South Tyneside Council prepares for Universal Credit roll out in borough
Concerns have been raised to council chiefs about the impact Universal Credit (UC) will have on South Tyneside when it rolls out next month.
The UK-wide benefits overhaul will see UC paid to claimants on a monthly basis as opposed to six ‘legacy’ benefits it replaces – including job seekers allowance, child tax credits and housing benefits.
Under the new system, claimants receive a payment by direct debit which is reduced as earnings increase and can be claimed by people both in and out of work.
All UC applications must be made online and all claimants must have a bank account to receive payment, with South Tyneside Homes and the council hosting several presentations to inform residents of changes.
Yesterday (Wednesday, April 18), South Tyneside Council’s cabinet received a report from the people select committee raising concerns about the impact and risks of the UC rollout.
The UC ‘live service’ became active in South Tyneside in February 2016, with low numbers of claimants over the last two years having minimal impact on council services, the report states.
It adds this will “change significantly” once the full digital service rolls out on May 30 with the council needing to put measures in place to deal with demand.
Concerns include spikes in rent arrears for council-owned properties and private landlords taking a “risk adverse approach” to taking on UC claimants as tenants.
As a result, the report states, “barriers to housing homeless residents in the private sector” could be created in direct opposition to the council’s duties under new law, the Homelessness Reduction Act.
Coun Anne Hetherington, delivering the report to cabinet, said in other UC roll out areas, disabled people with limited internet access have been affected alongside a rise in private loans, arrears and food bank use.
She added there was a “need for awareness and communication” across South Tyneside and that outreach work should take place ahead of the roll out date.
This includes access to digital facilities through libraries, developing tenant skills such as budgeting and managing priority debts and working with the Citizens Advice Bureau to increase claimant numbers.
Coun Jim Foreman, also adressing cabinet on the report, said UC would put “extra pressure” on South Tyneside Homes and called for a “hotspot map” to show people where nearest digital facilities are.
He added the roll out would “be a bit of tsunami” and a “a very worrying time”.
Other concerns in the report include “digitally excluded” residents, those who are self-employed or claiming free prescriptions or people with historic debts due to overpayments.
Cabinet member for housing and transport, Allan West, said: “The roll out of UC will have a significant impact on our communities but we will continue to do everything we can to support residents.”
He backed reccomendations for the council’s head of development services to prepare a response for cabinet, adding “these actions give us an opportunity to minimise the impact of UC on our most vulnerable residents.”
South Tyneside Council’s cabinet agreed to all recommendations covering UC roll-out preparations, including providing staff training that “meet needs and effectively signposts to services in the borough”.
Cabinet also agreed to schemes promoting UC to staff, support agencies and thel public and to work with South Tyneside Homes and Citizens Advice Bureau to address debt problems with tenants at earlier stages.
Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service