To receive the presentation from the Jobcentre Plus and discuss with regard to the following topics as set out in the agreed work programme:
· the benefits to the service users of relocating;
· numbers accessing the service;
· plans to provide a service to Burnham;
· confirmation of ages being seen;
· impact of Universal Credit.
The Chairman introduced Mr Dave Cope, District Operations Manager for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in Essex.
Mr Cope proceeded to provide the Committee with a verbal update. Information provided included:
Universal Credit: Universal Credit (UC) full service was now being
offered. UC was replacing six previous
benefits including Housing benefit, Working Tax Credit with one
application process encompassing all.
The new system was applicable to new claims only with current
claims following a migration process.
Automatic migration had been paused and as a result it may be that
existing benefit holders would not be migrating over the UC this
Mr Cope outlined a number of exceptions to which UC would not apply and reported that since its initial going live in December 2018 120 people had been identified for UC.
· Maldon District: Mr Cope outlined the service provided to the Maldon District and explained that a sustainable solution to extend the service geographically across the District had not yet been identified. A review of resourcing of the Maldon service was being undertaken and Mr Cope indicated that in his opinion more resources may be required. It was noted that the aim was to give as many people in the Maldon District the easiest possible route to intervention.
· Online chat facility – The DWP would be developing an online chat facility, similar to those used by other large organisations, to assist and improve the service provided to customers.
Councillor I E Dobson joined the meeting during this item of business.
Councillor S J Savage declared a non-pecuniary interest in this item of business.
In response to a number of questions raised the following additional information was provided:
· Mr Cope explained how UC was integration of a government system and if a person was working their employer was legally required to report earnings to the HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenues and Customs) which would feed in the UC system.
· In respect of Fraud the majority of this work was carried out by data matching. The Director of Resources advised that the Council had to provide National Fraud Initiative data returns every December / January and the Government then sent a list of matches back which then had to be individually reviewed.
· Mr Cope referred to flexibility and how a number of changes had been made to working arrangements to move away from concentrating on those that can easily be helped to addressing those persons who have complex needs and UC provided the flexibility to do this.
· Members were informed that there were delays at the start of a claim process. Payments for UC were made monthly to try and align it more to being in work than the traditional system. The problem with this was that the first payment was not due for a month once a claim have been made, however there were advanced payment options and exceptions which could be applied. Mr Cope referred to the support available to customers through the Citizen Advice Bureaus (CAB) and Local Authorities.
· Mr Cope highlighted the main differences between the old system and the new UC and reported that a number of customers found the new system very straightforward. Monthly budgeting was essential as customers were paid directly whereas previously the DWP had, for example, paid rent directly to landlords. It was noted that agency work was encouraged under the new UC. It was essential for all customers to have photographic identification (ID) and the DWP provided assistance for those not in possession of this.
· In respect of sustainability, the UC business case was based on the billions it would save because it sought to incentivise work. Mr Cope informed Members that it was virtually impossible to be better off on benefits if a customer was on UC.
· It was explained that second properties were identified through data matching. UC was also designed as a joint claim, and if a customer had a partner (notified to the DWP) they would also have to claim.
· Tax credits were to be phased out as UC was rolled out fully.
· The Service to those residents in the rural areas such as the Dengie was raised and in response Mr Cope highlighted that previous strict requirements for a customer to attend an office on a set date and time were given flexibility under UC. In light of this work was being undertaken to identify alternative interventions, such the use of skype. It was reported that a new Government IT project would assist in providing the hardware required by Officers to implement this.
· The DWP had recently contracted the CAB to provide a “help to claim” service to assist customers getting online and with debt advice. Funding for this service had been previously been given to Local Authorities but it was noted that the majority contracted this to the CAB.
· The Group Manager - Customers referred to the service provided by the DWP to the most vulnerable residents of the Maldon District alongside work with a number of other partners including, the CAB, Home Start, One Support, Drug and Alcohol Services. The Group Manager - Customers confirmed that the Council was committed to work with the DWP to continue to have co-location at the Council offices and build upon the service offered.
· UC included a youth obligation and therefore those under 25 engaging with the DWP received intensive support from day one. Mental health was a huge aspect and the DWP engaged with as many partners as possible. It was noted that youth unemployment had dropped in the last few years.
The Chairman thanked Mr Cope for attending the meeting and his informative presentative.