Rugby council task group hears evidence on welfare reform

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A Rugby Borough Council scrutiny group has heard from senior officials from the Department of Work and Pensions about the new Universal Credit, which was introduced in Rugby yesterday on Monday.

The universal credit and welfare reform task group, a cross-party group of borough councillors, are looking into recent changes to the benefits system. They are investigating what has changed and how, and are particularly interested in the support being given to claimants and the impact of the changes on local residents. At the moment they are in the early, fact-finding stages of their work.

The group heard from housing associations, the Local Strategic Partnership, which is a partnership between public authorities and the business community in Rugby, as well as borough council officers and the DWP. Evidence was also received about the Warwickshire Local Welfare Scheme, although Warwickshire County Council didn’t attend.

As well as finding out about how Universal Credit is being introduced in Rugby and what it will look like for local people, councillors also learnt about how the organisations are supporting residents affected by the benefit cap, changes to local council tax support, social housing under-occupation rules, and Universal Credit.

Cllr Tom Mahoney, chairman of the task and finish group, said: “With Rugby being one of the first places in the country to be moved over to the new Universal Credit, it is very important that we keep an eye on how the benefit is introduced, and how it affects our residents.

“The task group will want to reassure themselves, and our residents, that locally everyone is working together to make sure the benefits changes are well-managed, and that vulnerable sections of our communities receive the help and support that they need.

“We have seen evidence that takeup of discretionary housing payments and other support from the council is lower than expected. What we don’t know yet is whether our residents are really coping with the changes, or if they are struggling without help or getting help elsewhere.”

The task group will meet again in January, when it will hear evidence from the voluntary sector.