Council launches new travel support service for local businesses

 York businesses will be able to get free advice on how they and their employees can make more sustainable travel choices, thanks to an initiative launched by City of York Council.

Funded by the council’s iTravel programme, in partnership with Get Cycling and Love to Ride, experts will be on-hand to visit businesses across the city to provide tailored travel planning advice and activities as part of the Travel2work scheme.

With a range of incentives, the service will help organisations to work with their staff to make commuting and work travel more sustainable – reducing car use and increasing the uptake of more sustainable travel options.

For more information and to book your free visit, go to www.itravelyork.info/travel2work  or email alice.thatcher@york.gov.uk/ 07917791489

Benefit advice sessions move to Acomb Explore Library

The York Council has announced that residents will be able to receive benefits advice and support at Acomb Explore Library Learning Centre from Monday 6 June.
Cllr Sue Hunter, Cllr Sheena Jackson and Cllr Andrew Waller outside the Acomb Explore Library

Cllr Sue Hunter, Cllr Sheena Jackson and Cllr Andrew Waller outside the Acomb Explore Library

The benefits advice service is moving from the Gateway Centre to Acomb Explore Library Learning Centre on Monday 6 June as part of work to make it easier for residents to access benefits advice.

The Council in 2010 announced plans to make the library a local information and advice hub but the idea was shelved by the Labour controlled Council when it closed the Acomb Housing Office in 2012.

Still it goes to show that good ideas will always rise to the surface.

Residents will be able to drop-in at the weekly sessions between 9am and 3pm (closed between 12.30pm and 1pm) where a trained adviser will be on hand to support residents.

In addition to the weekly sessions, all Explore Library Learning Centre staff will be trained to help residents access welfare benefits information in the coming months. This change means residents will be able to access support and signposting to the best available services from trained staff whilst also continuing to access the internet for free in Explores across the city.

In a media release the Council also says that “the changes come ahead of the upcoming launch of a new online Customer Relationship Management system and personal council accounts for residents ‘My Account’, a smart and responsive online service which will enable residents to access council services anytime anywhere. The system will also provide webchat meaning residents across the city will have access to more advice and support online on a range of areas, including benefits”.

The much promised electronic “My Account” system has been “launched” on 4 separate occasions over the last two years. We think that the Council would be wise to finish refining and testing the new system before becoming too bullish about it in public statements.
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Housing and benefits advice service collapses in Acomb

Change to rent payments imminent

When Labour closed the Council’s local branch office in Acomb in February 2013, residents were promised that replacement advice services would continue to be provided.Whatever happened to land behind Acomb library

To avoid a long trip to the new Council HQ in the City centre, the intention had been to provide a small extension at the Acomb Library where housing and neighbourhood workers would be permanently located. The Council had by 2010 purchased land to allow the extension to take place.

The land (left), which is located between the library and the bowling club, still lies derelict and unused 5 years later.

The Housing Departments promise of improved advice services have proved to be derelict. The West Office reception area is often very busy and the time taken to answer telephone calls can sometimes be excessive.

Services at local community centres have also faded away.

  • There have been no housing advice sessions at Gateway since January
  • Chapelfields has also been cancelled.
  • Space 217 in Holgate has not been used for advice sessions on a regular basis.
  • None are taking place in Dringhouses.

This leaves only Foxwood operating but with little publicity.

Kingsway abandoned noticeboard

Kingsway abandoned noticeboard

The Council web site does show Foxwood and Acomb Explore Library as functioning (but offering only a telephone contact) There is little local publicity  with the phantom public notice boards in the Kingsway area remaining unused and continuing to display  information which is two years out of date.

While many enquiries will be dealt with by phone, a substantial increase in calls is likely to be generated by the move to the Universal Credit (UC) system in a few weeks time.

UC is paid monthly to the tenant and can be on any day of the month.

No account will be taken of the 48 week rent year in UC. Some may find it difficult to budget on this basis and there is a great risk that rent arrears will rise.

The UC pilots around the country have seen a big increase in rent arrears and tenants have struggled to cope with monthly payments made direct to themselves.

