Community organisations working with Council to build a brighter future for benefits claimants

Press Release: 10/06/2014

Voluntary Sector Conference

At a meeting at Winchester Science Centre last Thursday (5 June), around 50 voluntary organisations heard about Winchester City Council’s initiatives to help benefit claimants through the challenges of Welfare Reform and Universal Credit.

The open meeting attracted organisations as diverse as Winchester Hospital Radio and the Food Bank, the Citizens Advice Bureau and The Carroll Centre. They worked together during workshop sessions to develop an action plan to deal with the challenges of Universal Credit for local people.

This was the first engagement for Cllr Rob Humby as the City Council’s new Leader after the morning Cabinet meeting. He took the opportunity to reaffirm the Council’s commitment to economic wellbeing for all, and said that staff would seek to provide help wherever it was possible for jobseekers.

He said:

Ensuring that all our residents have a decent home and a good quality of life is a corporate priority: and we are only too aware of the need that is out there, because the Council is landlord to 5,000 homes across the District. I think that delegates at the meeting were surprised by the range and quantity of initiatives to provide support those who most need it.

The Government has set out clear themes for action in the run up to Universal Credit (intended to be country-wide by 2017). These include:

  • general advice and information
  • assisted access for claims (which will all be supported on-line)
  • additional support for those with disabilities, and 
  • ‘financial inclusion’ – ensuring that people have bank accounts, understand domestic
  • budgeting and know where to go for money advice

These will form the basis of a joint action plan for the District intended to ensure that no one falls through the net during this period of major change.

During the meeting, delegates were also able to meet Cllr Mike Southgate, the Council’s newly appointed Portfolio Holder for Communities and Transport, who will be overseeing the Council’s grants programmes. He said:

I’m very glad to have been here. This has been an eye-opening event, and I’ve been able to hear about all kinds of interesting work being done by voluntary organisations. I am looking forward to working closely with them.

On my first day this was a great opportunity to meet people from the voluntary sector who are often in the front-line when it comes to providing support. I was also pleased to participate in the workshops which identified many of the implementation challenges we face with Universal Credit.

To keep their sights set high, delegates were also offered a tour of the galaxy by Dr Jenny Shipman, Deputy Director of Winchester Science Centre – itself an independent charity.

The Council will be inviting more organisations to comment on the emerging action plan for Universal Credit. In the meantime, notes of the meeting can be found on