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Our experience of universal credit

Torfaen County Borough Council is already seeing a significant impact of universal credit since the roll out to full service in July, says Elke Winton.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) reports that already over 1,000 claimants have transferred in Torfaen, (includes joint claimants) with over 700 of these including housing costs.

Some key issues identified to date include: customers not reporting changes of addresses for short term moves resulting in some housing costs not being met with rent arrears as a consequence; and customers being required to inform the DWP if they reside in supported housing, and therefore still falling under the housing benefit scheme for housing costs rather than being transferred to UC full service.

Of significant concern is also how vulnerable universal credit claimants are identified and able to receive appropriate levels of support and assistance – whether these are services provided by the local Jobcentre Plus, the local authority, registered social landlords or other community and third sector organisations.

For example, ensuring vulnerable households can access alternative payment arrangements, advanced payments, discretionary housing payments and/or other methods of support and assistance smoothly and consistently is key. The process is new to claimants and barriers have include include the digital application process and no free telephone number [something that the prime minister promised will change on Wednesday].

A particular concern is how homeless households moving into temporary accommodation are able to make timely universal credit claims and pay rent provided through the local authority. This is already having an impact with the majority of households since the July start date making claims. With delays in claims being as long as seven weeks, the lack of finances not only adds hugely to the stress and worry for households in temporary accommodation who are already vulnerable, but also places a greater rent recovery risk for the council.

How services work together to recognise and target support to those who are most adversely impacted by the roll out of universal credit full service is key to continuing to mitigate the negative impact of this and other welfare reforms.

Elke Winton is group manager housing at Torfaen County Borough Council

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