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7 June 2016, 06:36
Flaws in the UK Government's new social security system could cause "serious detriment'' to claimants if they are not addressed, a report from Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) has concluded.
The organisation has researched the impact of Universal Credit, which will replace many existing benefits with one payment, and found problems including delays in payment, unfair sanctions and glitches in technology.
The new scheme is being rolled out gradually and CAS's report contains a series of recommendations for government on how to fix it before it is introduced for all claimants.
They include introducing a "single, additional, non-refundable assessment payment'' for new claimants to avoid hardship being caused by having no income for six weeks, a choice of frequency of payments to help claimants budget and the option to have the housing element of their payment going straight to their landlord.
CAS also wants a fundamental review of the "purpose and efficacy'' of the sanctions regime associated with the system and the impact it has on individuals, families and other services.
"There should be a moratorium on sanctions until the review is completed, so that people do not need to suffer the adverse impacts of sanctions unnecessarily,'' its report says.
The organisation has also identified possible complications due to the transfer of powers to Holyrood.
"The Scottish Government and Department for Work and Pensions should work closely to ensure the smooth devolution of the administrative flexibilities with the needs of people who receive Universal Credit at their heart,'' the report says.
CAS spokesman Rob Gowans said: "The principles behind Universal Credit are good. Anything that seeks to simplify the system and make it easier and more efficient has to be welcomed.
"So, we have always supported the policy and we want it to work.
"We also understand that any new system is bound to have teething problems and the government was right to roll out it slowly so that these could be identified.
"Our report today is published in that spirit. We are presenting the problems we have seen, so that they can be fixed.
"However, it is very important now that the government responds to this evidence with practical measures to improve the system.
"In the past, ministers have been slow to act in fixing such flaws and often deny their existence, despite overwhelming evidence.
"Universal Credit has a lot of goodwill and really could make life easier for many struggling households.
"But if the problems we have identified are not addressed, then the system really could cause serious detriment to some of the most vulnerable people in our society.''
A DWP spokesman said: "The reality is that Universal Credit, which is now available to all single jobseekers across Scotland, is revolutionising welfare, with claimants moving into work faster and earning more than under the old system.
"We are working closely with Holyrood on the transfer of a raft of new powers on tax and welfare that delivers for the people of Scotland.''