Council support for Fifers in crisis over Christmas
Published: Thursday 09 Nov 2017 by Fife Council
Welfare support assistants are on hand to support people through the roll out of universal credit
FIFE Council and its partners have pledged that no Fifers should be left in crisis over Christmas following the roll out of the government’s Universal Credit scheme at the beginning of December.
Councillors at a meeting of the Community and Housing Services Committee this week discussed how the council and its partners are preparing for the onslaught of enquiries and requests for help that are expected when the new welfare reform policy kicks in.
And Committee Chair Cllr Judy Hamilton is clear that nobody should suffer hardship as a result of the central government policy that will see many Fifers move from the old benefits system to universal credit.
She commented: “We said back in October that we bitterly oppose the roll-out of this system particularly at this time of year which is traditionally difficult financially for many people. New claimants may have up to a six week wait for payment which is wholly unacceptable.”
Preparations for the roll out of universal credit and the impact it will have on some of Fife’s poorest families have been on the go for some time.
The council in partnership with local agencies including Citizens Advice and Rights Fife (CARF) have developed a new “Guide” highlighting help and support available as well as providing training in digital skills to help claimants through the process of managing their claims online. Free access to internet and PCs are being promoted at all of Fife’s libraries, local offices and community job clubs.
CARF Chief Executive Norma Philpott commented: "The next few weeks and months will be a significant challenge for all concerned. I foresee administrative and system challenges for claimants and support or advice agencies and worry in particular for those who don't have the skills or resources to access IT for whatever reason. I expect us to see and help clients who are vulnerable and daunted by aspects of the claims process. Sadly everything I have seen to date also indicates that household incomes will drop for many in Fife."
The council has already allocated around £3 million to help minimise the impact of the government changes to welfare reform, and 16 welfare support assistants are now employed to help support communities through the changes.
It’s also hoped that money will be made available in the near future to fund crisis grants for those in greatest need over the festive period, helping people cope with unexpected expenses and disasters. In 2016/17 Fife granted almost 9,500 applications for crisis grants to help with emergency living costs including food, fuel, nappies, etc. Staffing changes have been agreed to make sure there are no outstanding crisis grants awards over weekends.
Added Cllr Hamilton: "It's 2017. And in this day and age we shouldn't be in the position of having to give people crisis grants over Christmas. It's a terrible situation and we have expressed our concerns over these changes, and the timing of them, over and over again.”
Rent collection is a significant area of concern for the council. Currently around 850 Fife Council tenants receive Universal Credit. Around 90% have seen an increase in their rent arrears which amounts to almost £340,000. A worse case scenario for all 14,000 current housing benefit payers could result in rent arrears of around £5.6 million.
Families who are most likely to be affected by the changes have been contacted and given information on where help and support is available and key services will be open over Christmas and New Year to cope with the expected increase in enquiries.
Concluded Cllr Hamilton: “The implications of these changes are far-reaching and we are faced with the real possibility that many people are heading for financial hardship.
“I’d urge anyone who will be moving over to Universal Credit to make sure they know who and where they can get help. A great starting point is www.fifedirect.org.uk/benefitchanges where you can also download our Guide to Universal Credit.
“If you don’t have a computer at home, computers are available and free to use at all of Fife’s libraries or any of the Kingdom’s 43 community job clubs. Or if you’re having problems with your benefits, difficulty budgeting, or problems with debt, you can go along to your local Citizens Advice and Rights Fife office or call them on 03451 400 095 .
“Please don’t wait until things get out of control and you are facing issues like rent arrears and debt. Help and support is available so please get in touch.”
Tel: 03451 55 55 55 + Ext 44 12 41 Fax: 01592 583527 Contact Paul Vaughan online
By Post: Rothesay House Rothesay Place Glenrothes Fife KY7 5PQ
Judy Hamilton, Councillor
Tel: 01592 26 65 17 Contact Judy Hamilton online
By Post: Fife council, Fife House North Street, Glenrothes,KY7 5LT