Leeds councillors worry that Citizens Advice Bureau aren’t ready to take over advising benefit claimants.
By Lauren Halligan, Suzannah Rogerson and Rebecca Tee
Leeds councillors are concerned that the loss of their advisory role on Universal Credit may leave their residents with a lower level of support.
A new government decision has given this role over to the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) leaving the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) still in control of who can receive the benefit.
Recent figures from January 2019 show that 10,431 individuals were on Universal Credit in Leeds.
Councillors say the CAB must ensure the same level of help exists for them.
The DWP have allocated £39 million of funding from April 2019 to Citizens Advice in order for them to be responsible for this new delivery model.
During the Scrutiny Board meeting on Wednesday morning councillor Javid Akhtar, who represents Little London and Woodhouse, was anxious about the Citizens Advice Bureau delivering a diverse service which could fulfil the demands of his ward residents.
He said: “My residents speak up to 100 different languages and I am unsure you will be able to work with all of them”.
In response to this, the Citizen’s Advice representative Dianne Gill said they plan to offer “a fuller advice service from the funding available”. She also said free interpreting services were available.
Previously people were able to access advice from the community hubs, libraries and housing offices and through the new scheme advice can be found online and in the CAB offices, unless there are outreach projects set up in the surrounding areas.
Councillor Debra Coupar, the deputy leader of the council said it is “disastrous news for us” as councillors and their colleagues will no longer be involved in the day-to-day conversations with those in need.
Cllr Coupar added: “I don’t feel confident that things are in place for that to happen”.
Lesley Cook, from Leeds, receives Universal Credit in the form of job seeker’s allowance and child tax credit. Ms Cook has three children and struggles to find employment due to her mental health.
She said, “I don’t think I will get the same help as I did before it just seems like another government cut against us”.
Ms Cook added, “With three children and bad internet skills it seems ridiculous to expect someone to go into town to get help”.
Councillor Barry Anderson, the head of the scrutiny board, said: “we would prefer that money was kept within the council because our staff are high quality and they are trusted by residents”.
Up until October 2018, different benefits were available such as; job seekers allowance, employment support allowance, income support, child tax credit, working tax credit and housing benefit.
Since then they have been brought under the umbrella of Universal Credit.
From 1 April 2019 Citizens Advice (England and Wales) and Citizens Advice Scotland will take on the responsibility for delivering the service.
The have proposed a strengthened service which will ensure consistent and streamlined aid for claimants in the city.
In October 2018, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Esther McVey said: “This brand new partnership with Citizens Advice will ensure everyone, and in particular the most vulnerable claimants, get the best possible support with their claim that is consistently administered throughout the country.”
The change to delivery is happening in less than three weeks, but with councillors still concerned over how residents in their wards are going to cope, more budget cuts to local government are likely to come.