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Freud details Universal Credit pilots

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Local authorities wishing to pilot the roll out of the new Universal Credit have just three weeks to complete their bids, the government has announced.

The Department for Work & Pensions published a prospectus on Friday detailing what it expects of councils wishing to trial face to face support for claimants before the single benefit is rolled out next year.

Applications to be one of up to 12 pilots cross England, Scotland and Wales have to be submitted by the 18 May so the work of successful areas can be assessed before the new benefit is rolled out in October 2013.

As well as council-led pilots, the department is “keen to see diverse models emerging where the local authority is not the key delivery agency”.

The DWP wants pilots which

  • reduce the support claimants need to access UC online
  • make claimants financially independent by getting them into work
  • deliver efficiencies
  • reduce homelessness
  • reduce fraud and error

“Strong pilot proposals will show how they will make improvements in one or more of these areas,” the prospectus said.

Lord Freud, minister for welfare reform, said: “Local authorities will have a role in supporting residents to claim Universal Credit and these pilots create an opportunity for councils to be at the forefront of shaping that role working with DWP and other partners.

“Universal Credit is a radical reform and we expect strong bids from councils working with local groups to help people access online services and to encourage financial independence.”

Dealing with the question of how the pilots will be funded, the DWP prospectus makes it clear the pilots are “voluntary, and will not be classed as a New Burden” and therefore won’t qualify for funding based on a formal assessment.

Instead, DWP “will reimburse additional costs that an authority incurs in running the pilots”, such as staff, evaluation, estates changes, communications. A breakdown of costs must be supplied in applications and will be paid in arrears.

Funding and piloting activity will formally end in September 2013, although “local authorities and their partners may decide to leave the arrangements in place”.

A spokesman told LGC no decision had been made about local authority involvement once the pilots were completed and the department had no information about whether a more permanent post-pilot role for councils might qualify as a new burden.

The DWP initially told local authorities they would have no role in the new benefit system, despite their current responsibilities for housing benefit, one of several benefits being rolled into the single Universal Credit.

Concerns about the impact of the emphasis on UC claimants accessing the service online, the move to monthly payments and direct payments to claimants rather than landlords led the Local Government Association to lobby for a greater role, resulting in DWP agreeing to pilots ahead of the roll out.

LGA chairman Sir Merrick Cockell said: “It is vital that local people are fully supported when these benefit and tax credit changes come into place.

“Councils have a central role to play in providing face-to-face assistance and advice in the new welfare system, as they have a strong understanding of local job markets and the needs of their residents.”

An announcement is to be made next year about further and longer-term piloting work due to take place in 2014.

Timeline

18 May 2012 - Pilot applications submitted to LGA

June 2012 - LGA to review applications and make recommendation

July/June 2012 - Support for recommended councils to finalise proposals

July/August 2012 - DWP to decide on ‘up to’ 12 pilot areas

September 2013 - Pilot work to end and UC rollout begins

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