DWP criticised for failing to attend meetings on escalating hardship caused by Universal Credit
Officials from the Department for Work and Pensions have been slammed after they twice failed to attend meetings where politicians discussed the hardship caused for people in Wrexham by Universal Credit.
A Wrexham Council report has shown more than 1,500 tenants in receipt of the new style benefit are facing average rent arrears of £345, totalling just over £525,000.
The overall amount is slightly less than the £580,000 owed by those on the old system, but with more than 3,000 cases, the average debt experienced by people still on housing benefit is less at around £191.
The main problem with Universal Credit, which the UK Government introduced to consolidate six benefits into one, is said to stem from payments being made in advance, leading to budgeting issues for recipients.
Representatives from the DWP were invited to a meeting of the authority’s homes and environment scrutiny committee held this week to answer questions about the financial burden placed on residents.
However, the council’s lead member for housing expressed his frustration after they said they would not be sending anyone, despite missing a previous meeting held in January.
Cllr David Griffiths said: “I don’t know the reasons why they will not attend this meeting, but I wish they would because it would make it easier for everyone to fully understand the work my two colleagues (council officers) are doing.
“The pressure is continually upon us, but that pressure is nothing like the people who aren’t getting the money they deserve.
“The pressure that’s placed on them, to me, is unacceptable.
“At the end of the day with this, this is national and across the whole of Britain people are affected by something which in my personal opinion is not to make sure people can live easily, it’s to see how much money they (UK Government) can fetch back in.”
The council said the amount of arrears which can solely be attributed to Universal Credit stands at £72,625.
The authority said the figures showed the new system was having an impact on the amount of outstanding rent it is owed.
Committee chair Paul Pemberton also expressed his anger at the snub by the DWP.
The independent politician said: “We did invite a representative from the DWP to come to this meeting, originally to the one six months ago.
“They initially said they would come and then something happened, and they made an excuse and didn’t come.
“As a consequence, we invited them again to this scheduled meeting and they’ve basically said they will not come to a scrutiny meeting.
“I just think it’s a little bit unfair that they make all the rules and our staff are having to go to the coalface while they sit in the canteen having a cup of tea, and I don’t think that’s the right way forward.”
At the end of the meeting, councillors voted to express their concerns about the level of arrears experienced by residents and the extra workload placed on council staff.
After the meeting the DWP contacted us, with a spokesman stating: “Jobcentre staff in Wrexham meet with representatives from the local authority regularly and local MPs and councillors are often invited to the jobcentre, where they can discuss any issues of concern.”
Councillors will receive another report on the effect of welfare reforms at a later date.
By Liam Randall – BBC Local Democracy Reporter (more here on the LDR scheme).
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