A controversial new benefits system will be introduced in west Dorset from next week – and there are concerns it will drive more people to food banks as they struggle to cope. 

Universal Credit will be rolled out as of Wednesday and Bridport’s food bank, Cupboard Love, has has taken extra precautions.

The charity’s co-ordinator, Carrie Gamble, says she is expecting more people to turn to Cupboard Love need and so the organisation has ‘stockpiled’ supplies.

Ms Gamble said: “There has been an increase in the number of people using food banks in other areas where Universal Credit has been introduced. We always need donations but we have managed to create a bit of a stockpile in preparation We’re very, very lucky in Bridport – we have such a supportive community with the food bank and people bring in lots and lots of food. There’s incredible generosity support.

“It’s a very sad reflection on our country that more and more people are turning to food banks.”

Universal Credit will replace six other benefits with a single monthly payment for those who are out of work or on a low income.

The idea is to simplify the benefit system, however, it has been widely criticised due to the six-week waiting period claimants face between applying for credit and receiving payment.

In last week’s Budget, Chancellor Phillip Hammond promised to end the one-week wait before someone is allowed to claim.

For many months, Citizens Advice has been highlighting problems with the initial plans for Universal Credit and Bryan Brown, chairman of Bridport and District Citizens Advice, said: “We are delighted that these efforts helped persuade the Chancellor in last week’s Budget to scrap the waiting period of seven days before anyone can apply, and to make improvements to the system for making advance payments. We want to ensure that people get the advice they need to claim their full entitlements under the new system.”

Bridport CAB has been preparing for the new system for months and has taken on two specialist caseworkers for a year to help support people making applications. 

Rovarn Wickremasinghe, manager of Bridport CAB, added: “Despite the improvements to the system announced in last week’s Budget we still expect that a lot of people will need help with fully understanding what they need to do. The caseworkers will focus on supporting claimants as they start receiving Universal Credit, and will aim to ensure they receive the full amount to which they are entitled.

“They will also be able to assist clients to apply for discretionary payments, charitable grants and emergency payments.”

Bridport county councillor Ros Kayes said: “We are expecting a massive influx in claimants and we are expecting big problems. We’re talking to the CAB about how clients can use computers to apply because it’s all online now.

"We’ve gone back to Victorian times. Short of putting people in a workhouse, this is the most humiliating thing that can be done to people. But there are organisations like the CAB, Cupboard Love and the job club who are all trying to help. People can get help, support and guidance so please don’t be afraid to go.”