Recently it seems, never a day goes by without Government Ministers and the DWP taking a pasting (PAC & NAO reports) over the level of management incompetence; the degree of uncertainty that exists with regards to the timing of its proposed national roll-out; and the apparent huge waste of public money, possibly as much as £425M, that is associated with IT development. Not so long ago this “flagship” benefit was being hailed by Coalition Ministers as representing the “silver bullet” which would address all the recognised failings of the existing UK means-tested benefits system.

Most observers, including myself, have endorsed the need for change and applauded the Coalition Government’s attempts to address these critically important issues. Few have questioned the over-riding principles of Universal Credit which, in my opinion, are truly laudable. However, DWP’s handling of Universal Credit planning and implementation has been truly appalling, even worse than I predicted in my article “Hitting The DWP Brick Wall” The system, as proposed, is already more complicated and cumbersome that the one it’s planned to replace and will definitely prove something of a nightmare for tenants and landlords alike when, or should I say, if, it is eventually introduced.

Just the other day, another leaked report emerged, again commissioned by the DWP, suggesting that “equipping benefit claimants with the digital and financial skills to use the government’s new Universal Credit system is likely to cost hundreds of millions of pounds…………………..and reveals how “socially excluded claimants will struggle with the huge cultural and behavioural changes demanded by Universal Credit, and warns that without help, those who fail to get to grips with the new welfare system will face debts, arrears and eviction, leading to a rise in homelessness.

The study, carried out by three London councils, using DWP data and a methodology agreed with Whitehall officials, found they would each need to spend about £6m over a two-year period to support vulnerable claimants to get online, help them open bank accounts and manage monthly budgets. The costs of doing so in London alone is estimated at £100M; a figure which apparently staggered the DWP! The study also suggests councils, charities and private companies will be required to deliver millions of hours of specialist training and support; face-to-face and over the telephone, to ensure claimants are confident and technically proficient enough to use the system. It’s estimated around 10% of users will need intensive and/or ongoing support to meet the new challenges and obligations of Universal Credit.

Ministers and the DWP’s Public Relations team have been pushing, for the past year, the notion that the Local Support Services Network (DWP & Councils collaboration) would help address all such concerns. When I’ve pressed Civil Servants on the topic, they’ve repeatedly told me there would be little chance of any new money being made available, as Ministers had already concluded that the services needed by tenants i.e. support with budgeting and claiming; already existed in councils and RSLs. And as these organisations had a vested interest in tenants maximising their UC entitlement to ensure access to the “housing costs element” they would continue to support tenants, particularly in the initial stages of implementation. Landlords, private and social, now need to press Ministers and the DWP for answers on the funding issue!

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