The Local Support Services Framework released by the government yesterday sets out the structure of Universal Credit, and confirms it will up to the DWP to decide on exceptions to normal payment rules such as paying the housing element of the credit to landlords.
In most cases universal credit will be paid to the claimant, on a monthly basis. For many this will be a change to existing welfare payments, as benefits are usually paid more frequently, and housing benefit often goes direct to the landlord.
There have been many concerns raised about this from homesless charities, campaigners and housing associations, with many saying it will cost the tenants and the landlords money as social tenants will struggle to manage the budget themselves and are likely to go into arrears.
The pilots have even proven this to an extent, as despite the majority passing, and therefore being claimed as a win by the government, there are still many that were unable to make the payments to the landlord, and some even being taken to court to get the money.
The exemptions have been vague until now, and there did not appear to be a system set up to prevent vulnerable people, other that to wait until after they had already struggled and failed, but the framework lists the groups who might qualify for additional support with universal credit, the types of support that might be appropriate, and outlines local structures for the delivery of these services.
The department will be responsible for managing and administering where payments should be made direct to landlords, splitting payments between two adult members of a household as this had previously not been an option, and increasing the frequency of universal credit payments for those that are unable to manage the change to monthly payments.
Groups that could qualify for extra support include homeless people, those who suffer addictions, those with mental health issues, domestic violence victims, and households supported by the troubled families programme. They will be offered help with budgeting and using the online universal credit system, as well as a range of other support, with the aim of eventually moving them off the advice programme.
According to the DWP, a joint network of Jobcentre Plus, local authorities and other local organisations will work together, providing services to benefit claimants who might need help with their budgeting or getting online. Cases will be considered on an individual basis, and some people in vulnerable circumstances could be eligible for alternative arrangements.
Welfare reform minister Lord Freud said:
Universal credit will prepare people for the world of work by getting them to access the benefit online and budget their money in the same way people in work budget. But we know some people will need extra support to manage this, and we’re committed to ensuring that no one falls through the cracks.
We are working with local authorities and local services to determine who will need this extra help – be it money advice services, face to face support or help to get online – and how best to deliver it.
Sir Merrick Cockell, chairman of the Local Government Association (LGA), said:
Universal Credit represents a big change to the benefits system with different demands on how claimants manage their affairs. It makes sense to recognise that people will need help adapting to that new system, and that some will need ongoing support. The pilot areas are already showing that councils will be pivotal to drawing together the public, voluntary and private sectors to help people access benefits online, manage their finances and find work.
I am glad that the DWP and LGA have worked together to recognise that Universal Credit does not end councils’ part in the benefit system, but transforms it from a processing role to a clear focus on helping to change people’s lives.