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Councils call for Universal Credit rollout detail

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Local authorities have become concerned about their lack of contact with work and pensions officials ahead of the universal credit roll out this year.

A majority of councils siad they do not have an “effective” working relationship with local Jobcentre managers, according to LGA papers published last week.

Although the Department for Work & Pensions has detailed a three phase approach to universal credit rollout, the association’s papers said  councils “need to know now what the detailed roll out schedules will look like so that service planning can be undertaken now, particularly with regard to housing benefit staff”.

An LGA conference also found that only a third of the councils represented at the event had been contacted by local DWP managers about universal credit issues, and “only about a third felt they had effective local working relationships with their district JCP manager”.

Local authorities also expressed concern about the local support services framework published by LGA and DWP last month which suggested those local managers should hold funding for the implementation of universal credit.

“If councils were to be held accountable for something they want to hold the funding for it, indeed, some councils saw it as a conflict of interest for DWP to hold the budget as proposed” the LGA report said.

The framework was also “unclear” about councils long term role in universal credit, containing references to “a more diverse model of service provision” in future. One conference attendee warned that councils should not become “a stepping stone to bail out DWP in the short term”.

DWP and the LGA are still discussing how councils should be reimbursed for welfare reform work and are in disagreement about whether council housing benefit staff could move to universal credit work.

A public accounts committee report into separate housing benefit reforms expressed similar concerns that DWP “does not know all the administrative costs of implementing all the planned changes” and called on the department to “quantify the administrative costs as soon as possible”.

A spokesman for DWP said no information was available on a detailed roll out schedule. “We regularly work with councils and keep them updated about the latest developments in universal credit,” he said.

With regard to the framework document, the spokesman said the document would be updated later this year, “well in advance of go-live to ensure that local partners are in a position to deliver services”. He added: “We are currently examining the responses to the framework and will, of course, consider these in preparing an update.”

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