PROTESTERS turned out in force to make their fears heard as a new system for claiming benefits was rolled out across Clacton.

Universal Credit is now in place across the town, on offer for all benefits claimants and supporting people with disabilities, families, low-earners and jobseekers.

It has been introduced as part of an attempt to simplify the welfare system by combining six benefits and tax credits into a single monthly payment.

But critics say the new system is forcing people into debt, citing a “complex” application process, delays in receiving benefits and a rise in demand for foodbanks.

Rob Harper, campaign co-ordinator for the Unite Community Clacton branch, collected signatures for a petition against Universal Credit.

Alongside fellow protestors he made his stand outside the Job Centre, in Station Road.

He said: “I myself have had major problems with the system previously.

“I have been on long-term sickness for 12 years thanks to a medical condition which means I cannot work.

“A month ago I was notified my contribution-based ESA was to come to an end. I was given three days’ notice.”

“That was four weeks ago and it still hasn’t been sorted out.”

He added: “The role-out of Universal Credit is going to have a knock-on effect, especially on people in Clacton, where there is a problem with drug addiction and homelessness.

“The potential fallout really scares me.

“A lot of people will be hit by this, we have already seen in places like London five-week delays in people getting their benefits.”

But the Department for Work and Pensions insists the scheme simplifies an out-of-date and complicated system, and says the majority of claimants have had no issues.

Kate Bloom, Jobcentre Plus business manager for the area, said: “Universal Credit offers tailored support, which includes more personalised help from a work coach.

“The new system is also more flexible, which means people can take on short-term work to develop their skills and build up their experience. Our staff are trained to support people throughout the claim process.

“We’d encourage anyone who needs help to come and talk to their work coach.”

From last Wednesday, July 25, anyone in Clacton who previously made a claim for jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance, income support, working and child tax credit and housing benefit will instead claim Universal Credit.

Conservative Clacton MP Giles Watling previously said there is cross-party support for Universal Credit and it is a “positive development” away from the former fragmented benefits system.

He added that a £1.5billion package was announced in the budget to address issues with the delivery of the new system.