City Council takes action to help minimise the impact of Universal Credit

Plymouth City Council is taking a wide range of actions in an effort to minimise the impact of the Government’s introduction of Universal Credit on vulnerable families.

A report to the Cabinet updates on ongoing work to provide support to families affected following a Council Select Committee report in March which highlighted the risks to those affected by the changes.

It says since the introduction of Universal Credit councils, housing associations and landlords have seen an increase in rent arrears, while foodbank use has increased by 30 per cent.

A National Audit Office report has also raised concerns that the impact of Universal Credit on vulnerable claimants and on other agencies was not properly assessed. It said the business case for Universal Credit was unproven, the DWP could not show conclusively that it would increase employment, reduce fraud, error and administrative costs and the project was not value for money.

The Council has made protecting residents from the worst of the impact of Universal Credit a priority and one of the administration’s 100 pledges is to work with advice agencies and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to ensure that people in the city “get the support they need to navigate this complex and broken system”.

The Cabinet report says ongoing actions being taken following the Select Committee’s recommendations include:

  • Assessing the impact of Universal Credit on children in Plymouth who receive school meals and the potential for them to lose their entitlement.
  • Ensuring the impact of Universal Credit is considered as part of ongoing work in the city to tackle child poverty.
  • Improving data sharing and communication between statutory and non-statutory agencies, landlords and the community and voluntary sector –though the Council is waiting for the DWP to provide it with information and data it has requested.
  • Using Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) wherever possible. An additional £40,000 has been awarded to clear rent arrears, with total DHP spend for 2017/18 rising to £548,000 from an allocation of £725,000.
  • Encouraging local businesses to introduce a payroll deduction scheme in order to promote a credit union.
  • Providing further training for staff so they can signpost support for Universal Credit customers
  • Holding a further Select Committee review on the impact of Universal Credit in September.

Councillor Chris Penberthy, Cabinet Member for Housing and Co-operative Development, said: “As a Council we are being proactive in working with partners in to try and minimise the impact of this fundamentally flawed Government scheme on vulnerable Plymouth families.

“Even after a National Audit Office report showed that the DWP had underestimated the impact of Universal Credit on some claimants and that flaws in the system had added to hardships, the Government has refused to stop its implementation.

“All the evidence shows that the Government has not fully considered the impact this flawed system have on some families, or on other organisations.

“We are committed to doing our absolute with other agencies to ensure that people get the support they need to navigate this complex and broken system. This includes ensuring customers are able to receive all the financial assistance they are eligible for.”