Full universal credit to be rolled out across whole of North West
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Universal Credit and also in Central Government
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The government's flagship reform of the benefit system, universal credit, is to be rolled out in full across the whole of the North West from June.
Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Freud said: "We now have 10 sites successfully running universal credit in England, Scotland and Wales and the next step is to open the new benefit to claimants across the North West – as part of our safe and secure roll-out.
"Universal credit is helping to ensure that work pays and is part of the government’s long-term plan to get more people into work and off benefits."
The roll out across the North West will bring with it direct payments to social housing tenants.
Bob Taylor, CEO of the First Ark Group, which includes Knowsley Housing Trust, one of the housing associations that will see housing benefit paid directly to its tenants under the roll out, said: “Although the expected roll out of universal credit has been widely acknowledged, it is the time between press release and roll out that is surprisingly quick.
"This will worry significant numbers of claimants who may be affected and who are already struggling with previous changes in benefits and how have literally been struggling to live. Communication between the DWP and local authorities is essential to make sure we know who is affected and who is not so that those people can understand what it will mean for them.
"The speed of the roll out is likely to cause significant problems for many organisations in readying their teams to actually cope with the requirements and do their best to make them work.
"One of the key points about universal credit is about encouraging people into work and the statement we hear time and again about the commitment to make work pay. If the government is really committed to making work pay it should implement the living wage as a replacement for the minimum wage across the UK with immediate effect.”
Sue Ramsden, National Housing Federation policy leader, added: “Housing associations working in the North West need a clear timetable for universal credit roll out so they can work with tenants to prepare.
"Although we now know the probable areas for the next stage of roll out there is still no clear indication of where and when tenants will be affected.
"The federation fully supports the need to ‘prove before you move’ on universal credit and DWP and housing association partners must be confident that systems are working before bigger numbers and more complex claims come in.”
Some of UC's elements have already been rolled out across the country, including a 'claimant commitment' where jobseekers must agree to search for work 35 hours a week
As part of the new system, the government has pledged more equipment for jobseekers to search for work online, and a transformation in the relationship between claimants and their jobcentre adviser to focus their search for work.
From June, jobcentres across the North West will gradually come 'online' until the whole region is covered. In total 90 jobcentres, or 1 in 8 jobcentres in Britain, will offer UC once the North West expansion is completed.
The government claims that UC will bring £35 billion of benefits to the economy when fully rolled out.
Justin Freeman, head of income management at City West Housing Trust, another of the housing associations that will affected by the roll out, said: “Moving to universal credit will clearly be a huge challenge for many of our customers who are still adjusting to changes in benefits that have already happened. Our role in supporting customers whilst protecting our income stream is crucial. At City West, this is at the core of our response to welfare reform and we have already helped hundreds of customers to manage the existing changes.
“One of the main stated aims of universal credit is to encourage people into work and that’s something we’ve been prioritising as part of our response to welfare reform. We believe an appropriate focus on supporting customers into employment is beneficial in terms of being able to manage the changes and we are continuing to delivered work preparation, apprenticeship and traineeship schemes to help people into careers.
“While there are obvious challenges, we see universal credit as real opportunity to build on the relationships we have with our customers, use our unique position to communicate the changes to them and make use of customer intelligence to tailor services in the most appropriate way. The effective use of intelligence is key as universal credit is rolled out and we look forward to working in partnership to do the best we can for our customers.”
Twelve local authorities are currently in discussions with the government about UC's North West expansion: Salford City Council; Wirral Borough Council; Preston City Council; St Helens Borough Council; Cheshire East Council; Cheshire West and Chester Council; Trafford Borough Council; Bolton Borough Council; Bury Borough Council; South Ribble Borough Council; Sefton Borough Council; Knowsley Borough Council.