SUPPORT is in place to help people affected by the ongoing rollout of Universal Credit in Carmarthenshire, council leaders have said.
The new welfare system came into effect in the county in December 2018.
Councillor Cefin Campbell told an executive board meeting that 700 residents had transferred to Universal Credit, including 200 council tenants, as of the middle of last month.
“So far it has worked quite smoothly – we have not come across any problems,” he said.
Universal Credit replaces jobseekers’ allowance, housing benefit, working tax credit, income-related employment and support allowance, child tax credit and income support.
The number of people moving to the new system will rise when the Department for Work and Pensions takes over blocks of Carmarthenshire claimants from November 2020.
The authority has some 3,300 council house tenants and the report before the executive board said: “Whilst it is expected that rent arrears will rise in the short to medium-term based on the experience of other social housing landlords there are robust plans to mitigate the impact.”
Council officers have visited Swansea and Neath Port Talbot, where Universal Credit was rolled out before Carmarthenshire, and also visited around 1,000 homes in the county to give advice.
Sessions have taken place with landlords, councillors and contact centre staff to help ensure that everybody is ready, while a personal budget officer gives advice from Jobcentre Plus in Llanelli, Carmarthen and Ammanford.
The council has also created a dedicated tenancy support team and employed two extra officers in its homes and safer communities division – with three benefit and debt adviser appointments to follow.
Other measures include extending the opening hours at Llanelli, Carmarthen and Ammanford libraries so that people can claim Universal Credit online if they haven’t got a computer at home.
And Carmarthenshire Trading Standards is working to prevent loan sharks taking advantage of Universal Credit claimants who might need extra money to make ends meet before they receive their payments.
Councillor David Jenkins said: “We are anticipating that tenant debt will increase in the short term but it will be investigated and brought back into line.”
And councillor Linda Evans said: “I am confident that we, as a council, are ready for this and have prepared for it.
“Of course there will be one or two who will suffer but we will be there to help them.”