Council considers 'defying government' after slamming benefit changes

Councillors have suggested defying the government over what they call "outrageous" and "disgusting" changes to the way benefit claimants receive support.

Wednesday, 10th October 2018, 10:34 am
Updated Wednesday, 10th October 2018, 1:38 pm
People who claim Universal Credit will now receive help through the claims process from Citizen's Advice.

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) announced last week that the Universal Support service, which helps people on Universal Credit through the claims process, would be taken out of the hands of local authorities.

From April next year, Citizen's Advice will take on the work instead.

Although Citizen's Advice said they "welcomed the opportunity", Wakefield councillors have been heavily critical of the move and are concerned about whether or not the local service has the resources to cope.

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Wakefield Council deputy leader Denise Jeffery has suggested "defying the government" over the issue.

They say the change amounts to being told "not to help" vulnerable residents themselves.

In response to a government letter directly to the council, which relieved it of its Universal Support duties, deputy leader Denise Jeffery suggested ignoring it altogether.

She said: "I'm absolutely appalled by this. I can't believe it.

"For the government to say we can't help people who are in desperate need, it's outrageous.

The DWP has defended the changes, and said Citizen's Advice would be able to deliver help to those who need it.

"Do we have to listen to the government?

"I think we should defy the government if we possibly can. We must help our people. We can't let them struggle. It's just appalling."

In Wakefield, extensive preparations had already been made for wholesale changes being made to the social security system, which take place next month.

From November 28, new claimants for six means-tested benefits will be told they need to apply for Universal Credit instead. Those already on the benefits will be then be moved across to Universal Credit themselves over the next five years.

As a result, it is feared that Citizen's Advice could be overwhelmed by requests for help by confused residents in the coming months.

Coun Maureen Cummings backed the call to flout the new system, saying: "Citizen's Advice are probably not geared up for this.

"I think we should ignore the letter."

Fellow Cabinet member Matthew Morley said that the changes would not be cost-effective.

He said: "I'm sick to my back teeth on this.

"It's disgusting. We're elected to help our citizens.

"The most ludicrous thing about this is it's not even going to save any money."

Announcing the changes last week, Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey said: "The state cannot, and should not, work in isolation and must reach out to work with independent, trusted organisations to get the best support to vulnerable people.

"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.

"Citizens Advice are an independent and trusted organisation, who will support people as we continue the successful rollout of Universal Credit."

Asked about councillors' opinions on the matter, the DWP said it had nothing to add.

The issue will be discussed at a meeting of full council later this month.