30/01/2013 - Permalink

Scrutiny endorses plans in response to new Welfare Reform changes

Related topics: Community / My area

Shropshire’s Safe and Confident Communities Scrutiny Committee have endorsed plans to help tenants adapt to changes to their benefits.

The changes which come into effect from 1 April 2013 have been introduced by central government as part of the implementation of the Welfare Reform Act.  The act introduces the most fundamental changes to the social security system for over 60 years.

The changes to the Welfare Reform will affect those of working age only.  Anyone who is state pension age will not be affected by the changes which include:

  • Under-occupation (the ‘Bedroom Tax’) – from 1 April 2013 there will be a reduction in housing benefit to tenants living in accommodation considered too large for them.
  • Benefits Cap – from 1 September 2013, the Government is setting a limit on the amount of benefit that working age people can get.  The cap will be set at £350 per week for single people and £500 per week for couples, couples with children and single parents.
  • Introduction of Universal Credit – From 1 October 2013 the Government will introduce a new more simplified benefit system which sees a number of benefits being replaced by a single Universal Credit.

Shropshire Council have been working with key partners to help families understand the impact they face well in advance of the changes, and provide advice on the most effective way of obtaining support to manage their budgets.

A Welfare Reform Steering group had been set up which includes Shropshire Council, housing associations and the Citizen Advice Bureau, to look at the Government’s Welfare Reform proposals and examine what the impacts might be.

The council and partners are also assisting the Department for Work and Pensions in a Direct Payment Demonstration Project to examine what would happen once Universal Credit was introduced and payment was made directly to tenants, instead of rent being paid directly to landlords. 

Councillors at the scrutiny meeting were presented with an update of the partnership work being done by the steering group to minimise the impact of the reforms, and the action plan of work to help tenants adapt to the new payment regimes.  Some of the key actions include devising a joint approach with partners to provide advice and support to claimants, supporting people in managing their finances, setting up serviceable bank accounts to enable payments of Universal Credit to be made, and staff training. 

Joyce Barrow, Chair of the Safe and Confident Communities Scrutiny Committee, relayed to councillors a statement from Nick Cummins of Bromford Housing, and Chair of the Welfare Reform Steering Group, which praised the work of the council. 

In his statement Nick Cummins said: 

“At Bromford we work intensively with some 25 councils, and I can say unequivocally that Shropshire as a council over the last 12 months has demonstrated itself to be the most proactive in helping develop a joined up and innovative strategy in response to the issues faced.” 

Joyce Barrow also commented on the work being done, saying: 

“The new Welfare Reforms represent the biggest single challenge we have faced that requires a behaviour change not seen for generations.

“The work outlined in the action plan shows our commitment to finding the most effective service solutions to protect our most vulnerable, and enable our customers to cope throughout this transition.”

Tina Woodward, Shropshire Council’s Deputy Cabinet member responsible for customer care and involvement, said she was heartened by the work done to date, and she felt Shropshire was well-placed to deal with the challenges to come.

As well as endorsing the action plan, councillors also agreed that the progress on the action plan be monitored regularly by the committee.  The committee also agreed that Shropshire Council, Severnside Housing and other interested parties be invited to consider ways of mitigating the effects of the welfare reform changes for the most vulnerable.