UNIVERSAL credit has arrived in Chester as part of an expansion of the scheme in the North West.
The scheme, which has been heavily criticised due to severe delays in the roll out due to IT problems, is an attempt to simplify the benefits system by removing the current system of having six different means-tested benefits and replacing them with one payment.
This week the Job Centre on City Road became one of the latest to be moved over to the system.
But they will only be processing new claimants who are single or in a couple. They will not yet process families or more complex cases.
Speaking to the Leader, David Freud, Minister for Welfare Reform, said the slow roll out of the new system was to stop the chaos of previous benefits changes.
He said: “We’re rolling this out rather safely and slowly. We’re testing each element to make sure it works.
“I’m slightly puzzled about people complaining about how we are rolling it out because we are making sure we avoid the chaos of doing it all at once.”
Universal credit has been hit by a number of backroom delays and IT problems which has caused the scheme to be delayed from October 2013 to a new national start date in 2017.
But ministers claim that when the system does finally go live nationally it will save the country money. Baron Freud said: “We have spent an enormous amount of time making it straight forward and we have done a lot of user testing.
“We have designed the IT system more simply so you do not have to have a face-to-face interrogation like before.
“Each claimant will then have a coach which they will have to have meetings with to help them find work. We have transformed the relationship between the advisors and the claimants which gives them the best help to look for work. At the same time we can do checks in case of incidents of fraud.”
Baron Freud said the changes will save the country around £2billion in administration fees which will go towards helping the poorest families out of poverty.
But Chris Matheson, Labour’s Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the City of Chester, said the roll-out has been a complete disaster. He said: “Wherever Universal Credit has been introduced previously it has been a complete disaster. People who need benefits have been left without them.
“I hope the Government has learnt the lessons from previous areas because I do not want people in Chester used as guniea pigs for their next failure.”
See full story in the Chester Leader