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Agenda item

Welfare Reform Update – Universal Credit Roll Out

Decision:

(a)       That the Committee supports the report and ongoing work to manage the impacts that Welfare Reform have and will continue to have upon Flintshire’s most vulnerable households;

 

(b)       That the Committee notes the changes to grant funding arrangements for Universal Support as announced by Central Government on 1 October 2018; and

 

(c)       That the Committee writes to the Department of Work and Pensions outlining its concerns around the possible risks to the Council in proposed changes to grant funding arrangements for Universal Support.

Minutes:

The Chief Officer (Housing and Assets) introduced a report detailing the impact of the Universal Credit (UC) ‘full service’ rollout and other welfare reforms, together with the work being undertaken by the Welfare Reform Response team to support affected residents in Flintshire.

 

The Benefits Manager provided an update on affected households at June 2018.  There was a reduction in the number of households affected by the lowered benefit cap, however there was still a significant loss to their collective income.  Of the 101 affected households, 85 were being supported through Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) to make changes to manage their income better.  The majority of households affected by the spare room subsidy were Local Authority tenants under-occupying by one bedroom.  DHPs were being awarded to eligible tenants of registered social landlords to mitigate the impact of the subsidy, however this was becoming a longer term solution mainly due to the lack of available smaller properties.

 

A range of support was being accessed by Flintshire’s UC customers where numbers had increased by 337%.  Assisted Digital Support through Flintshire Connects centres helped residents to manage their claims and communicate with the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP).  Demand for Personal Budgeting Support had led to an increase in surgeries throughout the County and the same team also carried out ‘wraparound’ support to signpost individuals to specialist financial advice.  However, a large proportion of time was taken up verifying or challenging calculations which resulted in further appointments and delayed payments.  The proposed changes in funding for Assisted Digital Support and Personal Budgeting Support by the DWP from April 2019 were a major concern and the uncertainty of how that support would continue with Citizens’ Advice Bureaus.  This early support was crucial to prevent escalation into a worsening position, and the risk to the Council and residents had been raised at national level.  Other concerns escalated for consideration included different approaches to dealing with the removal of names off joint tenancies and tackling backdated UC applications.

 

Councillor Attridge spoke of his pride in the team’s achievements on the service and he gave assurance that representations continued to be made on the uncertainty of future funding arrangements.

 

Councillor Dolphin also praised the team and said that the DWP should take notice of the concerns raised by the Council given its involvement in the pilot scheme.  In response to questions, the Benefits Manager explained that as DHP funding was subject to change by the DWP, it was intended as a short-term solution to support residents affected by welfare reforms (as well as some individuals not affected).  She explained that the difficulties in removing a name from a joint social housing tenancy had been conveyed to the national steering group and that this, along with other UC elements, impacted negatively on rent arrears.  It was agreed that the Service Manager (Customer Support) would provide details of the number of tenants affected by the spare room subsidy who were waiting to move to smaller accommodation which was currently in demand.

 

Councillor Banks welcomed the detailed report and its presentation by the officer.  In response to a query, the Benefits Manager provided explanation on the benefit cap calculation and its objective to limit the amount of benefits claimed by an individual.

 

Councillor Ron Davies asked about the cost to the Council of the UC rollout in respect of resources and officer time.  The Benefits Manager explained the funding arrangements and agreed to liaise with Finance colleagues to provide an estimated figure.

 

The Chairman congratulated the team on the support being given to residents.  He proposed that a letter be sent on behalf of the Committee to the DWP to highlight concerns about the lack of consultation on the proposed changes to grant funding.  This was supported by Members.

 

RESOLVED:

 

(a)       That the Committee supports the report and ongoing work to manage the impacts that Welfare Reform have and will continue to have upon Flintshire’s most vulnerable households;

 

(b)       That the Committee notes the changes to grant funding arrangements for Universal Support as announced by Central Government on 1 October 2018; and

 

(c)       That the Committee writes to the Department of Work and Pensions outlining its concerns around the possible risks to the Council in proposed changes to grant funding arrangements for Universal Support.

Supporting documents:

 

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