In response to the upcoming roll-out of Universal Credit and other recent changes to the benefit system, Citizens Advice Devon, in partnership with Devon Communities Together, has launched a series of new training courses for organisations and individuals who work with benefit claimants.

The sessions are designed to keep people up-to-date with how the upcoming changes will affect their clients and ensure they’re confident about supporting them to claim everything they’re entitled to. 

In recent years, the Government has introduced a wide range of changes to the benefit system, which are affecting thousands of people in Devon. Those most affected include people of working age with a disability or long-term health condition and families on low incomes, whether in or out of work. Some of the changes have led to delays and reductions to the benefit people receive, and these training courses will equip attendees with the knowledge and confidence to help minimise these adverse effects on people’s lives and navigate the changes as smoothly as possible.

One such change currently affecting Devon residents involves people who were receiving disability living allowance to meet the extra costs arising from their illness or disability, now being gradually reassessed for Personal Independence Payment. Many people have experienced difficulty claiming this new benefit and have ended up losing money. People who are unable to work because of their illness or disability also face a Work Capability Assessment which looks at whether they are too ill to work.  Many people have lost additional benefit as a result of this assessment but it pays to persevere – with over 65% of people getting extra benefit when they appeal to an independent tribunal.

Another major change coming up in Devon is Universal Credit, which is due to be rolled out across the county this year. This new benefit will replace six existing benefits for people on low incomes and will affect about one in four families in Devon when fully rolled out.  In parts of the UK where universal credit has already been rolled out, some people have experienced long delays before they get any benefit. This has resulted in more people having to use foodbanks and getting into debt. In some cases people have lost their home because they were unable to pay their rent.  The Government is making some changes in response to these problems, including making it easier for people to get a repayable Advance Payment while they are waiting for their benefit to be paid. All of these challenges and practical solutions will be covered in the training courses.

Vincent Willson, the chief officer of Citizens Advice Teignbridge and trainer for Citizens Advice Devon, said: “Benefits can make a huge difference to people’s lives and also have wider impacts, including putting more money into the local economy and relieving pressure on over-stretched local public services. We encourage anyone who is concerned about the welfare of people on low incomes to keep up-to-date with the benefit changes by booking on to one of our courses”. 

Citizens Advice Devon training is now being delivered in partnership with Devon Communities Together. The new courses are being launched following a successful pilot in autumn 2017, with more planned throughout 2018.

Elaine Cook, Chief Executive of Devon Communities Together, added: “We’re delighted to be partnering with Citizens Advice Devon to deliver this vital training. Through our work in communities throughout Devon we’re acutely aware of the deprivation affecting both rural and urban communities – and how serious the impact of unexpectedly delayed or reduced payments could be for families and individuals. We believe these training courses really will help frontline workers minimise the negative impact on their clients, many of whom will already be in vulnerable financial positions.”

Based at Devon Communities Together’s Training Hub on Matford Business Park, Exeter, the sessions currently available to book are: Employment and Support Allowance, Universal Credit and the Work Capability Assessment (23rd February, 10am-4pm); Personal Independence Payment (9th March, 10am-4pm); and Universal Credit (21st March, 10am-4pm). 

 For more information on each of the courses and to book a place, visit our dedicated web page or call 01392 248919. Bespoke training sessions are also available for organisations with six or more people who require training. To discuss your requirements please contact Devon Communities Together’s Training Hub on 01392 248919 or email [email protected].