A Universal Credit Project team made up of specialists from across East Ayrshire Council will be up and running soon to help residents and tenants transfer to Universal Credit.
Universal Credit, which merges six existing benefits (Child Tax Credit, Housing Benefit, Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance and Working Tax Credit) into one, poses significant challenges for some of our most vulnerable residents and tenants.
The difficulties that can be experienced making and maintaining a claim; delays in receiving the first monthly payment and the need for budgeting and digital skills poses a real threat to some people’s livelihoods.
Some people may struggle to understand the new system or might not have access to a basic bank account for their Universal Credit payment.
There is also clear evidence that rent arrears increase when people move over to monthly Universal Credit payments and the Council must working closely with residents and tenants to ensure that arrears are kept to a minimum to avoid the potential threat of homelessness.
Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit are no longer linked and residents must complete and submit a claim form for Council Tax Reduction. It is essential that people do this to minimise debt levels.
All of these complex factors dictate the need for the new team to be created to support our communities as we move towards a full roll out of Universal Credit.
Councillor Clare Maitland, Cabinet Member for Equalities, Inclusion and Poverty said: “The new Universal Credit Project team, who will work in partnership with our Financial Inclusion team, have a significant role to play in mitigating the effect of Universal Credit on our communities.
“The Trussell Trust has reported that where Universal Credit has been rolled out foodbank use has increased by 52% within the first year so we know that the impact on the most vulnerable people in our communities will be significant.
“It is essential that we put a team in place who can support all aspects of Universal Credit. From providing advice on budgeting, to digital support and ensuring that people have access to support services; the team will work closely with partners in the Department of Work and Pensions to ensure that those who need help receive it as quickly and effectively as possible.”
Councillor Elena Whitham, Cabinet Member for Housing and Communities said: “A very small pilot team has been in place and the new team of Neighbourhood Coaches will build on the excellent work they have started. They will ensure that their approach is always focused on the individual. Everyone will need different levels of support and different levels of coaching. Our aim is to ensure that people are empowered to thrive within their own community. We will be able to put people in contact with learning providers and will be promoting training opportunities.
“Support will be practical, like helping to access bank accounts or the internet and the team will ensure that people experiencing fuel poverty and food crisis have access to suitable services. We will also ensure that each customer service hub in East Ayrshire will have digital assisted support services available.
“Housing Services has been working hard to mitigate the negative effect of Universal Credit and support people to move away from crisis situations. They will continue to work with other local authorities, Registered Social Landlords, the DWP, CoSLA, and the Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers to share local and national experiences and consider any opportunity for collaborative working.”