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Agenda Item No. 7

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Corporate Performance and Resources Scrutiny Committee: 1st September 2016

 

Report of the Managing Director

 

Welfare Reform - Progress Report

 

Purpose of the Report

  1. To update Members on the work undertaken by the Council with regards to the implementation of the UK Government's Welfare Reform agenda.

Recommendation

  1. That the report is noted and that a further update report is provided in December 2016.

Reason for the Recommendation

  1. To ensure that Members are kept updated

Background

  1. The final report of the Scrutiny Task and Finish Group which considered the impact of the implementation of the Welfare Reform changes was presented to Committee on 23rd  April 2013. The report and recommendations were endorsed by Cabinet on 8th  May 2013 and subsequent reports have been made to update this Committee on the impact of the significant Welfare Reform changes on the Council and its residents
  2. Since the last report in November 2015 the changes made and expected are:
  • Introduction of Universal Credit                                        February 2016
  • Universal Support - Delivered Locally                                February 2016
  • Housing Benefit Changes                                                 April 2016
  • Benefit Cap                                                                      Autumn 2016
  • UC Digital Service                                                             Spring 2017
  1. To allow scrutiny of the Welfare Reforms introduction service data previously supplied has been updated at Appendix A for information.

Relevant Issues and Options

Housing Benefit changes from April 2016

  1. From April 2016, the backdating of Housing Benefit claims has been limited to a maximum of 4 weeks. It is too soon to give meaningful information with regards to the impact of this change however the effect of this reform will be monitored. Whenever there are changes made to the welfare schemes generally and Housing Benefit specifically, there is a need to monitor the impact of those changes on the local CTR scheme discretions (currently 26 weeks) to determine whether changes should be made to the local scheme. If there is an identified need following monitoring to consider a change in policy and / or practice this will be reported when sufficient information is available.

Universal Credit

  1. Universal Credit (UC) has been operating in the Vale of Glamorgan since 22nd  February 2016. Since that time, the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) have advised that in the Vale nine UC cases have commenced with regard to Vale residents. Since that date UC claims have been administered by the local Job Centre Plus. These have been claims from new single claimants who would otherwise be eligible for Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) including those with existing Housing Benefit and Tax Credit claims.
  2. Representatives from the DWP have engaged with officers of the Council on the implementation and liaison for delivery of UC in the Vale based on a proven track record of close liaison for the benefit of the local community. The DWP roll-out of UC is to be supplemented by the locally delivered "Universal Support" to provide advice and support to UC claimants. The DWP anticipate that vulnerable and complex customers will require the Universal Support Delivered Locally Framework to assist them, which will be a partnership approach between the Council and the Job Centre Plus.
  3. The slow pace of the implementation of UC has meant that the Council needs to continue to support those on JSA until they are eventually transferred to UC. After that time the Council will still be responsible for Housing Benefits administration for those persons who are clients of the Pension Service and customers in supported accommodation who are presently outside the scope of UC.
  4. The DWP have commissioned Flintshire Council to deliver one-day training sessions entitled 'Universal Credit and Welfare Reform Awareness Raising Sessions' for Councils that are implementing UC. In April and May 2016 Benefits Officers, Social Services Officers and Housing Officers (Homelessness, Ty Iolo hostel, Supporting People, Income Officers and Money Advice staff) undertook training where the facilitator provided a detailed analysis of UC - reviewing how it is going so far, problems and challenges that have both been faced and that have arisen and experiences faced by staff and customers in Flintshire and other areas that have implemented UC for a while. Also provided was information and advice to the Housing staff about direct payment of the Housing Costs element of UC and a general overview of UC and Welfare Reform. If Welsh Government funding was available the facilitator expressed an interest in revisiting the Council later in the year to provide a further update session.

Universal Support Delivered Locally (USDL)

  1. Universal Support is the arrangement being introduced by the DWP in partnership with LAs to provide for local support for UC claimants. Universal Support - Delivered Locally (USDL) is the new name for the Local Support Services Framework.
  2. The introduction of UC has been supported by Universal Support - Delivered Locally (USDL) which was contained in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which was agreed in Cabinet on the 25th  January 2016. The MOU gives the Council a stake in the introduction of UC and comprise:
  • Local service provision from 22nd  February 2016 ;
  • Provide support to UC Service Centre Staff around housing cost issues ;
  • Personal Budgeting Support - for claimants with complex needs and in particular those who require personal budgeting support ;
  • Digital Support - for claimants to get online and stay online by identifying public Internet sites and locations where trained staff can provide supported access ;
  • Manually processing the Local Council Tax Reduction scheme (only where UC has been awarded) ; and
  • Work with UC programme in preparing landlords for the implementation of UC.
  1. The work processes contained in the Memorandum will be monitored to ensure the Benefit Section assists and supports local residents with the implementation of UC using the section's skills in dealing with Housing Benefit Claims. The DWP have made funding available to the Council to help with the above. The adoption of the MOU supports local citizens during the Government's Welfare Reforms as the knowledge and skills of the officers within the Council's Benefit Section is appropriate to deal with the requirements of the Council's commitment within the MOU.
  2. In respect of Personal Budgeting Support the DWP have given an overview of how support will operate for UC. On the provision of personal budgeting support, the DWP identifies two main elements to such support -
  • money advice to help claimants cope with managing their money on a monthly basis and paying their bills on time; and
  • alternative payment arrangements (APA) for some claimants who genuinely cannot manage the standard monthly payment and where there is a risk of financial harm to the claimant or their family. This might include rent paid directly to the landlord, a more frequent than monthly payment or a split payment between partners.
  1. The DWP has set out detailed guidance to decision makers on how to assess a need for money advice and/or alternative payment methods

Benefit Cap

  1. The DWP have advised that the overall household benefit cap applying to Tax Credits, UC and Housing Benefit will be reduced from £26,000 to £20,000 in Wales in Autumn 2016. The first indication is that 160 households will be affected in the Vale of Glamorgan, however this data will be further refined by the DWP and its effect may require the increased use of Discretionary Housing Payments.

