This report provides Members with a progress report regarding Universal Credit and welfare reforms as agreed by Cabinet in September 2014, including the work of the Welfare Reform Steering Group
The Chairman welcomed Glenn Stoneman, Howard Noble and Lauren Munson from the Department of Work and Pensions.
Members considered a progress report regarding Universal Credit (UC) and
welfare reforms, including the work of the Welfare Reform Steering Group.
A Member asked for clarification, based on experience in areas where Universal Credit Full Service had already gone live, on the following:
· Whether anything could be done to prevent, or reduce the impact of, a reduction in eligibility for free school meals due to a change in status as a result of Universal Credit.
· How to limit the significant reduction seen in the number of self employed start ups from people previously receiving benefits.
· The impact of the two child limit on foster carers and also households where children lived in two households.
DWP representatives advised that they were unaware of any impact on free school meals or self employed start ups but would look at the issues raised and provide a response.
The following issues were also raised:
· Support for mortgage interest (SMI) – Members asked how many households in Medway had been affected by this change, how the change had been communicated to them and whether the permission of the mortgage company was needed. DWP undertook to establish this information.
· Arrears - given concerns about an increase in arrears, a Member asked for information on the issue of social landlords not agreeing to transfers if a tenant was in arrears. The Head of Housing Management replied that where it could be identified that the arrears were only caused through the size criteria welfare reform benefit changes and the tenant wished to downsize it was possible for them to join the transfer list. The Council would exercise its discretion to agree a payments plan for outstanding arrears and also pay the cost of removals in order to facilitate transfers so better use could be made of under occupied housing stock.
· Communications – a Member asked for an assurance that communications would not stop when UC Full Service went live on 30 May. DWP assured Members that their communications strategy would continue for some time.
· Local Welfare Provision – noting that there had been previous concerns about organisations providing advice and guidance not wanting to also have responsibility for Local Welfare Provision (LWP), a Member queried why it was proposed for LWP to be part of the welfare, debt and advice support service. The Assistant Director – Partnership and Commissioning agreed to look into this issue and seek the view of the VCS.
· Arrears - given concerns about an increase in arrears, a Member asked for information on the issue of social landlords not agreeing to transfers if a tenant was in arrears. The Head of Housing Management replied that it was possible for requests to be made so rent was paid direct to the landlord and this did not have to just come from the tenant. The Council would exercise its discretion to agree a payments plan if the arrears were caused by the under occupancy rules and also pay the cost of removals in order to facilitate transfers so housing stock could be freed up.
· Two child limit – a Member asked for more details on the impact on families who had submitted a housing benefit claim before the two child limit came in on 5 April 2017 where the mother was pregnant at the time of the change. The Chief Finance Officer agreed to provide more information on this.
· Communications and digital working – in response to a question about the impact on vulnerable people, the Head of Housing Management advised that a number of measures had been put in place by the Council, including Wi-Fi in sheltered housing and some flats, IT training for tenants and IT drop in surgeries.
· Discretionary housing payments – a Member asked for details of the impact on the 40% of people in this financial year who had not been awarded a payment from the fund. The Chief Finance Officer advised this was the result of an objective assessment of entitlement but the impact on people was not possible to answer. It was agreed that details of what advice was given to unsuccessful applicants would be shared with Members.
The Committee agreed to note the progress on the various work streams
referred to within the report.