Thursday, 1 August 2013

Welfare Reform / Bedroom Tax - Edinburgh Update

The latest Welfare Reform update report goes to the Council's Policy and Strategy Committee next Tuesday (6th August). As would be expected for a professionally written report by Council officials it is purely factual and not designed to be contentious or political, however, when one considers that there's a person, a family, and a story behind each of the statistics it does make for depressing reading.

You can read the report in full on this link to the Council's website but the edited highlights (???) are as follows -

The Council, in partnership with the voluntary sector has applied for more funding for advice services, so that we can tell people exactly how much financial doo doo they're in and hopefully help them climb out.

The Benefit Cap, introduced in London boroughs in spring is likely to be rolled out in Edinburgh at the end of this month.

Scottish Welfare Fund Grants, disbursed by the Council, are within budget and the relationship with Bethany Christian Trust who provide furniture to people on our behalf appears to be working particularly well.
At the end of May 2013 there were 3,566 Council tenants affected by the Bedroom Tax. Prior to implementation on 1 April 2013, 969 (27%) of affected tenants were in arrears; by the end of May and this had increased to 2561 (72%). In terms of rental income it is estimated that in the eight weeks following the 1 April 2013, around £390,000 (69%) of the £560,000 of rent due, has not been collected. As I've mentioned before this money should be used to pay for Council housing staff and to finance investment in existing and new homes. 
Next step is to prepare for the introduction of direct payment of Universal Credit (all benefits lumped together basically) and paid direct to the tenant rather than the housing element paid to the Council (or RSL) as it is now. Happy days !!!

Discretionary Housing Payment (short term awards based on circumstances) spend is within budget (£1.348m). Up to 5 June 2013, there had been a total of 1134 DHP claims assessed, 831 ongoing awards, 19 one-off payments and 284 refusals. This equates to 75% of applications receiving an award, a rate that is markedly higher than the Scottish average of 44%. We've also received news this week that due to a DWP miscalculation we are to receive an additional £80k, one small crumb of comfort amidst the unremitting gloom.

Now, moving on to benefits for people with severe illness or disabilities -

the ongoing replacement of Incapacity Benefit and related benefits by Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), with more stringent medical tests, greater conditionality and time-limiting of non-means tested entitlement for all but the most severely ill or disabled: the DWP intends to complete this process by 2014; and the phased replacement of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) by Personal Independence Payments (PIP), including more stringent and frequent medical tests, (sometimes carried out by ATOS, who you may have heard of) as the basis for financial support to help offset the additional costs faced by individuals with disabilities.

From 7 October 2013, existing recipients of DLA will begin to be transferred to PIP and from October 2015 all the remaining claimants in receipt of a DLA award will be invited to make a claim for PIP. DWP will randomly select those recipients of DLA in receipt of an indefinite award or a fixed term award, and notify them about what they need to do to claim PIP. The intention is that this process will be completed by October 2017.

The new benefit is expected to bring an anticipated reduction of expenditure by 20% on current levels and an anticipated 55% of current DLA recipients will receive reduced benefit or will be refused PIP when the reassessment takes place. 

The conclusion is that more people will experience more hardship and uncertainty and as result will seek more support from Council services. This, at a time when budgets are reducing, inflation is rising and demand for services is already expected to increase due to other factors.

I'm not normally a pessimist but it's difficult to see a bright side in all of this :o(

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