A South Tyneside Council boss today pledged borough residents’ welfare rights will be protected when a new service is introduced from the end of this month.
The borough’s Public Services Alliance (PSA) has written to councillors raising concerns about the merging of the council’s Welfare Rights Service with South Tyneside Homes’ Welfare Reform Team.
It is hoped the new arrangements match the same level of serviceGemma Taylor
The merger has resulted in the loss of eight full-time and one part-time post – achieved through voluntary redundancy – to create the new 18-strong team.
And the newly-merged and renamed Welfare Support Service is going to be provided under the management of South Tyneside Homes.
The present Welfare Rights Service is based at South Shields Town Hall, with staff doing outreach sessions in different parts of the borough.
Those outreach sessions will still operate, but the united team will be based instead at Strathmore House in Rolling Mill Road, Jarrow.
Today Coun Ed Malcolm, the council’s lead member for resources and innovation, said the merger will make the service “more streamlined and proactive.”
Gemma Taylor, borough PSA co-ordinator, said the current service can be accessed directly by all South Tyneside residents and people receive help through telephone advice, appointments and home visits.
She added: “We want to know if this service would now only be for South Tyneside Homes tenants or is it still available to all residents across the borough?”
Coun Malcolm confirmed it would, saying: “Despite Government funding being removed for local welfare support, South Tyneside Council continues to work in partnership with South Tyneside Homes to ensure those affected by the welfare reforms still receive all the support they need.
“One of the ways we are improving the support available is by merging the council’s Welfare Rights Service and South Tyneside Homes’ Welfare Reform Team to provide a more streamlined proactive service to all residents through an integrated team of advisors.
“Although the remodelled team will be in a more central location, a great deal of the welfare service will be outreach in the community.
“While the new service will focus on preventative measures, offering debt and benefit advice, support with budgeting and helping people to sustain their tenancies, specialist debt advice and crisis support will continue to be provided when needed.
“This includes services supporting residents in appealing the decisions of the Department for Work and Pensions on benefits or anything that may result in them losing their home.”