2 Departmental co-operation |
6. The changes to welfare are being implemented
against a backdrop of the Government's localism reforms, reductions
in local authority funding as well as a number of other reforms
affecting local authorities' responsibilities for health, schools
and policing. The wide-ranging and important changes to the welfare
system have been developed by the Department for Work and Pensions
(DWP) and Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).
DCLG explained that DWP was the lead department on welfare reform
except for localised Council Tax Support¯and told us that
DWP was working across government with local authorities, the
Local Government Association and third sector voluntary groups
to implement the reforms.
Some of our witnesses said that the central departments were not
working as well together as they should.
The Welfare Reform Club, a group of welfare reform consultants,
There is a lot of liaison taking place, and a clear
recognition of the need for close working between the DWP and
DCLG. However, the two departments inevitably have different perspectives.
The main difference focuses on central versus local service delivery.
Another concern was that the roles of the departments
were not completely clear. Citizens Advice told us:
As regards Universal Credit, the DWP is clearly the
lead Department, but as the role of local authorities in UC delivery
is not yet clear, neither is that of the DCLG.
7. Durham County Council told us that there is
"clearly some dialogue" between DWP and DCLG but said
that guidance from DWP on taking Universal Credit (UC) into account
in the design of local Council Tax Support schemes had been relatively
late in arriving.
It welcomed the recent establishment of a "local government
reference group for [DWP's UC] implementation task group"
and added that "more of this type of engagement would be
District Councils' Network told us that:
All too often a dialogue with the departments will
be focused upon individual projects or strands of projects which
gives the impression that no one has an overall sight upon the
objective or impact. We remain concerned that this could ultimately
lead to a false economy for the tax payer as the system becomes
increasingly fragmented and results in increasing debt, cash flow
or administrative costs.
Waverley Borough Council said that, because the central
departments, DWP, DCLG and the Treasury, did not share a list
of key contacts for welfare reform implementation at local level
"consistent information is not sent to local authorities"
and information that did come through about UC "often by-passes
members and senior staff because a standard contact address book
The Chartered Institute of Finance and Accountancy added that
it would be important for DCLG and DWP to work closely with the
Department of Health as "welfare reform will have a major
impact on vulnerable people who are often the prime focus of both
social care and the NHS".
8. Looking at the changes as a whole the Welfare
Reform Club said that, although the changes needed to be made
by local authorities to implement welfare reform "could well
be a bigger task than the central departments are currently planning
for, particularly in the early days", it believed that:
the implementation challenges can be overcome, through
the full co-operation and commitment of central government departments,
local authorities and other local stakeholders. The implementation
challenges should not derail a fundamental reform of the benefit
system that is long overdue.
We share the Welfare Reform Club's assessment. It
is not only important for central Departments to co-operate on
policy and implementation but for them to work together to provide
support to local authorities. The
changes to welfare clearly require close co-operation between
DWP and DCLG. We welcome the steps already taken by central departments
to work together on welfare reforms. There may be scope to improve
the arrangementssmall steps such as a single contact list
shared between departments can aid communication and avoid confusion.
We urge the Departments responsible for implementing the
changes to test their systems, in co-operation with local authorities,
and to make any improvements quickly. Departments must not underestimate
the tasks they are asking of local government and they must also
be ready, if necessary, to provide additional support, particularly
when the changes are being implemented.
Guidance from central Government
9. There was criticism from several witnesses
about the quality of guidance from central Government. Waverley
Borough Council, for example described detailed guidance as "patchy".
The timeliness of guidance from central Departments was also criticised.
East Riding of Yorkshire Council said that the lateness of some
guidance posed problems for local authorities:
Local authorities have very long lead in times to
ensure reports go through their own democratic processes, and
when guidance is issued in late November, for example, for a scheme
that has to be agreed by the full council by the end of January,
this leaves very little room for authorities to make changes in
any schemes put forward. This could potentially impact on the
cost of schemes to the local authority.
Citizens Advice told us that:
Little or no specific guidance has been provided
around [Council Tax Support], beyond the criteria for the recently-announced
transitional funding. (The default scheme is not intended as guidance).
Our impression is that the DWP sees this as a matter for the DCLG;
while the DCLG sees it as a matter for [local authorities].
In response, DCLG told us in December that it had
provided local authorities with "guidance and communication
materials" on the changes including the Benefit Cap and local
Council Tax Support. It said that "additional guidance is
planned for issue prior to Universal Credit implementation from
April 2013" including Housing Benefit/Council Tax Benefit
General Information Bulletins. The Department told us that it
also arranged presentations and events working with groups such
as the Institute of Revenue Ratings and Valuation.
10. The changes devolve considerable discretion
to local authorities to develop their own arrangements. It follows
that they will need time to do so. It therefore causes us concern
to be told that local authorities may not have sufficient information
to understand the changes and develop their own schemes, in particular,
for delivering local Council Tax Support and replacements for
the Social Fund. East Riding of Yorkshire Council told us that
local authorities were having to "attend many paid events
to ensure that they maintain a thorough knowledge of the raft
of changes forthcoming, at a time when authorities can least afford
the cost and the resource to do so".
11. Under the welfare changes,
it will be for local authorities to make decisions about how they
operate local schemes. They cannot, however, draw up their schemes
in a vacuum. There are still areas where information is required
and DCLG and DWP must provide local authorities with the information
needed in good time ahead of the start of each phase of the changes
to enable authorities to make informed local decisions and to
understand the changes that will affect their local residents.
