Universal Credit implementation: monitoring DWP's performance in 2012-13 - Work and Pensions Committee Contents

4  Support for vulnerable claimants

Local Support Services Framework

54. As we have noted, our 2012 report focused on the challenge of implementing UC safely for vulnerable claimants.DWP has acknowledged that some UC claimants are likely to require advice and support with budgeting and using IT under the UC system.[55]Although the recent public debate about UC has been dominated by the more fundamental problems with development of the UC programme, the ways in which vulnerable claimants will be supported remains a key challenge. The Government has still not set out in detail how this support will be provided and funded.

55. We have explored the treatment of housing costs support under Universal Credit in a recently published wide-ranging report on housing benefit reforms. This looked in detail at the implications for vulnerable groups of the housing costs element of UC being paid to claimants rather than direct to landlords, in combination with the change under UC to claimants receiving a single monthly household benefit payment instead of more frequent instalments of benefits paid for specific purposes, most notably rent. We were particularly concerned about how vulnerable claimants can best be assisted to manage their UC payments under these new arrangements, to try to avoid the risk of rent arrears.[56]

56. DWP published a Local Support Services Framework (LSSF) jointly with the Local Government Association (LGA) in February 2013, which aimed to address these sorts of issues affecting vulnerable claimants.[57]The Minister for Welfare Reform (Lord Freud) told us recently that the LSSF was "almost as important as Universal Credit itself".[58]It sets out a very broad framework for how support for vulnerable claimants might be delivered locally, through partnership working between DWP, local authorities, and contracted providers such as housing associations, including in the voluntary sector.[59]An "update and trialling plan" for the LSSF was published in December 2013. However, no indication has yet been provided of the level of funding that the Government envisages for the LSSF. DWP has said that it expects to provide a comprehensive version of the LSSF in autumn 2014.[60]

57. Regarding arrangements in the devolved administrations, the LSSF stated that DWP was in discussion with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) and the Scottish Government to establish how the LSSF can best be delivered in the context of the existing Community Planning Partnership.In Wales, Local Service Boards,which are led by local government but which have multiagency membership, are considering how best to support claimants affected by welfare reform.[61] In the LSSF update and trialling plan CoSLA and the Welsh LGA confirmed these arrangements for providing support.[62]

58. Lord Freud described the LSSF as "almost a parallel UC exercise" with the aim of creating "a series of partnerships in the various local areas to make sure that the vulnerable people are supported in the way that they need to be". He acknowledged that it was"going to be a major exercise" but the aim was that the claimant would be supported "as an individual" not on a "service line basis".[63]

59. Witnesses representing local government, housing providers and the voluntary sector have all argued in evidence to our recent related inquiries that they need a clear indication soon about the specific tasks they will be expected to carry out under the LSSF, and the funding which central Government will allocate to them, so that they can plan and budget for these new responsibilities.[64]

60. The Government has acknowledged that vulnerable people will need support to adjust to Universal Credit. It has set out in its Local Support Services Framework (LSSF) how it envisages this support being provided in partnership with local authorities, housing providers and the voluntary sector. However, the initial version of the LSSF published in 2013 lacked detail on how it would operate in practice, including the funding arrangements. We regretDWP's lack of progress in giving its LSSF partners a clear indication of the additional responsibilities they will be expected to take on under this new arrangement and, crucially, the central government funding they can expect to receive. The Government has acknowledged that the LSSF is "almost as important as Universal Credit itself". We recommendthat it therefore ensures that detailedinformation about its operation and funding is set out when the final version of the LSSF is published in autumn 2014.

55   Government response to the Committee's Third Report of Session 2012-13, Universal Credit implementation: meeting the needs of vulnerable claimants, February 2013, Cm 8537, paras 23-26 Back

56   Fourth Report of Session 2013-14, Support for Housing Costs in the Reformed Welfare System, HC 720, Chapter 8 Back

57   DWP/LGA,Universal Credit, Local Support Services Framework, February 2013 Back

58   Oral evidence taken in the inquiry into support for housing costs on 12 February 2014, Q630 Back

59   DWP/LGA, Universal Credit Local Support Services Framework, February 2013 Back

60   DWP, Universal Credit: Local Support Services-Update and Trialling Plan, December 2013 Back

61   DWP/LGA, Universal Credit: Local Support Services Framework, February 2013, p 5 (Local Authority Introduction) Back

62   DWP, Universal Credit: Local Support Services-Update and Trialling Plan, December 2013, pp 4-5 Back

63   Oral evidence taken on 9 December 2013, HC 867, Qq52 and 69 Back

64   See Second Report of Session 2013-14, The role of Jobcentre Plus in the reformed welfare system, HC 479, paras 61-70; and Oral Evidence taken in the inquiry into Support for Housing Costs in the reformed welfare system,15 January 2014, Q360 Back

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Prepared 9 April 2014