A WARNING has been issued to thousands of Basingstoke residents ahead of the roll-out of a controversial new system early next year which has left ‘many people’s finances in tatters’.

Universal Credit is due to be introduced across the Basingstoke area in February with charity Citizens Advice Basingstoke working with Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, the Department of Work and Pensions and housing associations to help with the transition.

However, given the introduction of Universal Credit elsewhere has left people waiting six weeks to receive payment, Citizens Advice Basingstoke is warning those in receipt of benefits and tax credits to prepare.

The charity, which offers free, independent, impartial advice on legal and financial matters, expects around 10,000 people in the Basingstoke area to be affected by the Universal Credit roll-out.

Graham Hatcher, chief executive of Citizens Advice Basingstoke, said: “The principles behind Universal Credit are sound; but Citizens Advice’s experience in other areas has highlighted major flaws in how the benefit was designed and problems with how it is being delivered, leaving many people’s finances in tatters.

“It is good news that the government has made two major improvements to Universal Credit in the last two weeks that will make a real difference to the people we help. The Universal Credit helpline, previously charged at up to 55p a minute will be made free as will all DWP helplines, and all claimants will be told that they can get an advance payment after two weeks. Both these changes were called for by Citizens Advice, so this is a brilliant result, although there is still more to do.

“We will continue to work with the borough council and others, to make sure that we are geared up to meet the increased demand for help that we expect to see.”

Citizens Advice Basingstoke received around 6,000 enquiries for advice on benefits and tax credits in 2016/17 but with Universal Credit coming in, which will replace Child Tax Credit, Housing Benefit, Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Working Tax Credit, it expects this number to rise.

As a result, the charity is calling for more people to join its team of advisers. For more information, go to basingstokeandtadleycab.org.uk.