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24th of March 2015

Work and Pensions Committee Report: ‘Benefit Sanctions Policy Beyond the Oakley Review’

The UK Government’s Work and Pensions committee have published a report detailing their findings of an investigation into benefit sanctions, to which CHC submitted evidence on behalf of Welsh housing associations at the end of 2014. The findings most notably include a recommendation that an independent review is undertaken to establish whether benefit sanctions are being fairly applied. CHC’s response was strongly in favour reforming the sanctions system and we welcome the committee’s recommendations. Many of the findings concur with the evidence CHC submitted.

Key points:

Independent Review

The Committee has called for an independent review to investigate ‘whether sanctions are being applied appropriately, fairly and proportionately’, as soon as is practicable in the next parliament. The government is obliged to respond to this recommendation.

Communication

The Committee noted the evidence that communication of information around sanctions from the DWP to claimants was at times unclear and welcomed proposed changes to how this is undertaken. The report goes on to state: “we recognise that (this) is only one aspect of the sanctions regime that needs to be addressed, and does not address concerns about sanctions implementation and a target-driven culture”. One of the aspects that we highlighted in our evidence was the suggestion that the DWP were working to sanctions targets and we called for cultural change in the department. Similarly, the report notes that many claimants are uncertain over whether a sanction has been applied, an uncertainty which, as the Oakley Review highlighted, has arisen in large part because of poor communication from DWP. Such confusion can often feed through to self-reported statistics about the role benefit sanctions may play in the requirement for emergency food aid, potentially leading to false conclusions being drawn. They therefore recommend that DWP carry out further work with the Behavioural Insights Unit to ensure that claimants understand their position within the benefits system, their underlying entitlements and, when changes to their benefit payments occur, what the reasons are for this. This ties in directly to our evidence provided, which stated: “There is evidence to suggest that in many cases, far from sanctions encouraging people into work, often those affected have no idea what they are being paid, what it is for and why their income has increased/reduced”.

Discretion

The Committee recommends that contracted Work Programme providers be given guidance on using their discretion, so that claimants are not sanctioned for circumstances beyond their control. In our evidence we recommended that: “claimants ought to receive the benefit of the doubt and application of benefit sanctions should be seen as a very final resort”.

Warnings

The Committee recommends that the DWP pilot written warnings and non-financial sanctions for first time Work Programme failures.

Housing Benefit

The Committee recommends that the DWP clarify in their response to this report, the extent to which Housing Benefit payments have been incorrectly impacted by Jobseekers Allowance sanctions, as identified by the Oakley Review; the steps it has taken—beyond advising claimants themselves to inform their local authority when they are sanctioned—to address the issue; and whether robust systems are now in place to ensure that the issue no longer arises. We recommended that the DWP examine their practices in relation to HB, so that it is not stopped when a claimant is sanctioned.

Testing Sanctions’ Impact on Work Take-Up

Our evidence included a quote from a YMCA report which referred to the punitive nature of sanctions and discussed how the evidence available suggested that benefit sanctions were not having the positive effect of moving people into work. The Committee appears to concur that this perception is an issue and has recommended that the DWP engage in evaluation to provide evidence that the sanctions regime is indeed effective in improving the number of people moving off out-of-work benefits and into work.  Similarly, they recommend that in-work sanctions are not put into place until evidence has been provided that they will have the required effect.

Vulnerable Claimants

CHC raised concerns about the impact of sanctions on the health and wellbeing of our tenants, following reports from Bron Afon that their tenants’ mental health was a concern during their Direct Payment Demonstration Project. The Committee recommends that the DWP, drawing on specialist advice from health experts, develop guidance on vulnerability which is specifically intended to assist JCP staff in identifying vulnerable JSA claimants, including those with mental health problems and learning disabilities, who may face difficulties in understanding and/or complying with benefit conditionality.

