5.45 pm – Progress report attached.
The Cabinet Member for Homes and Customers, the Client Manager, the Customer Centric Services Manager and the Operational Benefits Manager presented a progress report on the implementation of Universal Credit (UC) in Chesterfield since the previous report to the Committee in May, 2018.
The report referred to the continuing work by the benefits team with partners and stakeholders to ensure the best possible outcomes for claimants and the Council. A strong working relationship had been developed with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and this had resulted in the Council and Arvato being identified as a best practice organisation.
Following the introduction of full service UC in Staveley in July, 2018 benefits staff were working closely with staff at Staveley Job Centre, and arrangements to support claimants in the Staveley area appeared to be working well.
The report provided updated statistical information on the implementation of UC, including:
· 12,247 UC notifications from DWP for the assessment of Council tax support since April, 2018;
· 306 Housing Benefit transitional payments to a total value of £45,000 since April, 2018;
· 1,229 Council Tax Support claims live in payment for UC recipients;
· 110 Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claimants had received increased weekly awards with arrears payments totalling £577,328 since November, 2017;
· 157 Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) had been made to UC recipients since April, 2018, totalling £81,732.
· Assisted digital support had been provided to 446 customers and budgeting support to 146 customers since November, 2017. Foodbank vouchers had been issued in 27 cases of budgeting support;
· 672 Council households in receipt of UC were claiming Council Tax Support, with average arrears of £474 for those in arrears (average arrears nationally for UC claimants was £662).
The report referred to the provision of assisted claim support and budgeting support transferring nationally to the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) from April, 2019. The benefits team was liaising with Chesterfield CAB regarding this proposed change to seek to address the concern that it may be more difficult to identify claimants in need of support.
The concern that 2019-20 was a 53 week rent year whilst the UC calculation was only based on 52 weeks had been raised with the DWP.
Future challenges for the benefits team in implementing UC were identified in the report, including:
· managed migration being delayed;
· claimants with a severe disability payment in their legacy benefit having to claim Housing Benefit;
· the carer element not being included in UC awards;
· sole occupiers with others named on a tenancy only receiving 50% or less housing costs.
A case study illustrating the complexity and impact of the scheme for the claimant and the benefits team was attached to the report.
Members asked whether it was possible to further increase opportunities for access to IT to enable claimants to keep their online journals updated and whether printed information about where IT access and advice was available could be provided for Members to distribute via their street surgeries.
Members expressed their appreciation of the work being undertaken by the benefits and neighbourhood teams in partnership with voluntary services. The Committee endorsed the approach being taken to identify and resolve individual and systemic problems with the DWP and supported the Cabinet Member for Homes and Customers in considering how best to escalate concerns where necessary.
The Chair thanked the Cabinet Member for Homes and Customers, the Client Manager, the Customer Centric Services Manager and the Operational Benefits Manager for their contribution to the meeting.
(1) That the report be noted.
(2) That the ongoing work on implementation of UC and the consideration by the Cabinet Member for Homes and Customers of how to best escalate concerns where necessary be supported.
(3) That a progress report be submitted to the meeting of the Committee in March, 2019.