2015 01 Welfare Benefits

Sunday 1 February 2015

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In an ad hoc statistical release, published on 28 January 2015, the DWP provided information on PIP new claims. The figures show that the average clearance time between the referral of a new personal independence payment (PIP) claim to an assessment provider and its return to the DWP was 30 weeks in June/July 2014 but in January 2015 it had fallen to 14 weeks. The DWP statistics also show that there are 98,000 new claims outstanding with assessment provider and just over 12,000 awaiting decision from the DWP. The DWP's PIP ad hoc statistics are available from gov.uk – click here.
Universal Credit
According to current planning, the DWP expect that all new claims will be for universal credit during 2016 and that the bulk of migration of legacy benefits should be complete by 2019. In a speech to the Local Government Association (LGA) on 12 January 2015, Lord Freud said:
“Our current planning assumption is that universal credit will be fully available in every part of Great Britain during 2016.
Meaning that virtually all new claims will be for universal credit with the last new claims to legacy benefits being accepted during 2017.
Following this the remaining legacy caseload will progressively decline, and the department will migrate the remaining claims to universal credit.
Should there be no change in the labour market outlook or the pace at which claims are migrated, the current business case assumes, for planning purposes, that the bulk of this exercise will be complete by 2019.”
Lord Freud's speech to the LGA is available from gov.uk – click here
According to data obtained using Freedom of Information requests by the Methodist Church, released on 21 January 2015, people who receive employment and support allowance (ESA) because of a long-term mental health problem are more likely to have their benefits stopped by sanctions than those suffering from other conditions. Furthermore, they are currently being sanctioned at a rate of more than 100 per day - in March 2014, the last month for which data is available, approximately 4,500 people who receive ESA because of mental health problems were sanctioned. Commenting on the findings, which also showed that the most common reason for a sanction was that a person was late or had not turned up for a Work Programme appointment, Paul Morrison, Public Issues Policy Adviser for the Methodist Church, said:
“Sanctioning someone with a mental health problem for being late for a meeting is like sanctioning someone with a broken leg for limping. The fact that this system punishes people for the symptoms of their illness is a clear and worrying sign that it is fundamentally flawed.
Churches have increasingly seen people in desperate need because they have been sanctioned. The suffering and injustice we have seen caused by the sanctions system deserves serious scrutiny.”
For further details see story in ‘The Methodist Church in Britain – .click here.
On 20 January 2015 The Guardian reported that research written by academics at the University of Oxford and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the report raises questions about why so many of those losing their benefit then disappear from the welfare system – possibly to rely on food banks. The research found that, of the 1.9m JSA claimants sanctioned between June 2011 and March 2014, 43 per cent subsequently ceased to try to claim the benefit and only 20 per cent of those who left said that this was because they had found work. Commenting on these findings, Professor David Stuckler of Oxford University said that sanctions -
'... do not appear to help people return to work. There is a real concern that sanctioned persons are disappearing from view. What we need next is a full cost-benefit analysis that looks not just narrowly at employment but possibly at hidden social costs of sanctions.
If, as we’re finding, people are out of work but without support – disappeared from view – there’s a real danger that other services will absorb the costs, like the NHS, possibly jails and food support systems, to name a few. Sanctions could be costing taxpayers more.'
For more information, see ‘Jobs revival’ in spotlight as most of those who lose benefits fail to find work on the Guardian website.
Responding to a written question on changes the DWP has made to its policies or procedures in response to representations about the adequacy of the hardship payments scheme, Employment Minister Esther McVey said:
“Jobcentre Plus has undertaken a comprehensive review of the hardship process. This has focused on strengthening information provided to claimants throughout their engagement with us. All claimants are informed about the application process before a sanction decision is made and before any benefit reduction. Assistance is also provided with the application process where required. We have also sped up the hardship process so all payments are made within three days.
Vulnerable claimants can continue to apply for hardship payments immediately.”
Ms McVey's written answer is available from Hansard – click here.
Food banks
According to figures obtained by the BBC on 16 January 2015, 10,489 people visited the Trussell Trust's 48 foodbanks in Scotland during December 2014 - a 13 per cent increase from the 9,263 people who used one in December 2013. Reasons for using a food bank included:
  • low income - 28 per cent;
  • benefit delays - 24 per cent; and
  • benefit change - 15 per cent.
Commenting on the figures, Ewan Gurr, the Trussell Trust's network manager for Scotland said -
“Everyday we are hearing working people describe the devastating reality of sustaining their families with static incomes and unstable employment against consistently rising costs of essentials like food and rent.
In the most harrowing accounts, we hear from the families choosing whether to prioritise heating their homes or feeding their families and parents losing weight because they overlook their own health and wellbeing to feed their children.”

