Agenda item

Universal Credit and Welfare Reforms Annual Progress Report

This report provides Members with an 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 DWP.


The Committee considered an update report on the roll out of Universal Credit (UC) and other work streams associated with welfare reform.


The following issues were discussed:


  • The Government’s selection of Medway for the managed migration of 250 cases to UC – It was suggested that Medway had been chosen because it included a mix of urban and rural areas.  The 250 cases that had been selected were spread across the different types of claims. Further details would be provided on transitional protection arrangements. The Housing Options team met regularly with large social landlords to discuss any challenges that may arise and there were good links between the housing and benefits team and the DWP. 


  • Support for claimants in financial difficulty – DWP work coaches and front of house staff at the Job Centre had recently received training on how to support customers who showed signs that they were struggling. Very close working relationships had been developed with the Council and other services such as Citizens Advice, the Money Advice Service and the food bank.  The Council teams worked in partnership with a range of organisations and provided support to customers in a range of ways such as discretionary housing payments, exceptional hardship payments and also through the household support fund for same day support. The food bank was also able to refer people to the Council for same day support.


  • Two-week transition payment when a customer claimed UC and Housing Benefit payments ceased as a result – It was clarified that the customer would not be disadvantaged during the transition as there would be no gap in benefit. The two-week payment would be in addition to other benefits.


  • Disabled customers – Concern was expressed that the increase in energy prices would greatly impact disabled customers who had high energy usage as a result of their disability. It was explained that cases were considered on their individual circumstances. Cost of living and personal independence payments were made to provide some help to those in need.


  • The number of people being sanctioned and the impact on their ability to apply for extra hardship payments – Sanctions were only imposed as a last resort and there was no target or data on the number of sanctions imposed. Sanctions did not prevent an application for hardship payments being made.


  • Exceptional Hardship Scheme – It was explained that 103 claims for help were still being considered since March as each claim was considered holistically, in conjunction with the Housing Benefit team, in order to provide the best support for the customer.


  • Household Support Fund – It was regretted that the Council had not used all of the first tranche of this funding, the reason being that the Government had given little notice that it could not be rolled over. It was anticipated that all of the second tranche would be spent. Concern was expressed that the withdrawal of the school holiday free school meal vouchers had not been adequately publicised. Officers advised that schools had been informed in May.


  • Energy support payments – Members were advised that this had been paid to 81,913 people in Council Tax bands A to D. Anyone who had not provided bank details had their Council Tax accounts automatically credited with the £150 payment.


  • Help for small business with energy costs – The Chief Operating Officer said that he anticipated some additional support being made available but there was no clarity on this at present.


  • Support for care leavers – Members were advised that support was available in a number of ways. Care leavers were virtually exempt from Council Tax as a result of discretionary relief and support was available through the Household Support Fund. The Benefits Team had good links with the Leaving Care Team within Children’s Services. It was reported that DWP staff were working at the Care Leavers Hub in the Elaine Centre in Strood, on the Be Yourself programme in partnership with the Council. This had proved to be very successful, and it was intended to continue this initiative.


  • Ukrainian refugees – It was confirmed that Ukrainian refugees received support through the Household Support Fund.




The Committee:


1.   noted the work referenced in the report and was assured that the Member Task Group’s recommendations were embedded in the Council’s policies, practices and contracts and those of its partners; and


2.   thanked the staff at the DWP for their work.

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