The Scrutiny Committee received a report on the review of Universal Credit (UC) in Harlow, which outlined the initial impacts on the Council’s Housing, and Revenues and Benefits services, as well as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), claimants and other support organisations.
Representatives from the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), Harlow Advice Centre, and Harlow Food Bank explained some of the challenges posed by the introduction of UC, both on an organisational and an individual level.
The Committee considered specific issues to refer to Cabinet. It was agreed that the following issues would be raised:
a) The online applications process can be complex, and maintaining an online journal can be difficult, especially for particularly vulnerable claimants and those who do not have immediate access to a computer.
b) Additional help is needed to assist certain claimants manage their monthly finances. Monthly payments have caused issues with arrears for some claimants. Allowing more claimants to receive fortnightly payments would help alleviate some of these problems.
c) There had been a significant increase in demand for support services, as well as a sharp increase in the usage of food banks. This included an increase in the number of young families using food banks.
d) Residents in temporary accommodation were particularly vulnerable in instances where one week’s arrears on rent could see eviction.
e) It was still too early to have gained any conclusive evidence with regard to rent arrears and evictions. Therefore it is proposed that a further review be carried out by the Committee in six months’ time.
A Cabinet would be presented with a report by the Chair of the Committee setting out the Committee’s specific concerns.
B It was recommended to Cabinet that it notes the specific issues and concerns raised by external support organisations and contained within their written responses provided to the Scrutiny Committee and contained within the appendices to the report.
C It was recommended to Cabinet that it notes that the Committee will be undertaking another review in six months.