For more information see Record numbers use Scottish food banks from the BBC website – click here.

Local welfare Schemes
According to a new report from the Centre for Responsible Credit (CfRC) – ‘Where now for local welfare schemes?’ published 15 January 201, there has been a 75 per cent fall-off in the number of households helped in 2013/2014, compared to the financial assistance offered by community care grants and crisis loans prior to 2013. Further, that in its provisional local government funding settlement for England for 2015/2016, an amount of £129.6 million has been proposed for local welfare provision, 26 per cent less than was allocated in the each of the previous two years. Highlighting that there is no statutory obligation placed on local authorities and the devolved administrations to provide local schemes and the budget is not ring-fenced, the report made a number of findings including -
  • one of the biggest factors driving people to local welfare was delays in payments of benefits;
  • although a handful of councils had operated effective schemes, many had suffered low take-up after failing to publicise availability of crisis support, or imposing excessively tight restrictions on eligibility;
  • 85 per cent of local authorities indicated that they had chosen not to make loans available due to the administrative costs, the absence of a simple mechanism to recover (unlike crisis loans which were recovered from ongoing benefit), the lack of expertise to make loans directly, and the fact that they may not be affordable and appropriate to people in financial crisis especially if they are interest bearing.

Commenting on the report, CfRC Director, Damon Gibbons said -

'Goverment’s failure to place local authorities under a statutory duty to provide welfare schemes or to ring-fence the funding has caused a dramatic decline in provision and resulted in a ‘postcode lottery’ across England. Unless it provides a ring-fenced grant of £178 million and takes steps to spread the practices of the best authorities then many of the most vulnerable people in the country will face a stark choice between getting into debt or going cold and hungry.
'Where now for local welfare schemes? is available from the CfRC website click here.
Welfare Reform and Housing
According to a report published on 8 January 2013 - 'Welfare reform impact assessment: Final report', by the National Housing Federation (NHF), two thirds of housing association tenants affected by the bedroom tax are finding it hard to pay their rent. The report also finds that over 90 per cent of housing associations are concerned about increased difficulty in rent collection under universal credit. The Welfare reform impact assessment: Final report is available from the NHF website – click here.
Council Tax Support
According to a new report from the Local Government Association (LGA) published 6 January 2015, an increasing number of councils are asking low-income families to pay council tax. Key findings of the survey of councils include -
  • a total of 45 councils out of 326 continue to provide the same level of discount available under the old council tax benefit regime - 13 fewer than in 2013/2014;
  • in 244 council areas, all householders have to pay at least some council tax regardless of income - 15 more than in 2013/204
  • for 2015/2016, one in seven councils (14 per cent) said they definitely plan to change their discount scheme whilst 83 per cent said they would not change their existing discount scheme, despite funding reduction
  • beyond 2015/16, only 27 per cent of councils said they would maintain their current scheme whilst most were unable to say; and
  • last year's decline in council tax collection rates - only the second since 1993 - was bigger in areas where newly introduced minimum payments were higher.
Commenting on these findings, Chair of the LGA David Sparks said-
"Government reduced funding for council tax support by hundreds of millions of pounds when it handed the responsibility for administering it to councils. As a result, councils would need to find £1 billion by 2016 to protect discounts for those on low incomes. At a time when local government is already tackling £20 billion worth of cuts, this is a stretch too far.
Many councils have been put in an impossible position. This cut has taken millions of pounds out of funding for local services and increased the cost of living for some of society's poorest.
No one wants to ask those on the lowest incomes to pay more. But faced with significant cuts to the money we receive to look after the elderly, protect children, repair the roads and collect the bins, many councils have had little choice but to reduce the discount....
To address this unfairness, government must give local areas the full amount of funding required to provide council tax support to those who need it. Otherwise, it is almost inevitable that further cuts to local government funding in the coming years will further force up bills for those who can least afford to pay."
For more information, including a link to today's report, see ‘Shortfall in council tax support funding likely to hit low-income families’ on the LGA website – click here.

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