The Committee is requested to receive an overview of the impact of Universal Credit. It is recommended that the impacts of Universal Credit continue to be monitored to inform service delivery of Revenues, Housing and Communities; the Council continue to assess how adverse effects can be mitigated by the provision of Council Services and partnership working; and that relevant Council Policy’s be reviewed to ensure that they support those that are vulnerable to welfare reform.
Mrs Rogers outlined the report and provided an overview of the impact the rollout of Universal Credit (UC) review in the District. Mrs Standing was also in attendance.
During the discussion members discussed the impact following the rollout of UC. There was concern that less than 100% of claimants received their payments on time, with just 86% receiving their payment on time in February this year and with the loss of income in real terms despite the introduction of easements. Foodbanks in Chichester had confirmed that the introduction of UC was responsible for the increase in people using them. Referring to paragraph 6.3.3., members considered that the introduction of an Anti-Poverty Strategy would be a positive move. The Council Tax Reduction scheme should be publicised more widely to ensure those in need were aware of the financial support available. Food banks were set up to help urgent one off cases not to be a necessary support for a large number of families for periods of up to six weeks. It was not fair that a number of charities, as a result of the introduction of UC, had to take on these urgent cases. With regard to the complex circumstances of some claimants, it was thought that around 60% of the homeless had problems with reading, writing and dyslexia. With that in mind, although support could be given concerning a homeless person’s initial claim, many did not have the skills or resources to access IT on a regular basis to keep their claim details up to date.
Mrs Rodgers confirmed that the comments in paragraph 5.2 referred to the Department of Work and Pension’s view of how the rollout of Universal Credit had gone. The Council’s community referrers’ project aimed to alleviate some of the issues created by UC. The UC was aimed at mitigating some of the issues cause by the introduction of UC. Nationally there had been a 52% average increase in the use of foodbanks in areas where UC had been rolled for a year ago, but she did not know if this information was reported to central Government.
Mrs Standing advised that the Department of Work and Pensions payments description of on time payment was payment within one month, which was in line with monthly salaries. The Citizens Advice Bureau had launched a Help to Claim scheme in April this year, specifically set up to help residents with their initial UC claim and to provide Work Coaches to provide additional support for the more vulnerable so they could be referred to the Job Centre to get additional specific advice. With regard to the concerns raised by members about the increase in food bank usage, the Department of Work and Pensions offered advance payments and budgeting loans for those waiting for their initial UC payment, as long as these were publicised and people were claiming they would go some way to alleviate people struggling financially.
With regard to the advance payments and budgeting loans available, concern was expressed by members that they could draw claimants into a continuous cycle of borrowing money and trying to catch up, which was not a solution to the problem. With regard to paragraph 6.6.1, it was noted that a reason given to the food banks for the increase in their usage was because, while waiting for their UC payment, claimants did not want to take an advance payment as they were worried they would not be able to pay it back.
Mrs Rogers confirmed that the local food banks had echoed the reasons above for their increased usage. Referrals to the local food banks at the Council were made by the Council’s Housing Team and the Discretionary Housing Payments Scheme. The housing Team intended to undertake some work with the food banks to get a better understanding of the reasons for their increased use. Mrs Rogers advised that she was not aware of the number of claimants whose social housing may be at risk because of rent arrears that had resulted from issues with UC. However, she was aware that the Housing Team’s new software programme would record the number of people seeking homeless advice where UC credit was sighted as a factor. For the purposes of the report social landlords had been contacted to see if the Council could engage with them about the issue and responses were awaited. Any future reviews would seek to engage with them to establish the number of UC claimants.
A suggestion was made that a Task and Finish Group should be set up to look at the introduction of an overarching Anti-Poverty Strategy, in connection with paragraphs 6.3.3 and 6.3.4. However, following advice from the Leader of the Council, speaking from the public gallery, about the amount of officer and member time involved, it was agreed to discuss this matter under the Work Programme item, as that may be a better way forward.
1) That the report aims to give an overview of the impact of Universal Credit and recommends the following;
a) That the impacts of Universal Credit continue to be monitored to inform service delivery of Revenues, Housing and Communities;
b) That officers continue to consider how adverse effects can be mitigated by the provision of Council Services and partnership working; and
c) That relevant Council policies be revised to ensure that they support those that are vulnerable to welfare reform.