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Advice service sees huge spike in Universal Credit concerns

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Queries about welfare reforms have almost tripled, Citizens Advice Scotland has revealed

The Universal Credit rollout has led to a deluge of people seeking advice about welfare changes.

A report by Citizens Advice Scotland has revealed that the amount of Scots seeking advice on the new system increased by almost 200% compared to the previous year.

Advice in Scotland 2016/17 shows that concerns over benefits and debt amount to over half of the claims dealt with by bureaux.

More than 250,000 issues with benefits were raised at centres across Scotland – and this is analysed as being primarily down to the ongoing introduction of Universal Credit.

“The introduction and gradual roll-out of UC is evident in regard to benefits queries being brought to bureaux,” stated the report.

It also said that bureaux are “seeing an ongoing increase in the number of queries in relation to UC directly” and that “the number of queries has increased by 189% since 2015/16”.

There were almost 7,900 queries recorded in relation to Universal Credit.

The most common benefits issue brought to bureaux was in relation to Employment and Support Allowance, with almost 40,000 queries recorded. However queries relating to the daily living component of the Personal Independence Payment accounted for over 35,000 queries, and a further 30,000 related to the mobility component of the benefit.

CAS consists of 938 paid staff and 2,393 volunteers who give advice to people on a variety of topics.

Advice was sought at bureaux by almost 275,000 people, equating to one in every 14 Scottish adults, and clients were supported to gain more than £140 million which they were entitled to.

The report also shows the effect of Brexit, with 6,100 immigration concerns recorded in 2016/17, a 22% increase compared to the previous year.

It states: “While it is impossible to accurately state why this increase has occurred, it is easy to speculate that the result of the EU referendum in June 2016 may have some influence here.”

The study concludes that there are a number of challenges ahead for the organisation - with budgets likely to continue to fall despite an increased demand on services.

“In an era of public spending cuts and a squeeze in personal income, good advice is more important than ever. Ultimately, however, advice works and pays for itself through better outcomes for the client and for the public purse.”