“Controversial changes to the benefits system are leaving Welsh councils with hidden costs, it has been claimed.
Universal Credit aims to make claiming simpler by combining several benefits.
But 16 out of Wales’ 22 councils said UK government is not covering the true cost of assisting claimants, such as with digital skills needed to apply.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said councils can apply for reimbursement of additional costs, but councils denied that was the case.
The body representing councils, the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA), and the Welsh local government minister Julie James said the rollout of thUniversal Credit has to be applied for online, and will eventually replace housing benefit, income support and other payments.
At the moment councils can reclaim some money for each person they help who needs support with digital skills and budgeting to cope with the new system.
Wales’ 22 councils estimated the total bill for providing that help was more than £1.2m last year – even after claiming payments from the DWP.e benefit was not working.
A DWP spokesman said universal credit is “a force for good” and is working for the vast majority, adding that local authorities can “apply for reimbursement of any extra costs associated with Universal Credit”.But Anthony Hunt, Torfaen council leader and a WLGA spokesman, claimed in his experience councils had not had much success in getting a “reasonable proportion” funded back.
“There’s a massive hidden cost – because it’s not just the direct cost of getting people onto Universal Credit, it’s the impact on homelessness services, for example,” he added.
He called for the UK government to recognise the “big cost implications” and “go back to the drawing board”.
From April charity Citizen Advice will provide help to people who are applying for Universal Credit, instead of councils, as part of an agreement with the DWP.
The DWP said it would ensure the most vulnerable people “will get the best possible support” to make a claim.
But the charity said the £39m contract did not cover ongoing support costs.
Julie James, Minister for Housing and Local Government in Wales, believes councils and charities will continue to pick up additional costs associated with Universal Credit.
“In Wales local authorities – although they haven’t been as hard hit as their counterparts in England, because to some extent we’ve protected them – nevertheless… they are making very difficult choices about services for their citizens.
“This is just another burden on top of it, for vulnerable citizens who need their help.”
It still means already struggling claimants face a journey perhaps to a different town than say their jobcentre and unless they are reimbursed transport cost an extra burden on their already fragile finances.
I have often wondered why in the first week of someone making a claim the local jobcentre do not offer a course and aid in how to apply, create a CV and where to finds jobs advertised.
But of course the argument is that your jobcentre is not there for you to apply for benefits , but to ensure that you are actually seeking a job.
in all the above cases, you can well imagine someone drawing up a plan in a office, to make what they see as simple closures to save money or make access online only, before going home in their car and maybe completing some of their work on their home computer or laptop.
Meanwhile a desperate man or woman has just spent over three hours on buses to get to a magistrates court, contemplates about the same time on another journey to make an hospital appointment or visit a sick friend or relative and are faced with the task of finding access to a computer to claim Universal Credit.
The two above live in different worlds , but it is the duty of the first to realise this and to take into account not all have what they consider to be normal usage.