Purpose of Report
To provide the Joint Committee with an update with regard to Universal Credit support, particularly in respect of arrangements for 2019/20.
That the report be noted.
Alternative Options Considered and Rejected
Reason for Decision
As part of a central government decision for Citizens Advice to deliver Universal Credit support for the financial year 2019/20, Citizens Advice was contracted to deliver a new regime of Universal Credit support arrangements from 1 April 2019 known as ‘Help to Claim’. These arrangements were to support Universal Credit customers with a focus on digital assistance up to and including first payment of Universal Credit only. Therefore, the contracted arrangement did not cover the wide range of activities delivered by the Shared Service’s Universal Credit Support Team as outlined in paragraph 3.3 of the report.
Mid-Lincolnshire Citizens Advice, which included a Sleaford based office, progressed Help to Claim arrangements to be in place from 1 April 2019. In addition to this a Sleaford based Universal Credit support function from the Shared Service for 2019/20 would be retained with a review to take place in advance of 2020/21 with the potential to extend for a subsequent year. This effectively continued the Universal Credit support function already provided at North Kesteven offices in Sleaford, co-located with Jobcentre Plus. However, key links and communication with Citizens Advice was crucial to ensure effective referrals with the initial Help to Claim being delivered from Citizens Advice in Sleaford.
Arrangements had been put in place for the Universal Credit Support Team based in Lincoln to continue support arrangements for the period 1 April 2019 to 30 June 2019 to allow Lincoln and District Citizens Advice to recruit and have supported training, with the aim of achieving a successful revised arrangement from 1 July 2019. There remained key risks around matters such as rent arrears, council tax support, discretionary housing payment and rent issues. Problems could also arise in circumstances where customers who continued to require assistance following their first payment of Universal Credit which would not be covered under the new Help to Claim arrangements.
Officers were currently working through a number of options regarding potential Lincoln based internal Universal Credit support arrangements, to be considered in advance of 1 July 2019. It was highlighted that North Kesteven residents would be affected by any decision made, such as those who lived in postcodes coming under Lincoln Jobcentre Plus in City Hall. In discussing this matter members requested a list of the postcodes that would be impacted by this decision and it was agreed that these would be circulated in due course.
The Head of the Revenues and Benefits Shared Service verbally updated that it had now been agreed for the Lincoln based Universal Credit support team to continue up to 30 September 2019, with a review to be undertaken in advance of that date.
Members reflected on the very successful and award winning team that had been put in place as part of the Shared Service to deliver Universal Credit Support and reiterated their disappointment that the government had introduced a new regime without any form of consultation having taken place. It was reported that communication between partners during the transitional arrangements had been excellent and that the focus had been and would always be on the wellbeing of the customer.
A question was asked as to whether officers were confident that Citizens Advice had the systems in place to be able to deliver what was necessary before October. The Head of the Shared Service, in response, reminded the Committee that the contractual arrangement was ultimately between the Department for Work and Pensions and Citizens Advice although the Shared Service would continue to work with both partners given the vested interest both local authorities had in ensuring that appropriate levels of support were in place.