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Councils to help people claim Universal Credit online

By Richard Johnstone | 11 February 2013 

Local authorities have agreed a deal with ministers to help vulnerable benefit claimants apply for the new Universal Credit online.

As part of a framework published today by the Department for Work and Pensions and the Local Government Association, authorities will also help claimants manage their finances.

Universal Credit will merge six existing benefits into one monthly payment, and is being designed so people can both make a claim, and report any changes in circumstances, online.

This has led to concerns that some vulnerable people, who do not have access to the internet, will face difficulty in getting benefits they are entitled to.

However, welfare reform minister Lord Freud said the department was determined to ensure ‘no-one falls through the cracks’, adding that the agreement with town halls would provide support on a case-by-case basis. Council workers and Jobcentre Plus staff will work to assist people who are unable to get online.

The Local support services framework also stated that councils will help local people with budgeting. Once Universal Credit is introduced from October, payments will be made monthly, prompting fears that some claimants, used to weekly or fortnightly payments, will struggle to make their money last for a month. Councils will now identify people who might not be able to cope under the new system and will need more frequent payments.

Announcing the plans for support, Freud said Universal Credit would ‘prepare people for the world of work by getting them to access the benefit online and budget their money in the same way people in work budget’.

He added: ‘But we know some people will need extra support to manage this, and we’re committed to ensuring that no one falls through the cracks.

‘We are working with local authorities and local services to determine who will need this extra help ­– be it money advice services, face-to-face support or help to get online – and how best to deliver it.’

LGA chair Sir Merrick Cockell said Universal Credit represented a big change to the benefits system. ‘It makes sense to recognise that people will need help adapting to that new system, and that some will need ongoing support,’ he added.

‘I am glad that the DWP and LGA have worked together to recognise that Universal Credit does not end councils’ part in the benefit system, but transforms it from a processing role to a clear focus on helping to change people’s lives.’

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It appears sensible to use existing partnerships within local areas to support people in the community with this major change in how they deal with their finances. However I have concerns as the funding implications are vauge in the consultation. It appears there is an expectation that the DWP will fund the "extra" costs of the framework but fails to acknowledge the cut in over local government funding and specifically the cut in housing benefit admin grant. Given the scale of funding cuts in local government an early indication of funding for the local support services framework is essential.

Robin Vennard (11/02/2013 16:14:21)