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.
Members considered 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 and Lauren Munson from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to the meeting.
The following issues were discussed:
Stop notices and payment of rent – in response to a query, it was clarified that when a claim was made for Universal Credit the Council was sent a stop notice which led to housing benefit being stopped and housing costs were then paid through Universal Credit.
Roll out of Universal Credit – a Member asked for clarification on whether the roll out of Universal Credit was on hold. DWP advised that the migration of existing benefits was on hold and managed migration was now expected to be completed by 2023.
Local Welfare Provision – a Member asked if previous concerns that the new provider would be responsible for both giving advice and making payments had been addressed in the tendering process. The Chief Legal Officer advised the contract had been awarded in 5 lots and he would investigate if this concern had been resolved.
Transition to Universal Credit – in response to a query, DWP advised that, while there was always room for improvement, the transition in Medway had been smooth. There were 4,200 people on Universal Credit and 75% of staff had been trained. DWP enjoyed a very good relationship with the Council.
Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – a Member asked how many Medway residents had been affected by a High Court ruling on PIP. DWP undertook to try and establish the figures.
Appeals – a Member referred to a number of appeals he had been involved in which were upheld immediately and expressed concern at the time (often 12 months) it took to get to appeal and the backlog of appeals. DWP undertook to look into that issue.
Employment and Support Allowance – a Member referred to the recent announcement about errors in the payment of this allowance and asked if it was known how many Medway residents had been under-paid. A Member referred to constituents with long term health issues who had applied for health assessmentsand referred to problems with the paperwork being lost or misdirected and also queried why people whose conditions were not going to change had to re-apply every few months. DWP commented that a person with lifelong disabilities should not have to be regularly re-assessed and the cases referred to would be looked into.
Fluctuations in Universal Credit payments – a Member referred to an increase in cases of people not on a fixed income and who were seeing fluctuations in their UC payments where extra hours were worked as the system anticipated this would continue for the following month when that was not always the case. This created a disincentive to work extra hours. DWP advised that they received real time information from HMRC. Universal Credit was designed to cope with fluctuations of income but any specific cases could be looked into.
Communications between Housing Team and DWP – in response to comments, officers advised that housing staff had access to the DWP portal but the fact that DWP were not located in the same building meant there was a need to monitor that communications were effective.
Discretionary Housing Payments – a Member asked for more information on the 50% of claims which had been refused, whether there were any trends in terms of groups affected, for a comparison with the same period last year and an assurance applications were not being refused due to a lack of funds.
The Committee agreed to:
a) note the progress on the various work streams referred to within the report, and;
b) request a briefing note on discretionary housing payments.