Councils ‘frustrated’ by DWP’s ‘lack of clarity’ over Universal Credit

DWPA lack of “clear information” from the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) is preventing councils from properly preparing for the switch to Universal Credit, local authorities have warned.

A survey of 145 council benefit managers found a quarter of respondents had not started making any plans to prepare their staff and systems for the switch to Universal Credit.

Since January, the UK government has embarked on the nationwide rollout of Universal Credit which brings together a range of working-age benefits into a single payment.

Earlier this week, Universal Credit staff in Glasgow and Bolton carried out a two day strike over what their union described as “increasingly oppressive working conditions”.

Now a report by Ipsos MORI, which carried out the research on behalf of the DWP between 17 November and 12 December last year, found a “source of frustration” for local authorities surrounded the fact there was a “lack of consistent or clear information” coming from the government.

An online survey of benefit managers or those in a similar position was conducted at 380 councils in England, Scotland and Wales, with 145 responses.

The report said: “The biggest challenge…was reported to be a lack of clarity about timescales and future plans from DWP. This uncertainty is said to be preventing certain decisions being made, and hindering the amount of preparation that can be done.”

It added: “Lack of consistent or clear information from DWP can be a source of frustration, and often prevents local authorities from being able to prepare or be confident in their preparations.”

Where preparations had started, the survey found almost three quarters (74 per cent) of councils had established internal partnerships, such as between social services, education, and housing, while nearly eight in 10 (77 per cent) had established joint working arrangements with external organisations like Jobcentre Plus and the Citizens Advice Bureau.

However, co-locating office space with such organisations was less prevalent – 46 per cent said they had. This was despite the fact the report noted respondents had anecdotally told them co-locating arrangements were “viewed positively”.

The report said local authorities were “fairly limited” in the data they collected about benefit claimants’ digital usage. The survey found 41 per cent of councils recorded the number of claimants who went online for their housing benefit, while less than one in 10 (7 per cent) were collecting data on claimants’ access to online digital services at home. Just one in 20 (5 per cent) councils recorded claimants’ use of digital services without support, the report said.

A DWP spokesperson told Inside Housing: “As this survey shows, the vast majority of local authorities are taking positive steps to prepare for universal credit, and we are working closely with them to ensure this runs smoothly.”

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