Purpose of Report
To provide the Executive with a report on the key findings and emerging recommendations following the Community Leadership Scrutiny Committee’s review into the local community impact of welfare reform.
That the Executive endorses the recommendations of the Community Leadership Scrutiny Committee following its review into the local community impact of welfare reform.
Alternative Options Considered and Rejected
Reason for Decision
Councillor Bob Bushell, Chair of the Community Leadership Scrutiny Committee, reported that as part of the Committee’s previous review into Inclusive Growth it had agreed to undertake a further review on the local community impact of welfare reform, focussing specifically on Universal Credit and housing.
The Committee met with a range of external representatives to gather necessary evidence as part of the review, from organisations including Citizen’s Advice, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Residential Landlord Association and the Member of Parliament for Lincoln’s office. The following City Council officers also provided the Committee with evidence as part of the review:
· the Planning Manager;
· the Assistant Director of Health and Environmental Services;
· the Assistant Director of Housing Investment and Strategy;
· the Head of the Revenues and Benefits Shared Service;
· the Strategic Development Project Manager;
· the Tenancy Services Manager.
Over the period of the scrutiny review, taking into account evidence gathered from key witnesses, the following emerging recommendations were identified by the Committee:
i) That the Council, as part of the refresh of the City Centre Masterplan and associated work already underway, sought to increase the vibrancy of the city centre and undertook a review of empty commercial units, particularly units above shops, to ascertain whether there were any opportunities to convert them to residential use.
ii) In view of the fact that the Welfare Advice Team, Universal Credit Team, Customer Services Team, Tenancy Services Team and Citizens Advice all currently worked independently to provide support to Universal Credit claimants and customers and in light of the national decision to withdraw funding from local authorities and reallocate this to Citizens Advice, that the Council undertook a comprehensive review of the areas within its service delivery that supported welfare advice to the city’s residents.
iii) That the Council agree to lobby local and regional Department for Work and Pensions representatives to better understand why there continued to be a delay in the payment of Universal Credit payments, which caused significant issues for the Council’s tenants as well as tenants in the private rental sector.
iv) That the Council’s Housing Directorate undertook a review of housing allocations and tenant services in order to increase and improve the sustainability of Council tenants.
v) That the Council reviewed the provision and considered a re-launch of a scheme with the Acts Trust, which had previously been set up under a Service Level Agreement regarding the re-use and distribution of abandoned furniture to Council tenants, and identified any further opportunities to work with other charities or organisations to improve access to free furniture or white goods for those tenants struggling to furnish their homes.
vi) That recommendations i) to v) above be referred to the relevant Vision 2020 Groups for consideration and addition to the respective work programmes.
Discussion ensued on the implementation of Universal Credit and, whilst it was accepted that support varied across the country, the support provided by the City of Lincoln Council in partnership with the Department for Work and Pensions had been an exemplary and award winning model which the Executive agreed should have been replicated nationwide. Concerns were expressed regarding the Government’s decision in October 2018 to contract all Universal Credit support to Citizens Advice nationally without any consultation having taken place. It had been hoped that Citizens Advice would be able to sub-contract Universal Credit support back to the City Council, albeit with less funding, however it was reported that this would not be permissible as part of the new arrangements scheduled to be rolled out on 1 April 2019. This followed a meeting the Chief Executive had held with Citizens Advice, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Universal Credit Support Team. The Chief Executive indicated that the Council’s team would continue to support and help to upskill staff at Lincoln and District Citizens Advice in view of the imminent rollout date.
Councillor Donald Nannestad provided some assurance regarding recommendation iv) above in that he had met with the Strategic Director of Housing Investment to initially consider this review and the areas that it could include to support tenants. In addition, he and the Strategic Director had met with the Housing Appeals Panel following concerns its members had expressed with regard to cases whereby tenants were falling into arrears as a result of delays in their Universal Credit payments. Changes would be made to the Council’s processes to prevent people in such circumstances having to attend meetings of the Housing Appeals Panel in the future.
Councillor Ric Metcalfe, Leader of the Council, praised an excellent report and thanked the Community Leadership Scrutiny Committee for its work on this scrutiny review.