there is a ‘high number of residents not attending their appointments despite referrals being made’.
Coun Anne Hetherington said: “I think, on the whole, we’re failing our residents. This is a government initiative and we need a one-stop shop.”
“People should be able to go to one place and access what they need, rather than sending them from place to place, because that’s how people fall through the net.”
She added: “It’s a disgraceful benefi. It’s not doing what it is intended to do at all and I think real changes are needed to make it easier for people to do what they need to do.”
Anna Milner, the council’s operations manager for housing strategy, said the council was trying to ‘make the process as painless as possible’.
From April) responsibility for budgeting and digital support services is due to be handed over to the Citizens Advice Bureau as part of a national contract with the Department for Work and Pensions.
James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service