ESA Sanctioning

The report states that the Committee “believe there is a risk that ESA conditionality is still not properly balanced by effective employment support.” They therefore recommend that DWP review ESA sanctioning in relation to the Work Programme, accelerating development of more effective support for this group, and prioritising the updating of regulations early in the next Parliament, to empower Work Programme providers to be able to accept “good cause” (i.e. good cause for not being able to comply fully with Work Programme demands).

Investigation of Claimant Deaths

Following a number of claimant suicides, the Committee recommends the establishment of an independent investigative body which can look into all such instances, modelled on the IPCC.  

9th of February 2015

Direct Payment of Housing Benefit - Welsh Government Report

The Welsh Government has produced a final report of the Task and Finish Group established last year to consider the impact of Direct Payment of Housing Benefit in the Social Rented Sector and Sustainable Tenancies. The Task and Finish Group, which included representation from Community Housing Cymru and some of our members alongside a range of other interested parties, put forward a total of 15 recommendations. Several of these require action from social landlords if they are to be taken forward, although it should be noted, many are already in progress (for example, Recommendation 2 which suggests that Local Authorities engage with their local Registered Social Landlords to agree how they will manage the transition to Universal Credit; a process which we are aware is taking place currently and which CHC are facilitating at our Tranche 1 Strategic Meeting in March). The full list of recommendations which it is suggested that RSLs take forward, in all cases in partnership with other agencies, is as follows:

(Suggested ownership of each recommendation is italicised)

2. Local Authorities engage with their local Registered Social Landlords to agree how they will manage the transition to Universal Credit? - Local Authorities/Social Rented Sector Housing Providers

5. Landlords should identify the number of tenancies involved before engagement with Local Authorities - Local Authorities/Social Rented Sector Housing Providers

6. When mapping, ensure providers have the capabilities of providing the services they claim can be delivered. It is also vitally important to identify gaps in provision and consider remedies. - Department for Work and Pensions/Local Authorities/Landlords – Universal Support Delivered Locally

7. A user friendly list should be prepared comprising of:

• Support providers - separated into specialities [i.e. financial, tenancy, landlords etc.]);

• regularly managed – telephone numbers, names of contacts and email/web addresses;

• Freely accessible to all; and

• Widely publicised.

This could be agreed at the Universal Support Delivered Locally discussions

- Department for Work and Pensions/Local Authorities/Landlords – Universal Support Delivered Locally

8. Local Authorities and landlords should explore, as part of the Universal Support Delivered Locally and mapping exercise, the use of referral networks - Department for Work and Pensions/Local Authorities/Landlords – Universal Support Delivered Locally

9. The sector should consider how properties are let in the future and ensure there is consistency between Local Authority providers and Registered Social Landlord providers -  Local Authorities/Social Rented Sector Housing Providers

10. Universal Support Delivered Locally Processes need to be mindful of the services provided by floating support workers and their ability to signpost customers - Local Authorities/Social Rented Sector Housing Providers

11. Awareness should be raised with the Regional Collaborative Committees and Supported People Programme of the work being undertaken in this area. Consider the implications of austerity and the demands on budgets, and the sustainability of services. - Department for Work and Pensions/Local Authorities/Landlords – Universal Support Delivered Locally

12. Continued engagement with Universal Support Delivered Locally programme to influence improvement in data sharing – particularly in Real-Time. Department for Work and Pensions/Local Authorities/Landlords  – Universal Support Delivered Locally

13. Ensure, as part of the mapping exercise, there is adequate resource in both rural and urban areas offering financial support. - Department for Work and Pensions/Local Authorities/Landlords – Universal Support Delivered Locally

The Minister for for Communities and Tackling Poverty has stated that: “I will carefully consider Welsh Government action arising from recommendation 14.  In relation to recommendation 15 , regarding tenants’ choice on payment of benefit, I had already written to Lord Freud ahead of completion of this report and am awaiting his reply.  Welsh Government will continue to monitor all of these issues, take action where this falls within our remit, encourage stakeholders to assist tenants to cope with the changes and make further representations to the UK Government as required.”

