Concern at survey results

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THERE is a general lack of awareness of major changes currently happening to the welfare system, a new survey has found.

The findings also cast doubt about how ready people are to handle benefit changes which are starting this month and rolling out over the next few years.

Undertaken by Turn2us, part of national charity Elizabeth Finn Care, the survey revealed that 32 per cent of people in Scotland claiming benefits that will be replaced by Universal Credit are unaware that their benefits will be affected. Of those who are aware, more than three-quarters 76 per cent said they are not confident that they know how or when it could affect their benefits and 90 per cent are concerned about its introduction.

The charity is currently running its third annual Benefits Awareness Month campaign to encourage people in financial need to check their entitlements and prepare for the significant changes that are coming into effect. A dedicated website has been launched to provide information about the changes at www.benefitsawareness.org.uk.

It also features a benefits calculator to help users work out or check which welfare benefits and tax credits they may be entitled to.

Throughout the UK, the introduction of Universal Credit will affect five million tax credit customers and 3.5 million Housing Benefit customers, replacing Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income-related Employment Support Allowance, Housing Benefit, Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit. It includes a new requirement for most claimants to apply online and will replace weekly with monthly payments.

Almost half of current claimants in Scotland said Universal Credit would make it harder to budget because they’re used to having their benefits paid more frequently and 45 per cent are concerned that the move to monthly payments means they could get into debt to cover the shortfall of payments. Others are anxious about supplying personal details online or concerned that their computer skills will not be strong enough to apply for support online.

Alison Taylor, director of Turn2us said: “Our latest research findings have confirmed what we have been hearing from the people we help for a number of months, that there is real uncertainty, confusion and concern over the forthcoming changes, despite the fact that there has been much work by the government to simplify the system. It is vital that people are armed with information that’s easy to understand and tailored to their situation.”

Further information about the charity’s campaign can be found at www.benefitsawareness.org.uk