Welfare reforms bring huge implications for local people

LOCAL people who receive any type of benefit are being urged to seek advice on how new welfare reforms introduced by the Coalition Government will affect them.

Members of Eastbourne Borough Council’s Cabinet committee issued the warning after considering the government changes set out in the white paper, Universal Credit – Welfare that works, which aims to simplify the system of benefits payments. The plan will create one Universal Credit that will replace the vast majority of other benefits currently received.

Cabinet portfolio holder for Revenues and Benefits, Councillor Margaret Bannister, said, “These welfare reforms are wide ranging and reach across many of the services local people rely on. They carry huge implications as to how we administer benefit payments and who is entitled to them, the way people access social housing as well as the levels of rent tenants have to pay.

“While some of the changes are already being implemented, many are still in the pipeline and we would advise people to take time now to consider the options they will have in the future.”

The Universal Credit will replace Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Housing Benefit, Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance and income related Employment and Support Allowance.

Overall administration of the new benefit will be managed by one department, the Department for Work and Pensions, as opposed to the delivery of current benefits through the Department for Work and Pensions, HM Revenue and Customs and local authorities.

While Council Tax Benefit will not form part of the Universal Credit, it is also going to change. The government wants local authorities to design their own system for helping low income families and vulnerable people meet their council tax bills.

Councillor Bannister said, “These are challenging times for many people, businesses and the public sector generally. I hope that by being proactive and highlighting these issues in a timely manner, we can help as many local people as possible understand what it all means for them.”

The White Paper also sets out a new approach to tackling fraud.

A new Single Investigation Service is planned comprising investigators from local councils, the Department for Work and Pensions and Her Majesty’s Revenues and Customs along with an additional 200 anti-fraud officers and a regional taskforce to investigate every claim in areas of the country with high levels of benefit fraud.

Other measures include abolishing cautions as a penalty for fraud, increasing asset seizure, new tougher one-strike, two-strike and three-strike rules, including three years loss of benefit for people with multiple convictions, deducting money owed directly through PAYE, civil penalties, £50 for more minor offences, closer working with Crimestoppers, naming and shaming fraudsters in local areas and stepping up the Check First, then Pay approach to stop fraud and error entering the system.