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Forres Community Council report numerous complaints about benefits applications process

By Garry McCartney

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Universal Credit applications have rocketed.
Universal Credit applications have rocketed.

FORRES Community Council discussed local struggles with welfare support at its August meeting.

As unemployment increases and the end of the UK government funded furlough scheme approaches, the difficulty of getting welfare payments was raised by FCC treasurer Graham Murdoch, who reported speaking to increasing numbers of the public who have had issues with Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

Universal Credit was introduced in 2010 and has proved controversial. It is intended for working age people and merged six previous benefits into one payment.

PIP was introduced in 2013 and is a benefit designed specifically to help people with long term ill-health or disabilities. For example, it can be used to employ a carer to help with washing and dressing, or to buy a mobility scooter to travel to work.

Community Councillor Murdoch said: "The PIP process and delays are shocking. Folk are struggling with Universal Credit forms. The system is a circus with long delays. Many people can't cope with the appeals which can take months. It's a lousy process.

"Universal Credit is portrayed as being of great help to people in need, but it is making people feel worthless as they are put on hold until their case is looked at. PIP is a con."

He added: "It looks as if it is a numbers game: reject the claim and let them appeal. A number will not so the amount that needs to paid out by the Government is reduced.

"Councillor Creswell said that 80 per cent of the appeals were eventually awarded - that shows a lot of the rejected claims have been incorrectly assessed. People who have mental health issues find the whole process overwhelming and give up trying to appeal."

Local Moray councillor Lorna Creswell (Independent) confirmed there is a good success rate with appeals but added: "The process is soul destroying and demoralising".

Fellow councillor George Alexander (Independent) sympathised with applicants, particularly those with literacy difficulties but stressed the importance of seeing the appeals process through.

He also pointed to a local fund for those needing emergency funding, the Moray Emergency Relief Fund (MERF) and to Moray Firth Credit Union volunteers who have helped at least 60 members to complete applications..

He said: "Folk in the position can be without jobs for the first time and many have never applied for support before. They are proud life-long workers but they must ask for help before they face starvation. Folks don’t like filling in forms and many have literacy difficulties so we help them to apply. I have been arguing for resources for adult literacies for 40 years so this emphasises more support is needed. Loss of jobs or furlough, kids at home and other costs add to rising debts so it is good that there is a fund to tap into."

Application Forms for a MERF grant can be downloaded from the Moray Council website under the heading ‘Moray Emergency Relief Fund’. Completed forms should be sent to: The Chief Executive’s Office, Moray Council, Council Office, High Street, Elgin, IV30 6BE.

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