Timescale for change
12. We deal with the concerns about the timetable
for specific programmes later in our report. Here, we examine
whether there is a case for delaying the over-arching timetable
of implementation of the welfare reforms by local authorities.
Several witnesses said the timetable was very "challenging"
Lesley Pigott, from Camden Council, said that in "general
local authorities have an excellent track record of delivering
these kind of changes. The problems we are facing at the moment
are the amount of change and the volume that is facing us".
Blackpool Council said that:
Local authorities are faced with implementing numerous
changes for example; localising Council Tax support, Social Fund,
and changes to Local Housing Allowance. It is the volume of these
changes and additional work associated with implementing them
that is a problematic and unrealistic expectation from government.
Blackpool Council was among a number of witnesses
that called for implementation of some or all aspects of the reforms
to be delayed, arguing that "the speed of reform will have
a greater impact on customers" and that "more time would
enable better preparation and communication of changes to customers".
However, other witnesses advised against delay pointing out that
all the publicity currently available (particularly related to
changes on 1 April 2013) gave a clear indication of when changes
would be happening and that announcing changes to the timing of
already announced programmes itself caused confusion and additional
costs for local authorities. Thanet District Council told us that:
The implementation plans for Universal Credit are
already being diluted on a regular basis. From a starting point
of "all claims from unemployed people will go onto Universal
Credit from October 2013" we are now in a position where
we are being told that very little will change for Local Councils
We note that Blackpool Council itself said that changes
were already being made to staffing in its housing department
and that any delay to UC could mean that it would not have enough
staff to continue dealing with Housing Benefit, which is currently
administered by local authorities.
13. Implementation of the welfare reforms will
run from 1 April 2013 to 2017. The changes coming in on 1 April
are those to Council Tax Support, local Social Fund replacements
and the introduction of the Benefit Cap and the Social Sector
Size Criteria. New claims will be migrated into UC in four pilot
areas from 1 April 2013 with the national rollout starting from
October 2013. All existing claims will be migrated between then
14. DCLG told us that "the timetable for
implementation spans a number of years to allow sufficient time
for preparation by local authorities and claimants".
In reference to UC and Personal Independence Payments it said
that, the programme had "been carefully designed to avoid
a big-bang approach and will be extended gradually to different
claimant groups over several years".
15. Changes, including those
to Universal Credit are being rolled out nationally over an extended
period and we agree with DCLG that this should assist local authorities
implementing the changes. Local authorities need certainty about
the timetable for delivering the changes to welfare. We see no
pressing need for a postponement of the main changes. To ensure
that the extended implementation period gives maximum benefit
to local authorities, the Government needs to make sure that all
guidance that it plans to produce is published well in advance
of future implementation dates. The late production of guidance
on the reforms starting on 1 April has affected local authority
consultation plans and, in some instances, may have increased
their costs because of the need to make late changes.
16. Due to the scale of the changes and their
importance to individual claimants, it will be vital for their
implementation that individuals as well as local authorities,
housing associations and advice charities are fully aware of the
changes and how they will be affected. We heard some concerns
that public awareness and awareness among people who will be directly
affected was still limited. Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council said
that residents did not understand the changes despite a "series
of home visits, contact letters and publicity campaigns".
Cllr Graham Chapman from Nottingham City Council said that:
the most important issue is communication. Most of
my constituents still do not have a clue what Universal Credit
is. They do not have a clue, so they do not know what will be
hitting them. They do not understand the expectations about going
online, and they do not understand that they will be paid retrospectively.
They do not understand yet that their housing benefit will go
into the Universal Credit system and they will have to pay it.
It is the human side that I think will be a problem.
17. Kevin Dodd, Chief Executive of Wakefield
District Housing, commented on the extent of publicity on a national
level. He said that there had been "more publicity on digital
switchover to make sure the nation did not lose any episodes of
Coronation Street than for the changes to welfare reform".
18. The level of awareness and
understanding among benefit claimants about the changes to welfare
will inevitably have some impact on the effectiveness of implementation.
Ensuring that recipients are aware of the changes in their local
area is best done by local authorities as they have the local
knowledge to enable them to do it efficiently. There is however,
a role for central Government in highlighting the scale and importance
of the changes. The Government should be encouraging broader awareness
and advising claimants to contact their local authority to find
out more through advertising and in information relating to Universal
10 Ev 89, para 1 Back
Ev 63 [Thanet District Council], Ev w39 para 1 [East Riding of
Yorkshire Council] Back
Ev 70, para 17 Back
Ev 80, para 2.1 Back
Ev w10, para 14 Back
As above Back
Ev w37 Back
Ev 119, para 1 and 2 Back
Ev w24, para 3.3.a Back
Ev 69-70 para 14 Back
Ev 119 Back
Ev w39, para 2 Back
Ev 81 Back
Ev 91, para 12 Back
Ev w39, para 2 Back
Ev w28, para 3.3 [Southwark Council], Ev w10 para 18 [Durham County
Ev 71 [The Welfare Reform Club], Ev 60 para 3.3 [London Borough
of Camden] Back
Q 62 Back
Ev 60 Back
Ev 66 Back
Ev 64 Back
Ev 66 Back
Ev 91, para 19 Back
Ev 92, para 23 Back
Ev w72, para 3.6.1 Back
Q 63 Back
Q 139 Back