Glendine Shepherd explained that the government’s welfare reforms had been aimed at making work pay. The impact of welfare reform on unemployed households was significant and so the council had taken steps to help people into work.
The key welfare reforms were the introduction of the benefit cap and combination of previous benefits into Universal Credit. The benefit cap had reduced housing benefit for 1335 families in the borough. 65% of those households which had been capped were no longer seeing their benefit reduced, either because they had been helped into work and so eligible to collect working tax credit (480 households) or because they had been exempted from the cap because of disability or because they had moved to cheaper accommodation. Universal Credit mainly affected new applicants and this had been rolled out in most of the borough; officers had worked with Jobcentre Plus to develop an effective system of managing applications to reduce the impact of the new system. Universal Credit’s earning’s taper allowed people to work unlimited hours and still claim so it was easier to encourage people to seek work.
The schemes which the Council ran to help people into work included:
- H&F Link and Support which runs the H&F Advice Hub, located at 145 King Street, where residents could get advice and assistance on a wide range of subjects. Support was provided by Hammersmith Jobcentre Plus, WorkZone, OnePlace and Adult Learning and Skills.
- WorkZone which helped residents into work and training and helped business with recruitment.
- OnePlace which brought together staff from a range of council services, Jobcentre Plus and other agencies to provide support for those who were long-term unemployed, vulnerable or who had complex needs.
A resident asked whether internships and apprenticeships were available through the council’s schemes. Joseph Pascual explained that WorkZone provided apprenticeships, whilst the council also offered people the chance to do an apprenticeship or some work experience at the council.
The Chair asked whether pastoral support was available for people who had been out of work for a long time. Joseph Pascual said that it was, those who had been out of work for a long time were given an action plan including tailored support which could include a range of pastoral schemes.
A resident asked whether the gender and age of those accessing services were monitored. Glendine Shepherd confirmed that these statistics were recorded and services were adjusted to ensure that they met the needs of all communities.
Councillor Connell noted that Hammersmith Jobcentre Plus was due to close and asked what impact this would have. Glendine Shepherd explained that some Jobcentre Plus staff would relocate to 145 King Street but that there would be an impact. Officers were trying to make sure that the required support was made available by Jobcentre Plus.
Councillor Connell noted that the government had removed the duty to monitor income based child poverty as it introduced the benefit cap. He asked whether the council’s records allowed officers to assess the impact of the cap on children. Joseph Pascual explained that officers monitored the number of children affected by the cap and worked closely with other agencies to mitigate the impact of the benefit cap on them. Councillor Connell asked that the figures for the number of children affected by the benefit cap be shared with him.
Councillor Connell asked whether the lessons learned from the roll out of Universal Credit had been passed on to government. Joseph Pascual explained that officers met with staff at the Department for Work and Pensions regularly; at these meetings officers explained any issues which had been encountered and were frank about the impact of any problems. The Department for Work and Pensions seemed to take the council’s concerns seriously and some improvements had been made to processes. Glendine Shepherd explained that the biggest problem with Universal Credit was that claimants were not paid their first benefit for 6 weeks.
A resident asked what support was made available to those who were managing their rent for the first time. Joseph Pascual explained that officers would help residents to understand tenancies and resolve issues with the payment of benefits to allow residents to pay their rent; if someone was struggling to pay rent then the Council could ask the Department for Work and Pensions to put in an ‘Alternative Payment Arrangement’ which would see housing benefit paid straight to the landlord. Councillor Fennimore noted that Hammersmith and Fulham’s ‘Trusted Partner’ status meant that it was easier for officers to arrange ‘Alternative Payment Arrangements’ where it was necessary.
Glendine Shepherd said that when Universal Credit had first been introduced it had been very much a one size fits all system. This had caused problems for many but the Department for Work and Pensions had made changes and the Council had influenced this change.
Councillor Ivimy commended officers for their efforts in trying to get people back into work and for building an effective relationship with the Department for Work and Pensions.