From the TUC

Universal Credit – abandoning the local service?

20 Apr 2012, by Guest in Society & Welfare

October 2013 sees the start of the Universal Credit roll out as a household benefit paid monthly. 19 million people will be affected by 2017. It also marks the start of the abandonment of ‘localism’ by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) when it comes to the ‘local’ benefits service. For 20,000 local government employees, currently delivering housing benefit, they will literally see half their workloads ‘starting to dry up’. (UNISON has produced a briefing setting out why Universal Credit is an issue for Local Government.)    

Starting with new out of work claimants, applications will be made over the ‘internet’ but with a new style of call centre back up.

The starting point, I said to our telephony collaboration teams based in Newcastle, was just think of a contact centre, but it has got no people in it and think of an operating model that has got no back office, and start from there

Steve Dover (Director of Major Programmes at DWP).

But what about the 8.2 million people who have never used the internet of whom 3.89 million are disabled people? (ONS 2011 Q4). At the moment, there are no answers to the following basic questions about the Universal Credit service:

  • Will someone be able to apply locally?
  • How will someone apply locally?
  • Where will they apply locally, where will the local ‘Universal Credit’ office be and what office accommodation will be used?
  • What documents will they need and where will they take them locally?
  • How many staff will be needed?
  • How does someone get face to face advice and help if they have a problem?

Claimants face other obstacles that may prevent or frustrate access to Universal Credit. First there is the introduction of ‘Identity Assurance’ for the individual claimant to secure access to the system; then there is the issue of bank accounts – the number of working age adults without access to a transactional (current or basic) bank account was estimated to be 1.54 million in 2010. Calls from a landline to 0845 numbers are expensive (and from mobiles even more so) as you start paying from the moment you join the queue.

Delivering Universal Credit will also depend on HMRC delivering the new Real Time Information system for PAYE to provide the raw data for the Universal Credit calculations. Questions such as – What do we do about the PAYE taxpayer John E Smith who claims Universal Credit as John Edward Smith? – seem to remain unresolved and BBC Radio 4 Moneybox (14 April 2012) found it simply could not get through to HMRC last week.

Whether Universal Credit is delivered successfully will depend on the quality of the service. UNISON argues that DWP is making a major error in failing to include a local delivery element within the delivery arrangements, taking the opportunity to utilise the skills and experience of the 20,000 housing and council tax benefits staff that currently delivery a quality service. Talk of ‘pilots’ when every part of the country is affected misses the point – what is needed is a ‘local element’ to an integrated benefits service.

For millions of people, in and out of work, Universal Credit will be critical to their household incomes. But the Universal Credit service is being designed without a local service delivery element. UNISON warns that this approach is badly mistaken.

6 Responses to Universal Credit – abandoning the local service?

  1. Bill Kruse
    Apr 20th 2012, 9:21 am

    Perhaps it’s designed to fail so we all die. #uselesseaters #thintheherd

  2. Murdo Ritchie
    Apr 20th 2012, 4:07 pm

    This post ignore one of the most frightening features of this change.

    Prior to the change let’s use an individual on Jobseekr’s Allowance. Such a person currently receives:
    Jobseeker’s Allowance plus
    Housing Benefit (Actual Rent) plus
    Council Tax Benefit (Actual Council Tax liable)

    Because of this centralisation it is likely to become:
    Jobseeker’s Allowance plus
    Nominal Rent (ie what the government thinks the rent should be) plus
    Nominal Council Tax (ie what the government thinks the Council Tax should be.

    Nominal Rent and Nominal Council Tax are likely to be well below the actual rent and actual Council Tax leaving the claimant to make up what may become a considerable shortfall.

    This is what frequently occured before Housing Benefit and the Council Tax came into existence.

    It can only lead to greater numbers of homeless people and massive increases in suffering.

  3. patrick newman
    Apr 24th 2012, 9:25 am

    This in the context of the Government ‘incetivising’ the unemployed to seek jobs that dont exist and paying vast sums to companies to help claimants discover that there are no jobs. It is a classic Tory belief that the poor need sticks but the rich must have carrots!All in the cause of a form economics that originates from Mr Micawber and Marie Antoinette.

  4. Bill Kruse
    Apr 24th 2012, 10:23 am

    I’d reply to Patrick that the Work Programme is a scam designed to transfer money from the public purse into private companies, pure and simple. There was once, I believe, a Work Programme which actually worked. That was in a boom time though and it was scrapped by David Blunkett in favour of the kind of Work Programme we see today run by A4E complete with derisory success rate. David Blunkett went on to receive a handsome consultancy from A4E where to my knowledge he received nothing at all from the original successful programme. I believe he still gets this annual fee today. Exactly what A4E consult him on remains, so far as I know, unknown. I would suggest there’s the real motive behind the Work Programme and for most politicians these days that’s the reason for entering politics, you get you hands on that ever-growing mountain of public cash and dish it out to whomever is prepared to pay you the most for the privilege. The interests of the despised electorate don’t come in to it.