Today the Communities and Local Government Select Committee has published a report on the implementation of welfare reform by local authorities. The committee received 52 written evidence submissions, held three oral evidence sessions and has produced 31 conclusions and recommendations. You can read the full report here but in the meantime here’s our summary of the key issues.
The report calls on DWP to improve engagement with DCLG, the LGA and local authorities. There needs to be clear communication from central government with councils, the general public and claimants over the scale of changes and a better dialogue on how to address problems with implementation. Government should work with the LGA to address concerns over funding and ascertain whether local authorities have sufficient resources.
Housing associations may struggle to cope with a decreased income as a result of welfare changes. Many claimants will now be managing rent and council tax payments themselves for the first time which will place strain on housing associations who will face rent arrears and collection costs. Although certain guarantees have been made (i.e. landlords will receive automated payments when tenants’ arrears hit a threshold level), DWP needs to ensure these and other pilots are viable so that housing associations do not suffer financially as a result of welfare reform.
There is a strong government push towards the Digital by Default strategy for service implementation. This will create savings in the long term but the report reveals concerns about readiness of ICT systems, in particular systems for fraud detection. DWP needs to make assurances that the system will not be vulnerable to fraud throughout or after the transition process. In addition there should be clarity that those people who are excluded from the Digital by Default process will have proper access and support when making claims.
In our view it’s encouraging to see the Select Committee recognise that central government needs to do more to support local authorities to handle these changes effectively. Whilst these changes present the opportunity to make the welfare system more efficient and better targeted, they will not succeed unless government shares responsibility for ensuring that our public services are supported throughout this time of change and the most vulnerable are protected.