This report provides Members with update on the roll out of Universal Credit and other work streams associated with welfare reform, as agreed by Cabinet in September 2014.
The Chairman welcomed Becky Waller and Steve Randall from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Members raised the following issues which were responded to:
· Personal Independence Payments (PIP) – Concern was raised regarding the high number of successful tribunal appeals which indicated that there may be a fault in the way in which original decisions were made, possibly through the medical process. Members asked the following questions which would be responded to outside of the meeting:
o whether PIP tribunal hearings would continue to be conducted by telephone;
o if the addition of a ‘review of appeal evidence stage’ to the process, close to the appeal hearing date, had been considered; and
o given that a successful appellant no longer needed to be re-assessed, whether this would still be the case if they moved from a legacy payment to Universal Credit.
· Medway Task Force – Members would be provided with some positive examples from the Task Force.
· Everybody In scheme – In response to whether vulnerable people who were housed quickly under this scheme were continuing to receive the support that needed, Members were advised that the DWP worked with various partners to support homeless claimants and find a way to bridge the skills gap to enable them to gain employment. The Head of Housing advised Members of the various schemes and initiatives that helped people with different aspects of their lives, linking them to the right services.
· Kickstart Scheme – Members were advised that in Medway, 266 eligible people had successfully joined the scheme and it was hoped that they would be retained by the employers. The DWP were continuingly looking for employers to join the scheme which was becoming more widely known through recommendations. The top three sectors in the scheme were administration, hospitality and food, and retail and sales. Members asked if they could be kept informed of the progress of the 266 participants at the end of the year.
· Furlough – Asked how many Medway residents were on furlough, the Chief Finance Officer advised that in May 2021, the figure was 8,200 which represented 7% of the workforce. This compared to 35,000 in July 2020.
· Workloads – Noting that complex cases took longer to process, Members asked what was done to support vulnerable families during this time. They were advised that the DWP worked with Children’s Centres and held a bi-monthly complex needs forum to discuss what extra support was needed for vulnerable families to ensure that services were available to them.
· £20 uplift payment – In response to concerns raised regarding the impact of withdrawing this temporary payment, Members were advised that the DWP was working closely with organisations such as the Citizens Advice Bureau who could offer advice on debt. Members would be provided with information on the number of Medway residents who had benefitted from the payment and the number who would lose it when it was withdrawn.
· Reduction in benefits in October – Giving an example of a constituent who had been in receipt of a self-employment grant that had triggered a change in Universal Credit, a Member expressed concern about the hardship that was being caused by a reduction in benefits. Members were advised that the DWP was recruiting staff to support people with debt management. It also regularly undertook an analysis of vacancies against skills to try to close any skills gaps. Members requested that this be included in future reports.
· Increases in Rent - The Head of Strategic Housing acknowledged that local rents were increasing due to the high demand for housing. His teams sought to ensure that tenants were receiving all the benefits they were entitled to.
· Test and Trace support payments – In response to concerns about the number of claimants that had not received this payment, Members were advised that claims had to be validated to confirm that claimants had been told to self-isolate. The Chief Finance Officer assured Members that this support was well publicised through the website and Medway Matters and undertook to provide an analysis.
· Short-term benefit advance scheme – The Chief Finance Officer clarified that these payments were repayable but it would depend on a person’s individual debt and the prospect of a payment being paid back.
The Chairman thanked Becky Waller and Steve Randall for their attendance.
a) noted the work referenced in the report and was assured that the Member Task Group’s recommendations are embedded in the Council’s policies, practices and contracts and those of its partners; and
b) thanked the staff of the DWP and the Council’s Housing and Finance teams for their work during the Covid pandemic.