Greenwich Council

Agenda item.

Effect of Universal Credit on Performance of Advice and Benefits Service

To note the action taken to mitigate the impact of Universal Credit on vulnerable residents in the Borough and the performance of the Advice & Benefits Service.

 

Minutes:

The report was presented by the Training, Policy & Welfare Rights Service Manager. She highlighted that there was not much data available yet as to the effect of Universal Credit (UC).  It was noted that there had been some challenges for vulnerable claimants. She indicated that there had been an increase in the administration while there had been a reduction in funding from central government. She elaborated on the work of the UC team in raising awareness in preparation for full service. It was noted that clients were repeatedly referred, and it was explained how that was being addressed. She drew Members’ attention to Appendix 3 and the matter of safeguarding and said that the DWP were looking at it as a model to be used elsewhere.

 

In response to general questions from the Panel, the Training, Policy & Welfare Rights Service Manager Confirmed that UC had been rolled out to all cohorts now. She indicated that though the Housing Benefit caseload had reduced the Council Tax Support caseload had not done so by the same amount so they had not been able utilise admin elsewhere. She said work was done with the voluntary sector, and they were happy to brief any other groups they were not currently working with. With regard to safeguarding joint working was undertaken with other Directorates, and with external partners, but improvement was needed on some links. The CAB’s Help to Claim telephone line was free to use; they also provide a web chat service.

 

In response to questions from the Panel about assessment, the Training, Policy & Welfare Rights Service Manager explained that claimants were regularly incorrectly assessed at the entitlement stage, invariably because some element had not been included; the matter was taking a while to resolve, it was a whole new system and a different way of working for the DWP. The DWP now set the housing element which the local authorities used to do. Greenwich had a good relation with the DWP and the matter was expected to get better over time.

 

In response to questions from the Panel about the process, the Training, Policy & Welfare Rights Service Manager commented that a lot of clients struggled to understand how UC was calculated, but the DWP was trying to improve how it was explained.  If claimants did not know to claim online they were expected to either learn how to do so, or they would have to rely on family members. It was possible to make a claim via the telephone but that was not generally known. Generally advice and benefits did not get contacted by those who were able to handle well the online process.  The Assistant Director Advice and Benefits (Finance) added that claims on low wages were more difficult to administer as their situation could change each week.

 

In response to other questions from the Panel the Training, Policy & Welfare Rights Service Manager said that the relationship between claims and employment was not clear as that depended on how the DWP reported unemployment.  There had been an increase in rent arrears and it was expected there would a similar increase with council tax arrears; they knew the numbers of those on Housing Benefits who claimed UC but it was not known how many other residents had gone on to UC.

 

Data/statistics to be provided, if available, in next report

Action:DoF (Advice and Benefits)

 

Resolved –

 

That the action taken to mitigate the impact of Universal Credit on vulnerable residents in the Borough and the performance of the Advice & Benefits Service be noted.

Supporting documents: