RESIDENTS in Northwich and Winsford are being urged to prepare for a six-week wait as the ‘biggest ever’ change to the benefits system is rolled out across Cheshire.

Full service rollout of Universal Credit starts in Northwich Jobcentre Plus from December 13, following a rollout in Winsford on November 1.

Universal Credit combines six benefits, including Housing Benefit and Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance and Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, into a single monthly payment.

With people facing a five to six-week wait for their first Universal Credit payment, Citizens Advice Cheshire West is encouraging people to apply for an advance payment if they’re concerned about meeting their living costs in the meantime.

Linda Crosbie, senior Universal Credit Adviser at Cheshire West Citizens Advice, said: “Universal Credit is the biggest ever change to benefit system, so it’s important people get support while they get used to the new system.

“Most of the queries we’ve helped with so far have focused on people wanting to know how Universal Credit works and how to apply, and we’d expect that to continue during the full roll out.

“We can help people at every stage of the application process- from guiding someone through the online application form, or offering budgeting advice to help people best manage their monthly payment.

“Anyone with a question or concern should get in touch with us at the earliest chance so we can help them make preparations for being on Universal Credit.”

Under the changes, payments will now be made in arrears once a month rather than weekly, and will go straight into a claimant's bank account.

Additionally new Universal Credit applications, and any change in circumstances, need to be made online.

In general, parents with one or two children, families, couples and people who can’t work because of their health, who are eligible to apply for Universal Credit will be able to claim.

People who are already claiming any of the six benefits are likely to be moved onto Universal Credit from 2019 onwards and need not do anything until the Department of Work and Pensions gets in touch.

If their circumstances change before then, they may have to make a claim for Universal Credit.

For free confidential advice visit Citizens Advice Cheshire West in Northwich or Winsford between 9am and 4pm Monday to Friday, no appointment necessary. Alternatively call 03445 76 61 11.