The Report can be found at the following link: http://gov.wales/docs/desh/publications/150225-direct-payments-and-sustainable-tenancies-en.pdf

 

3rd February 2015

Reduction to Discretionary Housing Payment

A DWP circular has confirmed that the discretionary housing payment (DHP) allocation for local authorities in 2015/2016 has been cut by £40m, dropping from 2014/15’s £165m level to £125m for the forthcoming financial year.

HB Circular S1/2015 states that the total government contribution towards DHPs in 2015/2016 will be £125m, allocated in four strands:

local housing allowance reforms - £25m;

core funding - £15m;
removal of the spare room subsidy - £60m; and
benefit cap - £25m.

HB Circular S1/2015 is available at the following link: http://bit.ly/1EZqWmB

 

18th Dec 2014

Direct Payments Demonstration Project Final Report Published

The DWP has published a final report on the results of the Direct Payment Demonstration Projects.

Key quotes from the report include:

 "Overall, tenants who went onto direct payment in the DPDP paid 95.5% of all the rent owed, compared with a comparator sample (not on direct payment) who paid 99.1% of rent owed (a difference of 3.6 percentage points). However, this masks significant variation over time.

"The average payment rate immediately following migration to direct payment was just 67% – an arrears rate of 33% – but by tenants’ 18th direct payment it had risen to 99%.

"Direct payment in the DPDP did, therefore, have a financial impact on landlords (a total of £1.9m of rent owed was not paid over the 18 month period) but much of this burden was borne in the first few months following migration."

"Further analysis strongly suggests that the early arrears spike was not driven primarily by factors specific to the DPDP – e.g. the infancy of the policy and experimental nature of the DPDP programme – but is a pattern likely to repeat unless mitigating action is taken.

"The ‘spike’ may be less pronounced going forward, reflecting the influence DPDP has had on UC design, but focused intervention and close monitoring of rent accounts may be needed.

"On the last point, landlords will only be able to closely monitor rent accounts if they know which of their tenants are in receipt of UC."

"Financial surpluses may be eroded, with consequences for housing associations’ capacity to build, and the impact of late/underpayment on cash flow could pose significant problems for small landlords.

"Larger landlords, meanwhile, face the prospect of a significant reduction in income once the few additional percentage points arrears are scaled up to tens of thousands of tenants. Large local authority landlords may find this particularly difficult to accommodate in the context of austerity measures and public sector funding cuts."

The report highlights "the benefit of a phased introduction of direct payment so that financial risk can be spread over time and the need for mitigating action during the transition to direct payment".

The report states: "All Project Areas highlighted the importance of allocating additional resource to the programme with all noting that it was relatively resource intensive. Most participating stakeholders emphasised that the effort, focus, and resource associated with the DPDP would be difficult to maintain", though it clarifies that these were pilot projects, so were always going to be relatively resource heavy until participants know what they are doing.

The full report can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/direct-payment-demonstration-projects-final-reports

10th Dec 2014

Universal Credit Landlord Support Pack Now Available in Welsh

The DWP have produced a Welsh language version of the UC Landlord Support Pack. This is available to download at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/381627/uc-social-landlord-support-pack-welsh.pdf 

 

28th Nov 2014

Universal Credit Roll Out Update

*Information confimed by DWP (08/12/14)

This information, though not publically announced by the DWP, has been sent out in a letter from Neil Couling to LA Chief Execs. The contents of the letter can be seen at: http://www.rightsnet.org.uk/forums/viewthread/7369

The following 73 LAs will be introducing UC (new claims from single people) between Feb and April 2015:

Wales

Neath Port Talbot, Torfaen, Wrexham

East

Basildon, Bedford, Brecklands, Brentwood, Colchester, Forrest Heath, Southend, Suffolk Coastal, Tendring, Thurrock, Waveney,

