Good morning,
As I’m sure you’re already aware, Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions announced on Thursday, the DWP’s plans for the next stages in the Universal Credit roll-out. You can read the full transcript here.
a)      The Government’s priority has been to deliver Universal Credit in a “safe and secure  way”;
b)      Once delivered, it will account for some £70 Billion in state benefit expenditure per year; delivering UC to 8 million household in the GB; and producing a saving of £38 Billion over 10 years.
c)       The phased roll-out will continue with the expansion of the Pathfinders, with the three remaining sites due to be delivered by April 2014.
d)      Outcomes from the Demonstration Projects and LA led pilots are all due to conclude in December 2013 and will shape the future plans and guidance for UC.
e)      By the summer of 2014 the DWP hopes to be able to extend “UC eligibility” in the Pathfinders to couples and from the autumn to the more complex cases i.e. families.
f)       By 2016, UC will be in operation in most areas and that the deadline for completion is still the end of 2017, except for ESA claimants, accounting for around 700K out of the anticipated 12 million claimants.
So by his estimation, despite all the recent setbacks, UC will be delivered by 2017 albeit not in the way initially envisaged. It remains to be seen whether this prediction will prove any more reliable that his recent announcements which have proven to be no more than hollow promises.
In addition, he points to the fact that a new digital system will be created to allow full implementation but, in the meantime, the existing IT system will be used to further develop the Pathfinders. The “Claimant Commitment” (CC) an essential part of the UC claiming process and eligibility criteria, is currently being introduced in all Jobcentres (20,000) and should be completed by March 2014.
RSL tenants are already reeling from the effects of the more punitive CC sanctions with 580,000 having their JSA sanctioned since October 2012. Fortunately, most have their Housing Benefit assigned to their landlord, thus safeguarding the rent, at least. However, when UC replaces Housing Benefit and incorporates the “housing element” there’s every chance the tenants affected will use the housing element to offset their sanctioned loss, while waiting to hear if they qualify for a “hardship payment”.
Lord Freud coincidentally published an update to the Local Support Services Framework (LSSF) which again you’ll find on the website. It includes a Q & A which has been developed in conjunction with local authorities and their representative bodies.
As I’ve mentioned in previous bulletins, RSLs really need to familiarise themselves with what is being discussed and agreed with apparently little or no input from associations or their own representative bodies (e.g. NHF, SFHA), despite the fact, in many areas, it will be the housing providers who will be expected to produce the advice and support necessary to deliver UC, with little likelihood of any new funding being made available.
The DWP has seemingly concluded that as RSLs already provide such Money Advice & Welfare Rights support to tenants they will continue to do so at their own expense as they have a vested interest in ensuring tenants maximise their entitlement to UC and the associated “housing element” designed to meet their rent liability, at least in part.
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