CIVIC chiefs have ditched proposals for a Universal Credit support scheme after a pilot showed it made little difference to Winchester claimants.

Residents shifting onto the controversial benefit system were set to be issued with a pre-paid credit card that would allow rent money to be sectioned off in a bid to avoid financial issues.

But following analysis of the initially pilot scheme by Southampton University, Winchester City Council's cabinet voted to drop the plan at a meeting last week.

It comes ahead of the authority's full switch to Universal Credit (UC) next month, which is expected to affect more than 2,800 residents.

The system has been widely criticised in the national press since it was first announced in November 2010 by the then Conservative work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

Earlier this month a report by the National Audit Office claimed UC would cost more to administer than the system it was brought in to replace and that some claimants were facing months of delays before receiving payments.

As previously reported, the three-month-long Winchester FIRST pilot project that ran between October and January aimed to smooth out some of these issues.

Speaking in December, portfolio holder for finance Cllr Guy Ashton said: "Winchester City Council is taking the lead in providing a positive and empowering level of support, education and assistance to its residents as they transition to Universal Credit.

"By creating an imaginative and ground-breaking programme, the council is building a way of making Universal Credit work better for our residents.”

However, a report that went before the cabinet meeting said: "Whilst initially it was anticipated that pre-paid cards would provide direct assistance to council tenants to manage and maintain their rent accounts, the results of the trial did not support this."

Analysis showed that the level of rent arrears between those on UC with the cards and those without didn't show any statistical difference, although researchers said that they couldn't be sure whether the low level of participants had an impact on the results.

So far there are 122 UC claimants in the Winchester districts, who have already transitioned ahead of July's full roll out, of which 41 are council tenants.

According to the report, only 10 have clear rent accounts, with the remaining 30 having an "average rent arrears in excess of £500".

As a result, the council is planning to spend £9,600 in government grants to commission "additional support services" following the roll-out.

A spokesman said: “The pilot scheme has proved invaluable to highlight what residents transitioning to UC may need by way of support and assistance.

"The council is establishing a new service offering support to those affected, with a combination of new council staff and also additional services from other agencies such as the Citizens Advice Bureau.

"The pre-paid cards are not being rolled out at this stage, although the council is continuing to investigate similar options as part of the overall support service.

"The council is also proposing to increase provision for “discretionary housing payments” to help those affected."

Anyone seeking support with their UC application can seek help and advice from the council by calling 01962 848539 or by emailing