Lesley Seary, Chief Executive L.B.Islington was present at the meeting
and gave evidence to the Committee.
Robbie Rainbird, Head of Processing Corporate Resources was also present and made a presentation to the Committee (copy interleaved)
During discussion the following main points were made –
· The Government will not extend the 2 child limit on UC for children born before April 2017 when the policy came into effect, benefitting around 15000 families. This was due to take effect from 1 February 2019
· From July 2019 a pilot to support 10000 people from legacy benefits on UC in a test and learn approach
· Pilot schemes to provide more frequent payments for new claimants, a new online system for private landlords and a more flexible approach for childcare provision
· A recent high court case has found the DWP has been wrongly interpreting the UC regulations
· There are changes to those in receipt of an existing benefit that includes the Severe Disability Premium are prevented from naturally migrating to UC following a change in circumstances. These claimants will continue to receive the relevant legacy benefit(s) appropriate to their change in circumstances and will only move to UC via managed migration, and will therefore, at that time be eligible for transitional protection; safeguarding their existing benefit entitlement
· Change from mixed age couples from 15 May 2019 – From May 2019 mixed age couples where one partner is above the State Pension age and will no longer be entitled to put in a new claim for Pension Credit
· Mixed age couples could potentially lose out on up to £7000 per year, because they will have to claim working age benefits
· The average age group for mixed-age couples is 2.6 years, meaning the cash loss incurred before the younger partner becomes old enough to claim pension credit, could be over £18000. Where the gap is greater the potential total lost will be more
· It was noted that changes from the Government on UC were received but these changes are often complex and staff had to be trained and updated on these
· Lesley Seary stated that she was the Chief Executive’s voice of Local Government in relation to views on UC. She added that she had argued for a number of changes in UC
· Reference was made to the problems experienced by family carers in completing UC claim forms, and that this was often a difficult process for them emotionally and a hard copy of the form should be made available so that they could see what they had completed, if they were unable to complete the online form in the time allocated. Lesley Seary stated that she would take this issue up
· Lesley Seary stated that she represented Local Government on the Universal Credit Programming Board, and that this focused on suggesting changes to the system. Changes that had arisen as a result of this included lobbying for redundancy staff for HB staff made redundant as a result of the introduction of UC, budgeting advances, and temporary accommodation and UC. Submissions on UC had also been submitted to the Select Committee for Work and Pensions
· Discussion took place as to family carers and that the completion of on line forms was a difficult task emotionally, and it would be beneficial if a hard copy of the form was available so that this could be completed, giving more time for the online application to be completed within the timescale given
· Lesley Seary stated that it was frustrating that the DWP/Government did not seem to recognise the ‘wrap around’ care provided by Local Government to assist residents, particularly in relation to vulnerable residents. The cost of dealing with vulnerable clients on UC ultimately would fall on the ‘public purse’
· Concern was expressed that the CAB, who had been awarded the contract to assist residents with support for UC, would not be funded or staffed adequately to do this effectively. Whilst the CAB were working in partnership with the Council,
· Reference was made to the fact that the online form had to be completed to say that a claimant is available for work, even though they had a disability that precluded this. In addition, it was stated that some claimants would view the Council as part of the state apparatus, and that they may be reluctant to discuss financial issues with them
· A Member stated that the Committee had been informed that claimants were only entitled to 12 food vouchers and that this was not enough for families.
· The view was expressed that Government did not appear to accept the co-relation between the increased use of Food Banks, and the introduction of UC
That the Chief Executive be requested to follow up the issues raised above with the Universal Credit Programming Board and other appropriate bodies, including the increased use of food banks since UC had been introduced, the number of food vouchers that can be issued to claimants, the fact that a hard copy of the online form should be made available ,and also the fact that claimants needed to stated their availability for work when completing their on line claim (even though they may have a disability that precludes this).
The Chair thanked Lesley Seary and Robbie Rainbird for attending