Housing Department consults on move to 52 week rent payment system

In a note to Tenants Associations the Council says,

“City of York Council tenants (Secure and Introductory) currently get charged rent over 48 weeks rather than over the full financial year of 52 weeks. There are 4 rent free weeks, 2 over Christmas and 2 at the end of March.

5894 of 7749 tenants are of working age. 63.49% of tenants claim full or partial Housing Benefit (HB), many while earning a wage, paid direct to the rent account. This is automatically adjusted by the HB department to account for the 48 week rent year.

Working age tenants will be paid housing costs (formerly HB) via Universal Credit (UC) in the near future.

This is a risk for Council and it’s tenants as this money pays for services

It is also a risk for individual tenants who could be at risk of losing their home if they fall in to rent arrears. We can help tenants budget by removing the rent free weeks and giving them good advice.

Direct Debit payers currently pay in 12 instalments over the year, and their account goes in to arrears because of the rent free weeks.

Weekly rent would be reduced as the rent is spread over more weeks:

If your current rent is £81.25 per week and is collected over 48 weeks you will pay £3900 per year.

When you move over to 52 weeks your rent will be £75.00 per week which is £3900 per year.

For tenants that want to retain the rent free weeks we could look at ways of taking payments say through standing order or direct debit that mean they get a rent free period…or simply work out the weekly amount for you.

Most housing organisations have already changed to a 52 week rent year”.

Coupled with failure to provide estate improvements in some areas – where officials have decided that the absence of a formal residents association means no budget can be allocated – the latest revelations are likely to increase pressure on Councillors to undertake a root and branch review of the effectiveness of social housing management in the City

Christmas fun…and money advice

No-money-clipart

City of York Council’s Family Information Service (FIS), Explore York Libraries and Archives Mutual Ltd and the Citizen’s Advice Bureau will be hosting a morning of fun crafts and information on Wednesday 10 December between 9am and 12noon in the reception foyer at West Offices.

There’ll be a host of crafts for little ones (and not so little ones) to get stuck into, including making Christmas decorations, colouring in Frozen characters and decorating paper Christmas trees. Explore York Libraries will also be on hand to provide information about the discounts available through York Cards and representatives from York CAB will be available to help with information on sensible festive spending.

The CAB’s top ten tips to avoid a Christmas Debt Hangover are:
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Call to save advice sessions in Acomb

Acomb branch office closed by Labour in 2012

Acomb branch office closed by Labour in 2012

Liberal Democrat Councillor Lynn Jeffries is calling on Labour run York Council to guarantee that housing advice sessions in West York will continue despite funding cuts.

When Labour closed Acomb Housing Office in February 2012 they were forced to set-up alternative advice sessions at Foxwood and Chapelfields community centres. The weekly sessions offer residents help on housing, housing benefits and Council Tax support as well as on issues such as anti-social behaviour.

However, after Labour slashed funding to community centres the sessions are now in doubt. Cuts mean caretakers at the centres have been made redundant and therefore there is no longer a second member of staff on hand to ensure that the sessions can continue – a second staff member is needed due to lone worker regulations.

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Council jettison more Acomb services

We understand that the Council is planning to stop the weekly housing benefit advice sessions that they had been running at the Chapelfields Community centre.

Acomb Council Office - closed in February 2012.

Acomb Council Office – closed in February 2012.

The service was one of those introduced to replace the “face to face” adv ice service which was lost when the Council’s Acomb Office closed 18 months ago.

Each Thursday morning the Council promised a “Housing advice, Council Tax Support and Housing Benefits service: 9am – 12 noon

It was one of five advice points were established last year, but now only the one at the Gateway centre (the most popular) will continue in Acomb.

Ironically this building is within 50 yards of the former Acomb Office.

Originally the intention had been to locate advice, and headquarter estate managers and community workers, at the Acomb Explore Library but this plan was scrapped when Labour took control of the Council in 2011.

Now Acomb residents face a long trek to the Council HQ in Toft Green. A telephone link may continue to be available at the Community Centre, but as many callers know, such services are inaccessible for some. We understand that the estate manager will still be present at the centre on Thursday mornings

NB. Callers to the main Council switchboard this week are reporting delays of up to 10 minutes before connection.