Council prepared for new Welfare Reforms

Plans to mitigate the impact of national welfare reform measures on the capital were announced today (Wednesday 10 April) by the City of Edinburgh Council.

The plans are due to be considered by the Corporate Policy and Strategy Committee on Tuesday 16 April and will focus on supporting those likely to be affected by the changes.

The introduction of policies such as the Housing Benefit Under-occupancy Restrictions, which are expected to affect 3,800 Council tenants, and around 2,500 Housing Association tenants, combined with national reductions in benefits will have a significant impact on some Edinburgh residents and the city’s economy as a whole.

The Council has taken steps to minimise these repercussions where possible and is considering further actions to offer support. Residents affected by the under-occupancy restrictions have been contacted to provide advice about options such as moving to a smaller home, taking in lodgers or budgeting on a lower income.

Health, Wellbeing and Housing Convener, Councillor Ricky Henderson, said: “The new changes to the national welfare system will have a significant impact on the city and particularly those receiving benefits.

"It is also expected that the introduction of the under-occupancy changes will lead to increasing rent arrears, which may have an adverse impact on the Council's ability to deliver services and capital investment in its homes.

“We have taken steps to bolster Council and voluntary sector advice services to make sure that residents are aware of these changes and the help that is available to them.

“It is vital that we support our most vulnerable citizens and do what we can to minimise these repercussions where possible.”

Recent Scottish Local Government Forum Against Poverty figures suggest that changes to the national welfare system will lead to a loss of income of £223 million by 2015/2016 for people in Edinburgh. These changes mainly affect individuals and families living on low wages, those seeking work and disabled people who are unable to work. This will result in a greater need for advice about benefits, debt and budgeting, as well as an increased demand on social work, housing and homelessness services.

The administration of Crisis Grants and Community Care Grants is now the responsibility of the Council, after being transferred from the Department for Work and Pensions on 1 April 2013.

Crisis Grants are available as emergency payments where there is an immediate threat to health or safety and are now paid out from Council Neighbourhood and City Centre Offices with an out of hours service also available. A new team has been recruited to deal with the assessment and processing of claims, which can be made by phone, online, on paper and in person.

Community Care grants will help to enable or continue independent living by providing furniture, carpets and white goods.

Further measures will be discussed by the Health, Wellbeing and Housing Policy Development and Review Sub Committee on Tuesday 23 April 2013.

FURTHER INFORMATION

The Committee will be asked to approve an investment of £350,000 to provide additional advice services. Of this sum, £100,000 will be provided to Citizens Advice Edinburgh, £22,000 to the Community Ability Network, £15,000 to The Action Group, £15,000 to FAIR and £7,000 to COSS. Some of the extra funds will also be invested in the Council's own Advice Shop service and Contact Centre. 

An additional £67,000 has already been agreed for the Welfare Rights and Health Project, CHAI Advice Service and Granton Information Project.

The Scottish Welfare Fund is transferred from the DWP to Local Authorities for a two year period after which the Scottish Government will review the service. The Fund provides Crisis Grants and Community Care Grants.

Edinburgh’s share of the Scottish Welfare Fund will be £2.1m for 2013/2014 with 70% allocated to Community Care Grants and 30% to Crisis Grants.

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