East Midlands

Bassetlaw, Boston, Chesterfield, Corby, Daventry, Erewash, Harborough, Hinckley & Bosworth, Melton, South Kesteven? (letter says South Kelveston)

London

London Borough of Barnet, London Borough of Brent, London Borough of Hounslow, London Borough of Tower Hamlets, London Borough of Wandsworth,

North East

Newcastle, Darlington, Hartlepool,

North West

South East

Ashford, Hasting & Rother, Maidstone, Oxford City, South Oxfordshire, Southampton, Swale, Vale of White Horse, West Oxfordshire,

South West

Mendip, North Somerset, Sedgemoor, South Somerset, Swindon, Taunton Dean, West Somerset, Wiltshire

West Midlands

Birmingham, Dudley, East Staffordshire, Hereford, Litchfield, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Redditch, Shropshire, Stratford, Tamworth

Yorkshire & Humberside

Barnsley, City of York, Calderdale, Craven, Hambleton, Ryedale,

Scotland

City of Edinburgh, East Lothian, Dumfries & Galloway, North Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire, Dunbartonshire, Mid Lothian, Scottish Borders,

Additionally, 4 existing sites will expand - Flintshire, Highland, London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham and Rugby. 

If you have any queries, please contact hugh-russell@chcymru.org.uk 

 

Plans announced for accelerated rollout of Universal Credit

Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith has today announced that Universal Credit will be rolled out to all Jobcentres and local authorities across the country from early next year.

This marks a significant acceleration in one of the UK government’s biggest reforms. The expansion will be for new claims from single jobseekers.

29 Sept 2014

Data sharing in Universal Credit

Following discussions at a Ministerial round table with Lord Freud earlier this year, a DWP Task & Finish Group has been established to look at the issue of sharing data with social landlords following the implementation of Universal Credit. CHC attended the first meeting on May 6th, with DWP now deliberating over a number of data sharing options to be discussed at further meetings in the coming weeks.

For further information, please contact aaron-hill@chcymru.org.uk

28th March 2014

Direct Payments - Landlord Learning Document published

Social landlords taking part in the DWP's Direct Payment Demonstration Project have published the Lanlord Learning Document from the project. This independent report has been compiled collectively by the organisations involved across all six national project areas, covering the practical issues from a landlord perspective. The report can be viewed here.

26th March 2014

Mitigating the Impact of Welfare Reform - Welsh Government Task and Finish Group

The latest report to analyse the impact of the UK Government’s welfare reforms in Wales ‘Impacts in local authority areas’ has been undertaken by the Welsh Government and is due for publication shortly.  The Sheffield Hallam University estimates that once the welfare reforms that they have analysed have come into full effect, Wales will lose around £1.1 billion a year.

The Welsh Government established a Task and Finish Group in July 2013 to consider the effects of changes to the welfare system on the social rented sector.  Membership comprised of a broad group of stakeholders from across Wales who could consider the impacts of welfare reforms – particularly the bedroom tax on social rented sector landlords and tenants.

The report can be found here

 

Universal Credit Progress - Ministerial Statement

Secretary of State for Work & Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, has published the latest update on the progress of Universal Credit, with details on the timescales for rollout of UC to existing and new claimants. Click here for more.

 

Local Support Services Framework - Update and trialling plan published

DWP has published their update to the Local Support Services Framework, following the consultation period earlier this year. Trial trial elements of the LSSF will begin to rollout in areas where previous work with DWP and Job Centres has been carried out, including Newport and Caerphilly local authority areas, after the completion of the current pilot programmes in December 2013.]

The full update and trialling plan is available here.

 

Support & Exemptions Update – July 2013

Please see the latest DWP Universal Credit &Personal Budgeting Support update dated 9 July 2013 and the Minutes from the last meeting on 8 May.

Support and Exemptions Working Group - Minutes, May 2013

SEWG Update - July 2013