A lack of information from the Department for Work & Pensions 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 government has embarked on the nationwide rollout of universal credit which brings together a range of working-age benefits into a single payment. LGC reported in March how some cities had raised concerns about the speed the scheme was being introduced in each area.
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. 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.”
Where preparations had started, the survey found almost three quarters (74%) of councils had established internal partnerships, such as between social services, education, and housing, while nearly eight in 10 (77%) 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% 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% of councils recorded the number of claimants who went online for their housing benefit, while less than one in 10 (7%) were collecting data on claimants’ access to online digital services at home. Just one in 20 (5%) councils recorded claimants’ use of digital services without support, the report said.
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