East Lothian Council calls for action on Universal Credit

Willie Innes
Willie Innes

East Lothian Council has called for government action to help mitigate the impact of Universal Credit on people living in the county.

The council has provided information to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee on the impact of Universal Credit in the county and continues to lobby for change and improvement.

It follows a decision of the council in September to approve a number of actions in a Welfare Reform Update Report, which involve engaging with the UK and Scottish Governments on the issue.

In a response to a letter from the council, the UK minister for employment has indicated that the Universal Credit director general will consider any evidence of additional costs incurred along with the rational for these extra costs. The council will therefore follow this up and continue working with COSLA and other public bodies to ensure the best possible support is provided for East Lothian residents claiming Universal Credit.

The council, meanwhile, has asked Scottish ministers to take immediate steps using recently-devolved powers. This would include having the housing cost element of Universal Credit paid direct to landlords, redesigning the Council Tax Reduction Scheme and considering the implications of Universal Credit on the funding of the Scottish Welfare Fund, Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) and Social Care Budgets.

Council leader Willie Innes said: “Universal Credit has been introduced by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) in line with decisions taken by the UK government. The council had no role in these decisions or in the DWP’s digital roll-out in East Lothian.

“Clear evidence has emerged of the negative impacts being experienced by individuals and families which in turn is also affecting council planning of services.

“Almost from the start of the new system we became aware of delays being experienced by claimants - causing financial hardship. The council had established key teams of staff to help advise on the new system but the delayed payments to tenants has also resulted in delayed rent and Council Tax payments to the council. While the council has taken steps to top up DWP subsidy losses, the impact of ongoing rollout of Universal Credit and other Welfare Reforms remains a concern.

“Regretfully, the UK government has refused our call for an investigation into the impact that the rollout has had and for the Housing Costs element to be suspended in the meantime.

“We are pleased though that the Scottish Government has agreed to meet us to discuss these matters. Scottish ministers have newly-devolved powers which would help mitigate the impact of Universal Credit, and we are keen to make progress on these issues.”

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