Impact Monitoring 2015/16
The Welfare Reform Act 2012 introduced a wide range of changes to the benefits system, implementation of which began in April 2013. A summary report, downloadable below, considers the on-going local impact on Somerset. This report is the third produced by Somerset Intelligence. It is based on a range of indicators from local sources, supplemented by local case studies and findings from external research.
Summary of findings
- Reform of the welfare benefits system has impacted on thousands of Somerset residents, as well as organisations which support some of our most vulnerable people. However, the latest annual data indicates a reduction of negative impacts in many issues, offset by some areas of increasing concern. Nevertheless, figures in many cases remain higher than they were prior to the introduction of welfare reform.
- As last year, there remain some geographical variations, with some district areas bucking general countywide trends.
- The numbers of people claiming Housing Benefit, those receiving help meeting costs through the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) and households receiving Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) have fallen in the past two years. However, overall numbers of DHPs are still at more than double the levels seen in ‘pre-welfare reform’ 2012/13.
- The numbers of households affected by the Benefit Cap and Spare Room Subsidy Reduction declined year-on-year. The latter change was linked to downsizing and changes in eligibility criteria for new tenants. However, a lack of available one and two-bedroom properties mean that not all ‘down-sizing’ needs can be met.
- Based on data received from eight food banks, around 10,000 emergency food parcels were distributed in Somerset in 2015/16. The number of referrals to food banks run by the Trussell Trust remained broadly constant year-on-year. Benefit delays/changes remain the biggest cause of food bank use.
- Overall customer contact with local authority (LA) Revenues and Benefits services have declined since last year, largely driven by new working procedures. However, there is evidence from LAs and Citizen’s Advice that caseloads are becoming more complex, impacting on the number of cases that the Bureaux are able to manage.
- By March 2016, just over 1,500 people in Somerset were on Universal Credit (UC) and from 2016, ‘full service’ UC began rolling out, starting in Sedgemoor in May, then Mendip in July, Taunton Deane and West Somerset in October, with South Somerset’s start date yet to be confirmed. Citizen’s Advice Sedgemoor already report a notable increase in the number of clients raising UC issues, especially related to the six-week time delay between application and first payment, and also access to digital support and services.
- The roll-out of Universal Credit in Somerset, together with other changes to the benefit system, will affect thousands of additional households and is set to pose further administrative challenges in the form of lump-sum direct payments and ‘digital by default’. While LAs, RPs and Advice Bureaux are already working with residents to mitigate potential financial and administrative problems, increased demand on their services are anticipated across the next five years as migration of existing benefit claimants to UC takes place between 2018 and 2021.
Note: changes in numbers for some of these indicators are not necessarily entirely a direct result of the Government's welfare reforms, but they will be a contributory factor.
See also the following reports for previous years:
Universal Credit (November 2016)
- From April 2015, the Nomis website has counted the number of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) plus those who claim Universal Credit (UC) and are required to seek work and be available for work. This revised Claimant Count replaces the number of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance as the headline indicator of the number of people claiming benefits principally for the reason of being unemployed.
- In October 2016, for the first time in Somerset, more than half the ‘claimant count’ of 3,760 was due to UC. Only 1,875 people were claiming JSA.
Benefit Cap (November 2016):
- Changes to the level of the benefit cap to £20,000 (£13,400 for single adults with no children) nationally or £23,000 (£15,410 will be rolled-out across Local Authorities (LAs) from 7 November 2016 to the end of January 2017.
- As a result of this phased implementation, and the way in which LAs return monthly data on capped households to DWP, data showing the major impact of both changes will not be available until May 2017, when data to February 2017 will be published.
- Claimants entitled to Carer’s Allowance or Guardian’s Allowance will also become exempt from the benefit cap when these wider changes are introduced.
DWP 'Universal Support delivered locally' Trials (July 2016)
In July 2016, the DWP published results of their ‘Universal Support – delivered locally’ trials. The DWP say these will inform strategy to “support future design and delivery as the full Universal Credit service evolves and expands”.
- 'The Local Welfare Safety Net' - a publication by the Parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee (January 2016), including conclusions and recommendations
- Survey of UK Food Banks - In May and June 2015 the organisation thinkmoney questioned 70 independent foodbanks in the UK to research levels of ‘food poverty’.