With the full roll out of Universal Credit starting in the area, Citizens Advice Cheshire West says it is on hand to help.
The new benefit is intended to help people on a low income or not in work meet their living costs.
Citizens Advice says it combines six benefits including housing benefit and working tax credit, child tax credit, income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance and income-related employment and support allowance into a single monthly payment.
The CAB says the introduction of universal credit doesn’t mean that everyone will be able to apply.
In general, parents with one or two children, families, couples and people who can’t work because of their health who are eligible to apply for the benefit can claim.
Some benefits are available at the same time as claiming universal credit and Citizens Advice recommends that people visit their website to find out if they’re eligible to apply and for more information about making a claim.
People who are already claiming any of the six benefits are likely to be moved on to universal credit from 2019 onwards and need not do anything until the Department of Work and Pensions gets in touch.
If their circumstances change before then they may have to make a claim for universal credit.
Citizens Advice suggests there are three changes people need to be aware of:
- Universal Credit payments are made in arrears once a month, rather than being paid every week.
- Payments will go straight into a claimant’s bank account. This means people may need to open a bank account if they don’t have one and set up their own standing orders for expenses like rent if it was paid directly to their landlord under the old housing benefit system.
- New applications and any change in people’s circumstances need to be made online.
With people facing a five to six week wait for their first payment, Citizens Advice is encouraging people to apply for an advance payment if they’re concerned about meeting their living costs in the meantime.
Linda Crosbie, senior Universal Credit adviser at Cheshire West Citizens Advice, said: “Universal Credit is the biggest ever change to the benefit system so it’s important people get support while they get used to the new system.
“Most of the queries we’ve helped with so far have focused on people wanting to know how Universal Credit works and how to apply and we’d expect that to continue during the full roll out.
“We can help people at every stage of the application process from guiding someone through the online application form or offering budgeting advice to helping people best manage their monthly payment.
“Anyone with a question or concern should get in touch with us at the earliest chance so we can help them make preparations.”
People can get free confidential advice from Citizens Advice Cheshire West by visiting their local office in Ellesmere Port at 1 Whitby Road or their offices in Chester, Northwich or Winsford between 9am and 4pm Monday to Friday. No appointments are necessary.
People can also telephone 03445 76 61 11 Monday to Friday 10am-4pm.