An organisation providing free advice to members of the public in Lynn has warned it will struggle to cope after the introduction of Universal Credit next year.
Norfolk Citizens Advice has today launched an urgent appeal for more volunteers before the controversial new benefits system is rolled out in Lynn.
Citizens Advice had urged the Government to pause the full implementation of Universal Credit, describing it as a “disaster waiting to happen”.
But this week, Prime Minister Theresa May insisted that Universal Credit is working and said the Department for Work and Pensions would continue to “monitor” the system.
Now Norfolk Citizens Advice says it desperately needs more volunteers if it is to cope with a rise in demand for its help.
The charity’s acting chief executive David Potten said: “We’re struggling to cope as it is.
“We believe around 1,000 calls to our Adviceline service are going unanswered in the county each month.”
Mr Potten said the Lynn office is run by 15 volunteers and at least another 10 will be needed to be able to help people when the “full impact” of Universal Credit begins to be felt.
“Claimants have to pay up to 55 pence a minute from a mobile to call the Universal Credit helpline,” he added.
“The Prime Minister failed to answer Jeremy Corbyn’s call for a freephone service to be set up by the DWP. As a result yet more people will turn to Citizens Advice for help.”
Universal Credit replaces six existing benefits, but Citizens Advice say claimants can wait six weeks or more to receive any payments and face mounting debts, rent arrears and evictions.
Claimants are due to be switched onto Universal Credit in Lynn from next July, and in Fakenham from September.
“I’m bitterly disappointed the Prime Minister has seen fit to ignore our request to halt this roll-out while the problems we have are addressed,” said Mr Potten.
“I am grateful Mrs May has promised the system will continue to be monitored, but I have little confidence that it will make much difference.
“More problems are going to be needing the kind of help Citizens Advice can offer – in dealing with claims and sorting out problems arising from debt, lack of cash and potential homelessness.
“So we need more volunteers to boost the numbers of our advisers, receptions and admin staff.”
North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham said he supports Norfolk Citizens Advice’s call for more volunteers, but he backs Universal Credit.
Sir Henry said: “I support Universal Credit – it must make sense, consolidating different benefits and making it a great deal fairer for everyone.
“In terms of combining the different benefits, the process is incredibly complex, but it is vital that no one suffers a delayed payment.
“It is unacceptable for people to be left in limbo for six weeks, but with proper organisation and implementation that should be avoided.”
He said he has made that point to the secretary of state for work and pensions David Gauke.
Sir Henry added: “Citizens Advice do an excellent job – they are a very important part of our local community in terms of the charitable third sector.
“I support any drive by Citizens Advice to find more volunteers.”
Anyone with a day a week to spare can volunteer – the ages of those who help at Norfolk Citizens Advice range from 18 to 80, and training is provided for those who wish to become advisers.
People interested in offering their time should contact Norfolk Citizens Advice by emailing email@example.com.