“Universal Credit will be rolled out across the Borough this November but many of us had not realised it has already arrived in parts of the north of the Borough including Awsworth from June.
Can you tell us what arrangements have been made to support those claiming Universal Credit, particularly those who have neither the ability nor facilities to access it without considerable support, and may already be in rent arrears to the Council? Can you also tell us whether those who are already claiming Universal Credit are in rent arrears to the Council and how much it is?”
The Chair of the Finance and Resources Committee responded that there had been no new applications for Universal Credit (UC) in 2018 and there had been a continued reduction in the number of people receiving Universal Credit. The Department for Works and Pensions (DWP) had confirmed that there was a reduction of approximately 6% per week in the number of people receiving Universal Credit in Broxtowe. Although the DWP was not able to specify the exact reason for this, it was likely to be as a result of claimants returning to work or increasing their working hours.
Although the roll out of UC had currently stopped, the Council continued to prepare for the full service roll out in the area. The current proposals of full service roll out were based on the Job Centre location and not the Local Authority. As a result of this, there would be two roll outs within Broxtowe, as those that were expected to attend Heanor Job Centre went ‘live’ on the 13 June 2018. Claimants expected to attend Beeston Job Centre would ‘go live’ in November 2018.
In preparation of the roll out, a Welfare Reform Group had been established within the Council. This included internal officers from Benefits, Rents, Housing and Quality and Control Teams. External stakeholders had also been involved, most notably from the Citizens Advice Broxtowe team. Future meetings would also include the local Job Centre Managers and the DWP UC Liaison Officer. The group has been established to identify the services within the Borough that could assist with the roll out of UC and ensure that residents received the appropriate support, with a significant emphasis on Personal Budgeting and Assisted digital Support. Due to the close working relationship with Erewash Borough Council, Broxtowe Borough Council would be able to utilise some of the lessons learned in their preparation for Full Service rollout.
All relevant Broxtowe staff had received appropriate training on UC and would be available to support residents that were experiencing difficulty under the new process. Working with the DWP, the Council will host a number of stakeholder workshops around UC as the relevant date approached.
Prior to the next Full Council meeting on 17 October 2018, a briefing session for all members on the implementation of Universal Credit would take place.
The Council received grants from the DWP to help claimants of UC that required personal budgeting support and digital assistance. The Council had been informed that it was to receive £28,546 for this in 2018/19. The Welfare Reform Group had investigated alternatives for the best use of this grant funding and considered that Citizens Advice Broxtowe (CAB) was best placed to provide the required support for those residents that are not Broxtowe tenants. The CAB would provide this support through a dedicated Welfare Benefits Caseworker working 30 hours per week at a cost of £19,550 per annum with funding from the DWP grant income. It was proposed that the position commenced from 1 August 2018 for an initial one year period and that any funding not utilised in 2018/19 was carried forward into 2019/20 for this purpose. The Council did not currently hold the relevant information on claimants on UC who were in rent arrears.
A supplementary question was submitted by Councillor Patrick which queried whether residents who were being asked to make payments in November would receive special assistance.
The Chair stated that it was understood that this would be a difficult time to implement the system due to the potential for Christmas spending but the Council would offer the best advice it could.