Purpose of Report
To provide the Joint Committee with an update regarding the national and local position of welfare reform, with a specific focus on Universal Credit.
That the report be noted.
Alternative Reasons Considered and Rejected
Reason for Decision
The report provided the Joint Committee with an update on Universal Credit, including the national and local position regarding Universal Credit together with shared service preparations for roll-out to full service, migration of customers in receipt of legacy benefits and the potential impact of migration to City of Lincoln and North Kesteven rent arrears.
Details in relation to the national progress with Universal Credit and recent changes to Universal Credit arrangements were noted in paragraphs 4 and 5 of the report.
Impact on the Council’s income – Rent
It was reported that the Welfare Reform and Project Officer had been working with City of Lincoln Council and North Kesteven District Council Housing colleagues to monitor the impact Universal Credit claims were currently having on rent collection. Data showed that of the 613 City of Lincoln tenants in receipt of Universal Credit, as at the end of July 2018, 345 of them had an increase in their arrears totalling £90,145. 240 tenants had decreased rent arrears totalling £57,249 and 28 tenants’ rent outstanding figure had not changed. For North Kesteven, as at the end of June 2018, the arrears for 45 Universal Credit customers had increased by £4,525.67.
Discussion ensued on the issue of direct payments in respect of rent arrears. It was noted that difficulties had been experienced in reconciling amounts and that there were often delays in payments being received using the direct payments facility. General advice provided to customers as a consequence was that it was perhaps more effective to sign up to a direct debit arrangement. Discussions would continue with the Department for Work and Pensions in relation to direct payments and the problems that had been experienced with them to date, particularly with regard to the impact on rent arrears.
Universal Support Team
Paragraph 7 of the report provided information relating to the Universal Support Team and confirmed hours of operation, the work undertaken as part of providing Assisted Digital Support and Personal Budgeting Support, together with the range of other assistance they provided Universal Credit customers.
The Universal Credit Support Team and Benefits Team Leaders were currently reviewing how Universal Credit claims were processed and would be putting guidance together for all processing staff. This guidance would also clarify processes relating to the cessation of relevant housing benefit claims, processing council tax support and allocating overpayments to the correct recovery method.
Preparation for North Kesteven Full Service
Sleaford Jobcentre would go live with Universal Credit Full Service on 14 November 2018. Officers were reviewing the objectives and outcomes of the Universal Credit Support Team based at Lincoln to ascertain whether the positive partnership working arrangements with Jobcentre Plus and internal processes that needed to be in place could be replicated at the Sleaford office.
A range of activities would take place to manage the transition and ensure that Sleaford office staff understood necessary processes, with shadowing taking place with the Lincoln office.
The current Universal Credit Support Team was working closely with housing and communications teams and the web team to ensure that relationships were there to support customers and ensure information was on hand.
Universal Credit Dashboard
A dashboard of statistical information from the Universal Credit Support Team was appended to the report, which provided key information relating to team outputs as well as regional and national updates.