TWO local politicians have raised concerns over some Borders residents having to face 80-mile round trips for Jobcentre Plus appointments.

Christine Grahame, MSP for Midlothian South, Lauderdale and Tweeddale, and Borders councillor Heather Anderson say they have spoken to several Tweeddale benefits claimants who have had to fund the cost of a journey to Galashiels to attend identity verification meetings.

Where a Universal Credit claimant cannot verify their identity online, through either a lack of suitable identification or technological problems, they are required to verify their identity in person at their nearest Jobcentre Plus. For Tweeddale residents, this is in Galashiels.

The Universal Credit system was recently rolled out in the Borders, and will replace the six legacy benefits – job seekers allowance, income related employment, support allowance, income support, housing benefit and child and working tax credits – with a single monthly payment.

However, the new benefits system has come in for fierce criticism from some commentators, including the Citizens Advice Bureau, which warned that some lone parent families could lose an average of £58.51 per week.

Ms Grahame, SNP, said: “People waiting for their universal credit payments to start are often left in a very tight financial situation – this is why we’ve seen food bank use rocket in areas where it’s been rolled out.

“In cities where people are within walking distance of their local Jobcentre Plus it may not be overly problematic to require they attend in person, but in areas like Tweeddale this often requires long and expensive journeys on public transport.

“Bear in mind, if you are a parent you may also need to pay for child fares too for these journeys if you don’t have child care during the school holidays.

“Let alone the issues experienced by those with health issues making these long journeys particularly arduous.

“The Department for Work and Pensions needs to take into account those living rurally and urgently look at how it can resolve this situation.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson confirmed that although benefits claimants have to shoulder the upfront cost of travel, they are reimbursed for travel outside of their regular signing-in day.

The spokesperson said: “We take security very seriously, this includes verifying who our claimants are.

“The DWP is constantly looking at ways to improve the identification verification process and how we can support claimants through this process. For those who choose not to go through verify, other options to determine identity are available.

“Our latest research shows that 83% of all new Universal Credit claims were paid in full and on time.

“When new claims are not paid on time, it is estimated that two-thirds have an outstanding verification issue, such as providing bank statements, evidence of childcare costs, or proof of rent.”

Tweeddale East councillor Heather Anderson has previously broached the issue of travel costs for benefits claimants with Scottish Borders Council.

At the most recent meeting of the council, councillor Anderson asked council leader Shona Haslam what, if any, support the local authority is providing for rural benefits claimants.

Councillor Haslam replied: “The challenges of universal credit have been widely publicised and ourselves and partners in the Scottish Borders have been prepared for the roll out and will continue to monitor the impact closely.

“Not all applicants need to attend an identity verification interview, it is those who cannot verify their identity online as they do not have any form of photographic ID.

“The department of work and pensions are aware of the challenges of people having to travel long distances to attend these interviews, and are actively looking at options to help with this.

“Council officers are also considering whether other forms of assistance could be available for payments as well as the advances that they can secure via the DWP.”