Local organisations come together to help benefit claimants

Press Release: 22/05/2015

Winchester City Council is inviting voluntary organisations and agencies that work with jobseekers to a special briefing about Universal Credit, part of the Government’s programme of welfare reform, which will be introduced in the Winchester District this September.

On Tuesday 2 June at St Peter’s Church Centre in Jewry Street, delegates will have the opportunity to hear from two other district councils – West Lindsey and Eastleigh – about their preparations for and experience of Universal Credit. West Lindsey was a ‘pathfinder’ for the Government, and Eastleigh has just introduced Universal Credit this month.

In the Winchester District, first-time single claimants will be the first to experience the new system from this September, with all benefits paid through a single, on-line claim process. The Government is seeking to ensure that it is always more beneficial, financially, for people to be in work so benefits are gradually reduced as earnings increase.

Cllr James Byrnes, Winchester City Council’s Portfolio Holder for Economic Development, said:

In Winchester we are fortunate to have very low levels of unemployment, so we don’t envisage a high number of claims at the outset of this phased roll-out. However, the small numbers mean we have no excuse not to provide the right support and infrastructure to help jobseekers make the transition to the new system. We are planning with partners to make sure no one falls through the gaps in this new era.

The City Council organised a meeting a year ago to raise awareness of Universal Credit and to start work on an action plan for transition, which has since been produced. Key needs for claimants will be access to broadband, practical support and advice when filling in the claim form and a bank account. But for those with special requirements – a disability, or English as a foreign language, for example – there may be a need to provide additional help. The action plan addresses these needs, and the forthcoming seminar is intended to identify which actions can be undertaken by the various organisations attending.

Winchester District CAB has already committed to being a ‘hub’ for training volunteers who can support claimants. Hampshire County Council’s libraries are seeking to ensure that their buildings, computers and volunteers are all part of the solution. Winchester City Council has itself launched an employment mentoring programme, run by national charity Sova.

The Council’s Assistant Director for Economy and Communities, Eloise Appleby, commented:

We know that it is often the voluntary sector that has most contact with families and individuals who will be affected by the changes. By sharing experience and information with them, we hope that they will identify the best way to help deliver the action plan. We also run grants programmes that may be useful in funding new equipment, training sessions or special events, so we will be giving details of these too.

Organisations or individuals wishing to attend the seminar should visit https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/universal-credit-briefing-tickets-16815000118
and register.