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Universal Credit roll-out forces some Ashford claimants to travel to Folkestone to sign on

By Sean Axtell

A bungled Universal Credit roll-out is forcing some Ashford claimants to travel more than two hours on public transport to sign on – in Folkestone.

With the issue affecting some 6,000 properties, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) says it is “working to resolve it as quickly as possible”.

Traditionally the following villages were aligned with Ashford Jobcentre in Dover Place: Mersham, Smeeth, Sevington, Aldington, Kingsnorth, Appledore, Hamstreet, Kenardington and Ruckinge.

Universal Credit claimants are being forced to travel miles to claim. Stock image
Universal Credit claimants are being forced to travel miles to claim. Stock image

But after the government’s so-called flagship reform scheme went live in May, all of the villages were aligned with the Folkestone Jobcentre instead.

Universal Credit combines child tax credit, housing benefit, income support, jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance into a single monthly payment.

Cllr Brendan Chilton, ward member for Stanhope and Labour group leader on Ashford Borough Council (ABC), has called on the Conservative-led council to help remedy the issue. He voiced fears that poor people will suffer as a result.

However an ABC spokesman shot down his calls, saying the dilemma lies at the feet of the DWP.

Cllr Chilton said: “Across the country our government is pushing us into poverty and the roll out of Universal Credit has been a complete shambles.

“This is another example of poor management.

“It’s particularly unfair on the people of east Ashford who are going to have to travel to Folkestone without direct transport links.

“It means more people will face sanctions and the poorest people are going to have to pay out more money.

“I’m calling on the Conservative-led council to sort this out very quickly.”

Cllr Brendan Chilton, parish & borough councillor for Stanhope
Cllr Brendan Chilton, parish & borough councillor for Stanhope

With return fare journeys from Ashford International to Folkestone Central costing about £10 on Southeastern, ABC’s overview and scrutiny committee discussed the shake-up.

Official council documents, which dubbed the situation “concerning”, highlight some claimants may not have enough funds or transport to make appointments.

It adds: “Concerns have been raised with the DWP both verbally and more formally via a written letter.

“Residents claiming Universal Credit who live in the above postcode areas should not be expected to travel to Folkestone for their work-focussed interviews and to receive ongoing support from their work coach.”

The DWP says claimants unable to front travel fares to Folkestone will not have their benefits slashed as long as they keep the department informed.

A spokesman said: “We are aware that claimants from some postcode areas have incorrectly been allocated to Folkestone Jobcentre, and are working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.

“We will reimburse any travel costs incurred by claimants as a result of this situation.”

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