Fears have been raised about the effect of a new benefits system on people in abusive relationships.
Universal Credit will combine housing benefit and job seekers allowance into one monthly payment and is expected to affect thousands of people across Basingstoke and Deane.
But domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid has criticised the means-tested benefit saying it risks further financial abuse for its clients by paying money for couples into a single household account.
Chief executive Katie Ghose said: “Universal Credit was not designed with survivors’ safety in mind.
“We know from our research into the impact of Universal Credit that it risks exacerbating financial abuse for survivors and poses an additional barrier to survivors’ ability to escape the abuse.”
Katie added that although victims of domestic abuse can apply for ‘alternative payment arrangements’, survivors “may be at risk of further abuse” and urged the government to “invest in domestic abuse training”.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “Abuse in any form is completely unacceptable, and Jobcentre Plus staff do everything they can to make sure people fleeing domestic abuse get the help they need as quickly as possible.”
The spokesman added: “There’s no evidence paying into one account increases the risk of domestic violence. Previous legacy benefits such as housing and child benefits were also paid to one account.”
Basingstoke MP Maria Miller said she was “pleased” that Universal Credit was being rolled out in Basingstoke and will keep in touch with Jobcentre Plus to follow “how this progresses locally”.
She added: “Under Universal Credit, support worth up to 86 per cent of childcare costs is now available regardless of hours worked, significantly higher than the support that was available under tax credits.”
Citizens Advice Basingstoke chief executive Graham Hatcher said: “Universal Credit is the biggest-ever change to the benefit system, so it’s important people get support while they get used to it. If people have a question they should get in touch with us at the earliest opportunity so unnecessary delays or complications can be avoided.”
The borough council and benefits experts are hosting a free drop-in session today (Thursday) from 10am to 2pm at Basingstoke Discovery Centre.
Councillor Hannah Golding said: “We’re encouraging people to seek help at the earliest opportunity and hope this drop-in will provide information residents need to be prepared for the roll-out.”
Go to the council website for more at: https://bit.ly/2G7qV66