Concerns have been raised by councillors and residents ahead of the roll-out of the Universal Credit benefit in Hebburn.
Councillors and the community met at the Hebburn Community Area Forum yesterday to discuss issues ranging from regeneration and anti-social behaviour to policing.
Universal Credit – the new benefit system set to roll out on May 30 in the area – provoked questions from councillors and residents with concerns ranging from potential delays in payment to lack of awareness among residents.
The UK-wide changes will see Universal Credit paid to claimants on a monthly basis as opposed to the ‘legacy’ benefits it replaces – job seekers’ allowance, child tax credits or housing benefits.
Under the new system, claimants receive a payment by direct debit which is reduced as earnings increase and can be claimed by people both in and out of work.
South Tyneside Homes (STH) gave a presentation on Universal Credit at the forum, which was held in Hebburn Central Library.
Coun Alan Kerr, the council’s deputy leader, asked what support would be available for people who aren’t STH tenants, while Coun Joan Keegan asked how the changes could impact on families losing out on free school meals.
Theresa Amour, of STH, said the housing firm has prepared for the switchover.
Plans included STH staff training, tenant visits, signposting customers to IT training, budget and debt advice, and working with banks to promote direct debit payment methods.
Other plans included working to improve digital skills in the 40 to 55 and under 24 age groups and working with credit unions to support customers.
Coun Wilf Flynn said he feared the loss of free school meals and pupil premiums would be a “double whammy” for residents and praised STH’s plans to link with banks and credit unions.
Coun Nancy Maxwell said a lack of awareness could lead to many people “slipping through the net”, and that the changes could affect others who are not on benefits.
Ms Amour said the changes would be a “balancing act” between collecting funds from tenants while making sure “they can eat and have a roof over their heads long-term”.
She said STH has a “social heart” and is seeking advice from South Tyneside Council to help support vulnerable people.
Coun Jim Sewell also requested that the report is brought back before the community forum in six months to show what impact Universal Credit has had in the Hebburn area.
Chris Binding, Local Democracy Reporting Service