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 Options Considered and Rejected
Reason for Decision
Statistics in relation to the national progress of Universal Credit were set out in paragraph 4.1 of the report, with recent Universal Credit changes as a result of the Autumn 2018 budget announcement and January 2019 announcement also outlined in Appendix 1 attached to the report. 1.6 million households now received Universal Credit nationally, 560,000 of which were in employment.
The Welfare Reform and Project Officer had been working with the City of Lincoln and North Kesteven housing colleagues to monitor the impact Universal Credit claims were currently having on rent collection. As of 31 December 2018, 976 City of Lincoln tenants were in receipt of Universal Credit. 485 of these tenants were in arrears totalling £157,595.91, with 462 cases having decreased by £110,840.66 from the date of claim and 289 not in arrears or credit. Of the 124 North Kesteven tenants in receipt of Universal Credit as at 31 December 2018 there had been an increase in arrears for 100 tenants totalling £51,152.
The Universal Support Team continued to work on a rota basis and provide a range of support services as set out in paragraph 7.2 of the report. Team Leaders were currently reviewing how Universal Credit claims were processed and would be putting guidance together for all processing staff. This would clarify processes relating to the cessation of relevant Housing Benefit claims, processing Council Tax support and allocating overpayments to the correct recovery method.
Statistical information via the Universal Credit Dashboard was appended to the report, which provided key information relating to the team outputs together with regional and national updates as at the end of quarter two.
Progress with the Shared Service’s Welfare Reform Strategy Action Plan and Universal Credit Preparation Plan was set out in Appendix 4 of the report. The Action Plan was fluid and flexible to respond to changes in welfare reform in relation to priorities, changes and demands.
Discussion ensued on the decision that had been taken by Government to contract nationally with Citizens Advice to provide Universal Credit support services from 1 April 2019 as part of standardising the implementation of the benefit across the country. Since this decision had been announced in October 2018 officers from the Shared Service had been communicating with the Department for Work and Pensions and the local Citizens Advice offices in Lincoln and Sleaford. It was noted that the Universal Credit Support Service currently provided by the Shared Service worked very well and was undertaken on a holistic approach, regarding which one option could potentially be to continue in partnership with Citizens Advice in Lincoln, albeit with less funding. It was unclear at this stage, however, whether Citizens Advice could, in effect, sub-contract this back to the local authority.
With regard to Universal Credit customers in Sleaford, a decision had been taken by the Mid-Lincolnshire Citizens Advice office, which covered Boston, Sleaford and Stamford, to provide Universal Credit support services itself. A significant amount of work needed to take place regarding the support provided to customers in Sleaford, particularly those in receipt of Universal Credit who may be entitled to other benefits administered by the local authority. The current arrangements, through the existing support team, would ensure that these customers received access to any other entitlement provided by the local authority. The local authority would still have a vested interest in supporting customers under the new Universal Support arrangements, so it was important that adequate communication, particularly with Sleaford customers, took place in order that it was clear how and where they would receive support and that referrals to the local authority took place.
An assurance was given to members that the focus from the perspective of the Shared Service, Department for Work and Pensions and Citizens Advice was solely on the customer in relation to Universal Credit support.
A question was raised as to whether a recipient of the state pension would remain in receipt of housing benefit rather than transferring to Universal Credit. It was noted that this would be the case, however, if the person in receipt of the state pension was in a ‘mixed age couple’ it may be that they would be required to claim for Universal Credit as opposed to housing benefit.
A further question was asked regarding a young lady with a child under the age of 21 and whether they would be classed as vulnerable in such circumstances. Officers agreed to confirm this with the member who asked the question outside of the meeting.