Council 'ignoring' government changes to benefit support system

The Universal Support system helps benefit claimants through the form-filling process.
The Universal Support system helps benefit claimants through the form-filling process.

Wakefield Council says it will continue to help benefit claimants with form-filling and ignore a change in government policy as a result.

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) recently said that the Universal Support system, which helps people through the claims process, would be taken out of the hands of local authorities and transferred to Citizen's Advice in April.

Coun Les Shaw said he would not allow government departments to dictate how the local authority helps vulnerable people.

Coun Les Shaw said he would not allow government departments to dictate how the local authority helps vulnerable people.

But in Wakefield, extensive preparations had been made for the large volumes of people who are expected to need help once Universal Credit is rolled out across the UK on November 28.

Senior figures in the council believe that Citizen's Advice will not have the resources to cope with delivering the service, and as a result have promised to employ staff to help people claim what they are entitled to.

Speaking at a full council meeting, portfolio holder for corporate services Les Shaw said: "We intend to continue to give the support that we've looked at.

"We're not having any government department come in and tell us what we can and can't do when we're supporting vulnerable and working families."

Council leader Peter Box added that extra money would be made available if necessary.

He said: "There will be huge numbers of people wanting help and advice. We will ignore what we've been told . We're going to help people who need it.

"That's our primary duty as elected members."

Universal Credit is replacing six individual benefits, each of which will be gradually phased out over the coming years.

The government says it is simplifying the system, but there are fears that some claimants will lose hundreds of pounds as a result.

Tory councillor Samantha Harvey said she'd spoken to Citizens Advice's chief executive and had been told that they could cope with providing Universal Support.

She also accused Labour of denigrating Citizen's Advice, a charge which the party's councillors furiously denied.

She said: "The government has committed £12m for this.

"There will be challenges ahead, I'm not going to say anything less, but let's not talk down our voluntary sector. That's what this council's good at."

Coun Shaw replied: "At no stage are we decrying Citizen's Advice. No way.

"But the simple truth is a lot of families are going to be put into devastation over the next two, three, four years. We're going to support them.

"It's important we look after our citizens."

A spokeswoman for the DWP said the government took no issue with the council's decision, and added that how local authorities spend their money was a matter for them.