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In that spirit, for this blog we invited our colleagues from Middlesbrough Council’s revenues and benefits service to join us - Martin Barker, benefit manager and Mark Symmonds, support services manager, to talk about the project and their experience.
What’s the history of working with Thirteen?
Middlesbrough Council’s revenues and benefits service and Thirteen have always maintained a strong relationship. Thirteen customers make up around half of the housing benefit caseload so working together to tackle challenges presented by the government’s welfare policy helps both organisations. As UC continued to roll out across the UK, we started to work more closely to share ideas and discuss preparation for it coming to Middlesbrough. Thirteen could pull from their experience of UC in Hartlepool, while we had links with one of our contractors running revenues and benefits services in a full-service site in Oldham. This link helped us to arrange for Thirteen to visit First Choice Homes in Oldham to explore some of the early findings from the original UC pilot in 2013.
How did the partnership for UC support come about?
We worked with Thirteen on their Universal Credit seminars in Stockton (May 2018) and Middlesbrough (October 2018). During the preparation for the seminars, ideas were shared and a lot of what was working for UC support in Hartlepool for Thirteen looked likely to work in Middlesbrough too. The council’s Financial Improvement Group agreed to fund a Universal Credit support service for non-Thirteen customers, to begin in October 2018 when Middlesbrough was due to move fully to UC. Thirteen applied to provide the service and was successful.
What have the outcomes been? Was it worth it?
The project was really successful. The funding provided a dedicated support officer from Thirteen’s team, working from the council offices, and saw around 250 UC claimants between October 2018 and June 2019. Most of the customers were experiencing problems with UC and had no one who could readily help them. Using Thirteen’s experience, support was given to the customers to enable them to claim UC, provide information to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to complete their claim, help with journals and maintaining a UC claim, and numerous other interactions with the Jobcentre and UC service centre.
Customers had varied issues, from a lack of understanding of UC and fear of claiming, to problems with incorrect calculations and sanctions. Many also faced other challenges with using the digital system, literacy, language barriers as well as issues with mental and physical health. More than two thirds of the contacts were from vulnerable people who would not have been able to manage their claim without help.
The outcomes of the pilot were many, but resulted in:
£918,276 in UC payments;
£13,350 secured in grants;
£371,973 other benefits including PIP, council tax reduction and carers’ allowance
Total financial outcomes of £1,302,598
The service fully delivered on expected outcomes and helped a lot of people across Middlesbrough. The feedback from people who had received support was incredibly positive and if funding was available would definitely have continued.