Agenda item

Welfare Reform

The officers will report at the meeting


Councillor Gannon, Cabinet Member for Strategic Finance and Resources has been invited to the meeting for the consideration of this matter along with the following representatives:


Sue Bent, Coventry Law Centre

Lee Bird, Department for Works and Pensions

Simon Brooke, Chair, Working Together on Welfare Reform Group

Janet Gurney, Coventry Law Centre

Anne Williams, Department for Works and Pensions


Further to Minute 20/14, the Committee considered briefing notes of the Scrutiny Co-ordinator, the Chair of the Working Together on Welfare Reform Group and Coventry Law Centre which provided an update on progress following the publication of the Impact of Benefit Sanctions on People in Coventry, previously considered by the Committee on 8th October, 2014. Simon Brooke, Chair of the Working Together on Welfare Reform Group and Janet Gurney, Coventry Law Centre attended the meeting for the consideration of this item. Councillor Townshend, Cabinet Member for Policing and Equalities also attended. Representatives from the Department for Works and Pension (DWP) had been invited but were unable to attend. They provided some background information for the Committee.


Following publication of the report, the Law Centre and DWP had met to discuss and develop actions identified in the Sanctions report. In November, observations of initial interviews at the DWP’s offices at Cofa Court to review what happened at the initial point of contact and how this initial stage identified people with vulnerabilities. Feedback was presented to the Working Together Group. In January 2015, service leaders from the partner organisations attended a Customer Journey event at which DWP went through paperwork and the process for benefit claimants with a view to identifying where organisations could help at particular key points in the process. 


The briefing note from the Chair of the Working Together Group informed of the recent activity of the Group and partners reporting on the Partnership meetings; under-occupation; Discretionary Housing Payments; Sanctions; In work benefits; customer journey mapping; universal credit and communications.


The briefing note from the Law Centre detailed the progress made between the partner organisations on welfare reform and in particular sanctions. It included information about the DWP response to the Oakey report into sanctions which recommended a range of improvements to the administrative processes underpinning sanctions decision making. An update was provided on 21 issues, 8 of which were outstanding and were mainly national issues, 9 were currently being addressed and 4 had been resolved. 


Councillor Townshend, informed the Committee of the additional funding provided by the City Council to support the work of the Coventry Law Centre to deal with the significant backlog of benefit tribunals. In 2014 over 1300 tribunals were supported by the Centre and the success rate continued to exceed 80%. This resulted in an additional £5m being paid to Coventry claimants in the past twelve months. He reported on the leading role played by the Law Centre in response to Welfare Reform and provided several examples of case studies. 


Members questioned the representatives and officer on a number of issues and responses were provided, matters raised included:


·  What the Committee could do to help publicise the national issues that had yet to be resolved

·  Where poor decisions had been made, were individuals held to account

·  How tax credits and work benefits were publicised to encourage take up

·  The role of the Job Shop which should not be about sanctions

·  The numbers of residents in receipt of discretionary housing payments and the implications arising from next year’s reduced budget

·  Feedback from the Rugby pilot scheme for Universal Credit

·  The potential for problems to arise when Universal Credit is introduced in Coventry, with particular reference to national issues

·  Concerns that representatives from the DWP were unable to attend the meeting and the lack of local accountability of the organisation 

·  What the Committee could do to support the work of the Coventry Law Centre

·  The levels of local discretion and the problems caused locally by the unresolved national issues

·  What was the DWP doing about raising issues at a national level

·  Clarification about the impending closure of the Independent Living Fund and what future support would be available for claimants

·  The potential for the Law Centre to be able to support additional Coventry residents and how their service is publicised




(1) The Committee supports the membership and work of the Working Together on Welfare Reform Group.


(2) The Committee supports the decision of the Cabinet Member for Policing and Equalities to provide additional financial support to the Coventry Law Centre.


(3) The Chair, Councillor Skipper, on behalf of the Committee, to write to the City’s three MPs:

(i) Informing of the issues which have arisen as a result of the benefit sanctions on Coventry residents and require national solutions asking that these unresolved matters be raised in Parliament

(ii) Requesting that they ask for consideration to be given to making the Department for Works and Pensions accountable locally for the issues that have arisen in relation to benefit sanctions, in the same way that Health and Overview Scrutiny Boards have specific powers ensuring that local health service organisations are held to account.


(4) Officers be requested to investigate the legal and equality implications of the closure of the Independent Living Fund and the proposed action by the Council.


(5) The Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Services and the Health and Social Care Scrutiny Board (5) be requested to consider how to enforce the Marmot link between social care and welfare reform.


(6) The Executive Director for People ensure that employees in the People Directorate are fully briefed and trained on Welfare Benefits prior to making relevant decisions.


(7) The Chair, Councillor Skipper to write to the Department for Works and Pensions expressing the Committee’s disappointment that they were unable to send any representatives to the meeting.

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