Universal Credit Digital Service

  1. The DWP confirmed in October 2015 that the role out of the digital application system for UC would begin in May 2016,  however, as a Welsh language version is required this Digital system role out will be delayed until the Welsh version is completed which is estimated to be the end of 2016 at the earliest, but more likely early 2017. Until the digital system is ready it will mean that a further roll-out of cases across Wales will be limited to the claims from single persons only.

Council Housing

  1. The Housing Services Income Team has continued to monitor income levels and support individuals who have experienced difficulties in paying their rent. The data below highlights the statistics relating to recovery action for the period March 2015 to March 2016. The figures in brackets are the numbers from the previous year 2014/15.
 

Affected by Under-Occupation charge

Not affected by under occupation charge

Introductory Tenancies - Notice of Possession Proceeding Served

1 (0)

121 (133)

Secure Tenancies - Notice of Seeking Possession

146 (146)

677 (522)

Rent Possession Proceedings

23 (26)

86 (116)

Evictions

1 (3) arrears not accrued solely as a result of the U/O charge

11 (15)

     
  1. The annual rent arrears figure in relation to all stock, as at 30th  March 2016, was £201,370 which equates to 1.05% of rental income. This is a deterioration in performance compared to the figure reported last year, however it still compares favourably with almost all other Registered Social Landlords and Councils in Wales. Since the end of the financial year there has been a significant improvement with regards to arrears which stood at £169,854 at the 12th  June 2016 which is a reduction of just over £31,000 since the year end.
  2. A number of challenges were addressed during the year, including staffing changes within the team following the departure of a senior manager, a reliance on agency workers and the recruitment and training up of less experienced staff. The new team is now fully trained and is working effectively to drive performance improvements.
  3. The underlying economic climate and changing welfare benefits continue to pose a challenge and the Income team regularly find themselves working with households who are in a precarious financial situation. Basic assistance and advice is provided by Income Officers however the Money Advise team provides invaluable assistance in more complex situations- helping tenants in a variety of ways including:
  • Maximising the income of our clients
  • Providing budgeting advice
  • Warm House Discount Scheme applications
  • Providing debt advice
  • Application to relevant charity trusts and relief fund
  • Discretionary Assistance Fund application
  • Personal Independence Plan and Disability Living Allowance applications
  • Young Carers referrals
  • Employment Support Allowance applications
  • Attending Tribunals with the customers
  • Supporting/arranging UC claims with the customers.
  1. Over the last year the three advisors have made 561 home visits to clients and successfully secured benefits worth £236,392 via backdated claims, written off debt, additional benefits, preferential tariffs and grants/ loans. The service is provided from Council offices and community buildings as well as home visits to tenants' homes. Assistance can also be provided at short notice, which ensures that crisis situations can be avoided and tenants are able to remain living in their own home.
  2. The Income team have also been preparing for UC, and the work has involved raising tenants' awareness of the benefit changes, producing leaflets, staff training and establishing contacts and working practises with staff in other teams as well as at the DWP who administer UC. To date there are 6 tenants in receipt of UC and the team are working closely with them all to minimise any arrears.

Social Services

  1. Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) have been implemented for new cases of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or where a review is requested by clients in the working age group. In October 2015 the remaining stage of national PIP rollout started in a controlled way, however this does not mean that it is happening to everyone everywhere at the same time. DLA claimants living in all areas of Great Britain will now start to be selected at random to apply for PIP. To date there has not been any record of a detrimental effect on claims for service users.

The Council also continues to monitor increase in debt outstanding however there does not appear to be a noticeable effect attributable to people having less money.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

  1. The anticipated financial implications of Welfare Reforms are reflected in the 2016/17 revenue budget. Due to the anticipated Welfare Reform changes in 2016/17 the DHP budget has been increased by the DWP primarily to account for the changes to the Benefit Cap.
  2. Staff have been kept informed of the changes, however as the transfer to UC remains slow there have not been any significant staffing implications as a result. This may become an issue during 2017/18 as the implementation of UC moves to a digital platform.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

  1. There are no direct climate change implications, however, the Council need to ensure that measures put in place to support welfare reform are financially sustainable.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

  1. The Council is required to administer Council Tax, the Council Tax Reduction Scheme and Housing Benefit in line with government regulations.

Crime and Disorder Implications

  1. Future changes to Benefits may have implications for crime and disorder.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

  1. Central Government and the Welsh Government have assessed the equality implications of the welfare reforms and the Council Tax support scheme. The Council has assessed the implications of the discretions applied to the Council Tax reduction scheme in line with the regulations.

Corporate/Service Objectives

  1. The service objective is to administer and pay Housing Benefits and Council Tax Reduction to eligible claimants.

Policy Framework and Budget

  1. The matter is for Executive Decision by Cabinet. The responsibility for decisions relating to discretions in respect of the Council Tax support is set out within the regulations.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

  1. Ward members have not been consulted as the issue affects all areas of the Council.

Background Papers

None

Contact Officer

Nigel Smith, OM Exchequer

Officers Consulted

Head of Finance

Exchequer Manager

Senior Benefits Officer

OM Public Housing Services               

Head of Business Management and Innovation, Social Services

Responsible Officer:

Rob Thomas, Managing Director

 

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