Universal Credit payments may affect York residents over Christmas

City of York Council is advising York residents to be aware of Universal Credit payment changes ahead of the festive period.

Universal Credit is handled by the Department for Work and Pensions to help people on a low income or not in work, meet their living costs. It combines six benefits, including housing benefit and working tax credit, into a single monthly payment.

If you are in employment whilst claiming Universal Credit and receive your wage early in December, you may find your next Universal Credit (UC) payment is reduced. This may leave you short of money over the Christmas period.

If you receive two wage payments during your UC assessment period this will reduce the amount of UC you will receive for that period, and depending on personal earnings, may not receive any UC payment.

This may mean that wage payments are less in the following assessment period and UC will be higher for that next assessment period.

If you are new to Universal Credit you may not receive your first payment until January 2019.  You can apply for an Advanced Payment to tide you over, through your online account, your work coach or the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644. If you this will mean you are unable to pay your rent then please contact your landlord.

If you are unsure when your UC payments will be made, make sure you organise your finances to ensure this doesn’t cause you issues over the holidays. For more information, visit: https://www.york.gov.uk/UniversalCredit.

Councillor Ian Gillies, Leader of City of York Council, said: “Universal Credit payments are normally made in arrears once at the end of the month, rather than being paid every week. However, many York residents will be unaware.

“This is why we are encouraging people who receive UC to be prepared by looking into the festive holiday payment plan.”

Councillor Carol Runciman, executive member for adult social care and health, said: “I would strongly urge anyone in receipt of Universal Credit to double check their upcoming payment dates, so they are not caught out in the New Year.”

“More importantly, if anyone is concerned about their Universal Credit payments, please call 01904 552044 for help and advice.”

Payment dates for Universal Credit:

Universal Credit customers will receive their December payment within their usual payment period. Payments will not be delayed due to the Christmas and New Year public holidays.

Universal Credit payment is due on… Universal Credit will be paid on…
Saturday 22 December Friday 21 December
Sunday 23 December Friday 21 December
Monday 24 December Monday 24 December
Tuesday 25 December Monday 24 December
Wednesday 26 December Monday 24 December
Tuesday 1 January Monday 31 December
Saturday 5 January Friday 4 January
Sunday 6 January Friday 4 January

Payment dates for all other benefits

Customer’s payment is due on… Customer will be paid on…
Monday 24 December Friday 21 December
Tuesday 25 December Friday 21 December
Wednesday 26 December Friday 21 December
Tuesday 1 January Monday 31 December
Wednesday 2 January Monday 31 December,

apart from ESA, JSA and IScustomers in England and Wales – they will be paid on 2 January

 

Please note that the information on GOV.UK for payments due on 2 January is currently incorrect and is in the process of being updated

York Council takes action to ease debt risk for poorer families

The York Council has agreed to pay some of the fees involved in setting up and running a budget bank account at the Credit Union shop at 8 Acomb Court off York Road (tel.03030 300010) .

Details of budget and other accounts available at the branch can be found on the SYCC web site

The Council is taking the action to encourage those reliant on the Universal Credits benefit package to budget to avoid debts. Univeral Credit is paid in arrears and can be difficult to manage.

report to a recent meeting says,

“A recent article on the Association of Retained Council Housing site indicated that:

  • 86% of universal credit (UC) claimants living in council owned homes are in rent arrears (compared to 79% at March 2016).
  • 59% of universal credit claimants living in council owned homes have arrears that equate to more than one month’s rent.
  • Although 63% of UC tenants in arrears had pre-existing arrears before their UC claim only 44% of them are on APAs (alternative payment arrangements with direct payment from DWP)
  • The average value of arrears tenants owed across UC households has almost doubled to £615 since 31 March 2016 when average amount was £321.

A research article expressed concern about rent arrears.

“Not only are numbers of households increasing as UC is rolled out, but the percentage of households falling into rent arrears and experiencing financial difficulty is critically high.

If this trend is not reversed it will have significant impact on local authorities’ rental income streams and the long term ability for housing departments to provide essential services to their communities.

Use of the SYCU budget account and related services by customers could be one way of helping them manage their money effectively, prevent debt and help manage debt where this is accrued”.

Council officials will now help to promote the budget account to qualifying residents.

 

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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Have your say on Council Tax Support consultation – Acomb Library 17th November

City of York Council is inviting residents to have their say on changes to its Council Tax Support Scheme.

Any change would remedy the unfairness of the last Labour Council which imposed a system which hit hardest the lowest paid members of society. They were told to pay several hundreds of pounds which many simply didn’t have. Labour had hoped that the government would be blamed for the  cynical ploy. Instead electors kicked out the Labour leadership at May’s Council poll.

