The Jobcentre in Tunbridge Wells is to close later in March following a public consultation by the Department for Work and Pensions.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has told CrowboroughLife when Universal Credit is rolled-out to new claimants in Crowborough on the 7th November, claimants will have to access services via the Haywards Heath Jobcentre Plus branch.
Universal Credit is a single monthly payment for people in or out of work. It replaces some of the benefits and tax credits that people might be getting now:
- Housing Benefit
- income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
- income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
- Child Tax Credit
- Working Tax Credit
- Income Support
It is being introduced gradually across the country. Locally and nationally Citizens Advice have been campaigning for the Government to fix some of the issues with the implementation of Universal Credit which has meant people getting into rent arrears, problem debt or having to use food banks while waiting to receive the benefit.
Chief Executive Kay Birch said:
One of our biggest frustrations with the implementation of Universal Credit in Wealden is that there is no face-to-face Jobcentre presence in the District – leaving those who are by definition on a low income often facing long journeys and having to find travel costs upfront. We have heard some examples of excellent work done by job coaches helping people back into employment and we want Wealden residents to have access to that support. While online and telephone advice is available, some claimants will need more help, especially if they struggle with confidence, literacy or IT skills – people should not be disadvantaged by the postcode where they live.
Wealden Citizens Advice understands that Wealden is the only district in the country with no Jobcentre. At the start of this week, they wrote to our MP, Nus Ghani, about some of their experiences with the implementation of Universal Credit and the benefits payable to those living with a disability or long term health condition.
Citizens Advice said half of council tenants living in areas where the benefit has been fully rolled-out are at least a month behind on their rent, with nearly 1 in 3 two months behind. Food banks in Hastings have seen an 82% rise in applications for support since Universal credit was rolled-out.
Across the country, over 50 further Jobcentre branches are to close by the end of 2018 as the Government continues to make “efficiency” savings by merging some Jobcentres and co-locating others with council offices. In areas where users would be forced to travel more than 3 miles or for more than 20 minutes on public transport the Government has been holding public consultations.
Even though there will still be a Jobcentre in Lewes, people in Crowborough will have to travel to Haywards Heath for face-to-face appointments. By public transport the journey to Haywards Heath requires two buses or a bus and train each way – costing between £11 and £12 return. Claimants can ask for help with their travel expenses where the cost would cause hardship.
A DWP spokesperson said:
The changes we are making to our estate across the country will offer a more efficient service, and deliver good value for the taxpayer – saving over £135 million a year, for the next 10 years.
When Tunbridge Wells merges with Tonbridge (earmarked for 16th March), the DWP have said people currently claiming benefits in Crowborough will be given the choice of accessing services from the Tonbridge or Haywards Heath branches. The Department have also said they are considering where an outreach office will be based in Tunbridge Wells and the type of service it will provide.
Existing claimants will transfer to Universal Credit over a transitional period. While claimants can access help online or over the phone, for those claimants who lack the confidence or capacity to get help in this way, the only option is to travel to the nearest jobcentre to see an adviser, with home visits only available in exceptional circumstances.
Kay Birch had this advice:
Universal Credit is the biggest ever change to the benefit system and transferring on to it has not been straightforward for everyone, so it’s important to seek help early if you are not clear what to do.
The changes Citizens Advice want people to be most aware of are:
- You will get a single payment each month, which covers everything (including housing costs), rather than weekly or fortnightly. It is possible to get fortnightly payments and direct payments to your landlord, but you have to ask.
- Universal Credit payments are usually made in arrears once at the end of the month, rather than being paid every week.
- You will have to wait at least 5 weeks for your first payment, and in their experience this can be significantly longer. If you do not have enough money to live on while you wait, you can ask for an advance.
- Most of the communication about your claim and monitoring your claimant commitment (an agreement about what you will do in return for benefit e.g. job search) will be done online so you need an email address. It’s really important you comply with deadlines given – your claim may have to start again if you don’t.
Wealden Citizens Advice can help people at every stage of the application process – from guiding someone through the online application form, or offering budgeting advice, to helping claimants if things go wrong.
Anyone with a question or concern about Universal Credit can get in touch either by calling their ADVICELINE on 03444 111444, emailing them via the website www.eastsussexcab.co.uk or by dropping into their Crowborough office on Croham Road (Mon-Thurs 9.30am to 3.00pm).