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Welfare reform

Published: 14/11/2017

By 2020, the UK Government welfare reforms will have reduced expenditure on social security benefits available to low income working-age households by around £31 billion per annum. Flintshire County Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee will be asked to note a report which provides an update on the impacts Universal Credit ‘Full Service’ and other welfare reforms are having on Flintshire’s most vulnerable residents and the work that is ongoing to mitigate and support these households. A number of households continue to be highly impacted by welfare reform and Flintshire is putting together a proactive action plan to target support to these households in order to help to alleviate the impacts and also help households to prepare now for future changes. From the autumn of 2016, the benefit cap ceiling has been significantly lowered. By September this year, 111 Flintshire households were affected by this, which equates to a weekly loss of income of £12,300 – annually this is almost £640,000. Assistance has been provided to customers around referrals to fuel and utilities companies to access social tariff’s and support services, to proactively promote Discretionary Housing Payments and to assist with dealing with non- priority debts. Universal Credit (UC) ‘Full Service’ was implemented in Mold, Shotton and Flint earlier this year. At the end of September, the caseload of UC claims is 2,356. In Flintshire we are experiencing, first hand, a significant number of challenges and issues with the implementation of UC Full Service. Partly because of the major change for those claiming to deal with and partly because the UC processes are still in development as part of the UK Governments “test and learn” approach to the roll out. Flintshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Corporate Resources, Councillor Billy Mullin, said: “The Council’s response to the implementation of UC has been seen as a model of good practice by other Welsh Local Authorities and the Welsh Government. This is a credit to our Connects officers who have provided digital support to over 1,000 customers, helping them with making a new claim for UC and managing their online claim for UC.” Other areas affected by welfare reforms and having a detrimental effect on vulnerable residents include: · Spare room subsidy (also known as “the bedroom tax”); · Rent collections – issues when changing over from housing benefit to UC; · Homeless Services - housing benefit used to cover some of the costs that the Local Authority incurred when placing an individual or family in short term emergency accommodation. UC does not include such provision. Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member or Housing, Councillor Bernie Attridge, said: “Flintshire has taken the initiative and been innovative in working on providing support and solutions to help our most vulnerable residents. Since April 2017 Personal Budgeting Support has been delivered by our Welfare Reform Response Team.” Personal Budgeting Support cases have already highlighted issues including payday lenders having direct access to a customer’s bank account so that when their monthly UC is paid they are accessing the account and leaving the customer with insufficient money to live on. Approx. 90% of customers that have been supported by the team have debt issues and there is an increase in customer’s accessing pay day loans and increasing their overdrafts to bridge the gap until their first UC payment has been received. Approx. 65% of customer that have been supported by the team have applied for a short term benefit advance. This advance is provided by DWP to assist with a customer’s living costs until their first payment of UC, and then is recovered from ongoing benefit. The team will continue to advise and support households most risk of losing household income, those facing increasing difficulties in maintaining their rent payments, and those at an increased risk of homelessness.