The Harrogate Advertiser can reveal the hidden costs of Universal Credit as the town prepares to take centre stage once again in the rollout of the controversial benefits system.
Harrogate’s key role in launching the next phase of the Government’s flagship welfare reform from July 1 is expected to not only impact on claimants in terms of problems with rent arrears, debt and homelessness. It is also likely to impose a further financial cost on Harrogate Borough Council.
The total monetary cost to Harrogate Borough Council in 2018/19 of the switch to Universal Credit was £73,530 plus a Universal Credit administation grant of £50,213, making a total cost to the local authority of £123, 743.
Figures obtained by the Harrogate Advertiser also show that a total of 495 of Harrogate’s housing tenants claiming Universal Credit are currently in rent arrears.
With reports that some charities are now calling on the Government to halt the programme altogether, it’s a situation which is dividing the politics of Harrogate.
The town’s MP Andrew Jones said he understood people’s concerns but said lessons had been learned from previous problems and significant amounts of extra cash had been allocated to cushion the transition period for claimants in Harrogate.
Harrogate council says it is confident it has everything in place to handle the changes coming in July, including the financing.
But Edward Pickering, chief executive of Citizens Advice Craven and Harrogate Districts, said he expected more claimants in Harrogate to experience difficulties from July and, as a result, the number of requests for advice would rise.
Although Citizens Advice had planned in advance for the new rollout, he said he was concerned over whether it had the resources to manage it.
Coun Pat Marsh, leader of the Liberal Democrats group at Harrogate Borough Council, said not only was Universal Credit causing problems for claimants, it was also hitting local authorities financially and undermining efforts on homelessness.
Labour council Andy Wright said the latest phase of Universal Credit should be postponed until the new system’s existing problems had been solved.