The consultation takes place from: Monday 2 to Sunday 29 November 2015 and asks whether the council should consider providing more assistance to residents by increasing the maximum 70 per cent discount they can receive.

click

click

To complete the consultation visit www.york.gov.uk/consultation . Drop-in sessions are also taking place on:

•Wednesday 4 November West Offices, Station Rise, 2.30 – 7.30pm

• Thursday 12 November Burton Stone Community Centre 2.30 – 7.30pm

• Monday 16 November Haxby Explore 2.30 – 7.00pm

• Tuesday 17 November Acomb Explore 2.30 – 7.30pm

• Monday 23 November Tang Hall Explore 2.30 –7.30pm

• Tuesday 24 November Copmanthorpe Library 2.30–6.30pm

• Thursday 26 November Fulford Explore 2.30 – 5pm

A review of the York Council Tax Support (CTS) scheme was taken to Executive on Thursday 29 November, which saw members agree to progress with a consultation.

At the meeting, Executive were presented with a report which outlined what existing financial support was available to residents, the number of people seeking support and what further steps could be taken to support York’s most financially vulnerable residents in the short term but also in a sustainable way going forward.

City of York Council’s CTS scheme has been in place since April 2013 and is intended to provide low income and vulnerable council tax payers with financial help towards meeting their council tax liability.

Since April 2013, the maximum amount of Council Tax support or discount available to working age households in York is 70 per cent, which means every working age household is required to pay at least 30 per cent of their council tax bill regardless of their income or family circumstances.

The council is now considering whether to change the current 30 per cent cap and is asking residents to have their say, which could result in changes being implemented as soon as next year subject to Full Council approval.
Currently there are 5,096 working age residents who qualify for CTS – who are typically reliant on welfare benefits for their income because of illness, disability or unemployment, receive tax credits, are lone parents or who are in low paid work.

Residents who are state pension age and qualify on the basis of their income will continue to have support based on 100 per cent of their Council Tax liability and are not affected by this consultation.
Full details of the scheme can be found on the council’s website. www.york.gov.uk/counciltaxsupport

The council’s YFAS (Financial Assistance) scheme was only introduced in 2013 (the same time as CTS) and provides emergency financial support in a crisis but also support for qualifying residents with their council tax.  This was initially grant funded by the Department of Work and Pensions, which then withdrew funding from April 2015.

The council has continued to commit a base budget of over £500k to the scheme, with additional funding for two years, to ensure the impact of withdrawal of the specific grant was not felt by YFAS residents.
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Benefit cap hits 23 York families

The cap on the total amount of benefit that a family can claim saw 23 families hit the benefits ceiling last year.

This was up from 6 who had reached the cap in 2013

click to access

click to access

The level of the cap is:

  • £500 a week for couples (with or without children living with them)
  • £500 a week for single parents whose children live with them
  • £350 a week for single adults who don’t have children, or whose children don’t live with them

Spare room subsidy

The numbers suffering a loss of housing benefit income because of the “spare room subsidy” (Bedroom Tax) has fallen from 791 in 2013, to 677 today

The change is thought to have been influenced by the larger numbers of tenants now in work and by some opting to transfer to smaller properties.

The government’s policy was –and remains – controversial not least because in York there is a shortage of one and two bedroomed property available for social rent.

Consequently only relatively small numbers of tenants actually have the opportunity to “downsize” to avoid the penalty.

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

Fewer York residents apply for housing payments.

The Council’s expenditure on discretionary housing payments has been below expected levels so far this year.

houses
In York, the Council budgeted for payments of up to £286,409 for the current financial year.

So far only a little over £36,000 had been paid out to 209 applicants.

69 applicants were found not to qualify for the payments.

The figures – obtained in response to a Freedom of Information request – are at odds with the dire “gloom and doom” warnings issued by Labour Councillors to the media earlier in the summer.

Details of the York Councils housing benefits policy, together with an application form for DHP, can be read by clicking here

NB. Each local council is given a pot of money each year to help people who qualify for housing benefit (or similar help under universal credit) but are having trouble:

• paying their rent or

• finding enough money to pay for the start-up costs of a tenancy.

When the money for the year runs out, no more payments can be made.

The government has increased the amount of money available to help some people to adjust to cuts to benefits in recent years.

The council decides who should be given the payments, how much and how often they are paid. Discretionary housing payments (DHP) may be paid weekly or can be a lump sum. They can also be backdated.